Tabatas are my absolute favorite workout when I’m short on time – they’re quick, they’re effective, and the format makes it easy to create a workout that’s perfect for my goals that day.
If you’re new to tabatas, they’re a form of High Intensity Interval Training, or HIIT, that is rounds of 20 seconds of work and 10 seconds of rest. And by work, I mean all-out, balls-to-the-wall work. Tabatas have been shown to help with fat loss and increase aerobic and anaerobic fitness levels. For more on the science of tabatas, here is a great article. It’s also helpful to have a tabata timer. My favorite is to simply use tabatatimer.com. The same website also has an app, but the app is $2.99 (available on Android and iOS).
Besides being a great workout, I also love tabatas because they keep me engaged – you’re switching exercises fairly quickly, and you only have to push yourself for 20 seconds! Knowing that it’s a short, finite amount of time really helps me push myself.
Without further ado, below is one of my all-time favorite tabatas for legs (and of course, being a tabata, cardio). I’ve included pictures to help explain the moves, and I’ve also included a modifier beneath each exercise. This modifier is great if you’re newer to working out, new to tabatas, or to keep pushing yourself if you just can’t complete that 20 seconds of work.
Make sure you’re warmed up first – active stretching and some jogging in place or jumping jacks are an easy way to warm up quickly.
Round 1 (4 minutes):
With legs slightly wider than hip width apart, lower down into a squat, arms in front of you. Keep your back flat, lower abs tucked in, and weight in your heels. Press through your heels, and squeeze your butt and hamstrings to jump into the air as high as you can. Land softly to avoid hurting or stressing your joints.
Modifier: Instead of jumping up into the air, just come up onto your toes before lowering back down.
Pro Tip: Really focus on using your glutes instead of your quads when you jump up into the air.
Single Leg Deadlift Balance (Left):
Place all your weight into your left leg. With control, lower down to touch the floor with a flat back and your right leg extending behind you. Try to keep your hips even to the ground (your right hip will want to rotate out). Come back up, bringing your right leg through and bring your knee up to your chest.
Modifier: When you come back up, allow your right foot to lightly touch the floor instead of bringing your knee to your chest.
Pro Tip: Keep your core engaged to stay balanced and get an extra boost of core work.
Start on your right leg. Lower down to a one-legged squat, weight in your heel, with your left leg behind you at an angle to counterbalance your weight. Push off of your right foot into the air and hop to the left, landing on your left foot and lowering down into a squat with your right leg behind you. Repeat.
Modifier: Step instead of hop. Extra modification is to lower your other leg and do a curtsy squat.
Pro Tip: Keep your core engaged for extra balance, and try hopping as far as you can left and right.
Single Leg Deadlift Balance (Right):
Same as before, but on the other leg.
Now repeat the four moves again for a total of 8 exercises (4 minutes of work).
Lower into a lunge with your left leg forward, keeping your left knee aligned over your left ankle, never in front of your toes. Press through your left heel up into the air and switch legs, landing softly into a lunge on your right leg. Repeat.
Modifier: Step instead of jumping.
Pro Tip: Keep your chest up – your body should be in a straight line from your right leg up to your shoulders.
Single Leg Squat (left):
Place all your weight into your left leg. Lift your right leg and bend down into a squat, touching your fingers to the floor. Press through your left heel back up to standing, without lowering your right foot to the ground.
Modifier: Touch your right foot to the ground when you come up, or keep your right foot on the ground for the entire squat, trying to keep at least 90% of your weight in your left foot.
Pro Tip: Even though you’re reaching down to the floor, try to keep your back flat and your chest up as much as possible – you want to reach the floor by going into a really low squat, not just by bending over.
Calf Hops (Right on the first round, Left on the second):
Place all of your weight into your right leg. Hook your left foot behind your right ankle. Do little hops on your right toes, keeping your left foot hooked behind your right ankle and do not let your heel touch the ground.
Modifier: Raise and lower on your right toes in a basic calf raise instead of a hop.
Pro Tip: Keep your knee slightly bent to protect your joints, and stay raised as high as you can on your toes.
Single Leg Squat (right):
Same as before, only on your right leg this time.
Repeat the four moves again, switching to your left leg for the calf hops. This will be a total of 8 moves for 4 minutes.
Now, for a full 20-minute workout repeat Rounds 1 and 2 again. Make sure to cool down and stretch after. Make sure to pin the first image so you have this workout handy!