Two hundred forty seconds. Four minutes. One fifteenth of an hour. That’s all the time you need today for an intense, effective workout.
Just take a cue from Nashville-based celebrity trainer Erin Oprea, who posted an Instagram video on Tuesday of her demoing a four-minute lower-body routine that follows Tabata protocol. Tabata is a style of HIIT (high-intensity interval training) that features 20 seconds of all-out work, followed by 10 seconds of rest, repeated eight times for a total of four minutes. This particular Tabata sequence features Oprea’s “favorite leg exercise,” she tells SELF: the squat into a lunge. And though it's a very brief circuit, trust: It's not easy.
You can check out the video via @erinoprea here:
This sequence targets practically "every muscle from the waist down," says Oprea. It also provides sneaky cardio, balance, and core work.
By doing the squat-to-lunge movement on repeat, you’ll work your glutes, the front and back of your legs, and your core. It really targets the legs in particular, Oprea says, as you are keeping constant tension and essentially your entire body weight on one leg for 20 seconds at a time as the other leg moves forward and backward.
Because this super short sequence is so challenging, you’ll also get sneaky cardio work. Leg work is “so good for shooting your heart rate up,” says Oprea. Plus, to keep yourself stabilized and balanced (this circuit is a great balance challenge, too), you’ll need to engage your core for support, she adds. In other words, this super brief sequence provides a long list of benefits, from lower-half strengthening to core work, cardio, and balance, which makes it a really effective, efficient use of your time.
Oprea loves Tabata sequences, in general, for their fun factor, versatility, effectiveness, and low time commitment.
First and foremost, a Tabata can make a challenging workout more fun by turning it into a game, says Oprea, whose book, The 4×4 Diet, features a daily Tabata workout plan for all fitness levels. “The mass majority of my clients say Tabatas are their favorite because they forget they are working out,” says Oprea, who has worked with Carrie Underwood, Kelsea Ballerini and Martina McBride (among others). “It’s a race against clock…you don’t want to let the clock win.”
Also, the short duration of a Tabata sequence can make it a nonintimidating way to tackle a workout. “You can do anything for 20 seconds,” says Oprea, caveating that the brevity of Tabata should not be equated with ease. “For most people, it sounds easy until you’re doing it,” she adds. It is high-intensity interval training, after all. This low time commitment is great for busy exercisers. You can string together several Tabata sequences for a great total-body workout, tackle Tabata sequences one by one throughout the day as you have time, or just do one Tabata if you’re really strapped for time. “Doing something is better than nothing,” says Oprea.
The best thing about this type of circuit? You can do it anywhere with just your bodyweight, says Oprea. (Of course, you can also choose to add weights to Tabata-style workouts to up the challenge.)
On top of that, the protocol is impressively versatile, which makes it great for beginners, advanced exercisers, and everyone in between. “There are so many ways to make [a Tabata sequence] harder or easier,” says Oprea. (More on adjusting this specific Tabata circuit to your fitness level below.)
Ready to give this Tabata sequence a go? Here’s how to do the four-minute circuit.
Oprea suggests downloading a free Tabata timer app (like the Tabata Stopwatch Pro) to help you track the intervals. The following instructions cover what Oprea demoed in the video, though if you are new to working out, perform this with the modification described below.
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, shoulders back, chest up, and core tight. Put your hands on your hips, behind your head, or clasp them together in front of your chest. This is the starting position.
- Push your butt back and bend your knees to lower into a squat and then stand halfway up.
- Step back (about 2 feet) with your left foot, landing on the ball of your left foot and keeping your heel off the floor.
- Bend both knees to create two 90-degree angles with your legs.
- Your shoulders should be directly above your hips and your chest should be upright (a slight forward lean is OK, as long as your back is flat and not arched or rounded forward). Your right shin should be perpendicular to the floor and your right knee should be stacked above your right ankle. Your butt and core should be engaged.
- Push through the heel of your right foot to return to start, though only stand up about halfway to maintain the tension in your right leg.
- Repeat the squat-to-lunge sequence for 20 seconds and then rest for 10 seconds.
- Switch legs and repeat for another 20 seconds followed by 10 seconds of rest.
- Continue until you’ve worked for 4 minutes.
Remember to engage your core throughout the sequence to keep yourself balanced, says Oprea. If you’re feeling wobbly, use the hand of the leg that is fixed in place to grab a chair, or place it against a wall. Also, though there is a definite flow to this circuit, make sure you are performing the squat and the lunge as two distinct movements and not melding them together, she adds.
To modify this Tabata, stand all the way up between each squat and lunge to reduce the tension on your legs. To make this sequence more difficult, hold weights as you perform the moves, and/or double the challenge by doing eight rounds on one leg and then eight rounds on the other leg, for a total of two Tabata rounds, suggests Oprea.
No matter what iteration you choose, “stay focused, let that burn happen, and put on good music,” says Oprea. And lastly? “Know that it’s only 20 seconds and then you get to rest.”