Log In
Old-school-bodybuilding-program-website Old-school-bodybuilding-program-mobile

Tabata Builder

This 4-week full-body program combines Tabata intervals and reverse-linear periodization for great gains in size, strength, fat loss, and conditioning.

Tabata Builder full body

This isn’t just another Tabata program. Those are a dime a dozen these days on social media. This program is different.

First of all, it’s not a one-off workout like the ones you typically see on Instagram and Pinterest. This is a structured 4-week program that combines foundational lifting exercises, Tabata intervals, and reverse-linear periodization to boost muscle growth and fat loss, as well as strength.

What also makes this routine different is that I’ll be doing it alongside you, posting daily on my social media accounts, as part of my ongoing Train With Jim series here on JimStoppani.com.

So get ready to Tabata in a different way than you ever have before for results you’ve never experienced with fast-paced interval training. Get ready to build more muscle and more strength with my Tabata Builder program.

Tabata Refresher

I’ve covered and incorporated Tabata intervals in many of my programs on JimStoppani.com, but just to make sure we’re clear, here’s what a full Tabata protocol for a given exercise consists of:

8 rounds (sets) of 20 seconds of reps alternated with 10 seconds of rest

Or, expressed in even simpler terms:

8 x 20 seconds on, 10 seconds off (where the 20 seconds on consists of continuous reps of the exercise for the duration)

It only takes 4 minutes (per exercise), but it’s as intense as any type of resistance training you’ve ever done.

Tabata Background

Tabatas were created by Japanese scientist Dr. Izumi Tabata. Dr. Tabata was looking for a method in the gym that would give the Japanese national speed-skating team an edge on the ice. What he discovered was that when he had his athletes perform eight cycles of 20-second high-intensity bouts followed by 10 seconds of rest, they increased both their aerobic (endurance) capacity and anaerobic (quick power) output – two things speed skaters need in spades to be successful, but which don’t typically go hand in hand. In other words, training one usually means the other is taking a backseat.

Tabata isn’t just for athletes, though. It offers many physique-oriented benefits, too. Since it enhances endurance, it boosts your body’s ability to burn more body fat. And since it bolsters explosiveness, it can help you get more reps with a given weight and/or use more weight to get a given number of reps – in other words, what used to be a set of 10 with 200 pounds could soon be 10 reps with 225. This not only crosses over to more strength, but more muscle growth as well, since a greater overload on the muscles will eventually lead to them increasing in size.       

Most people associate Tabatas with aerobic-type exercise (running, cycling, etc.) or with bodyweight calisthenics-style exercises. Yet if you’ve completed my Tabata Weight Blast program, you already know that Tabatas can be done with pretty much any lifting exercise, from bench press to biceps curls and even deadlifts.

Tabata Meets Periodization

With my Tabata Builder program, you don’t start off with the full 8 rounds of 20 seconds of exercise. Instead, you’ll start with just two rounds and increase the number of rounds by two each week. By Week 4, you’ll be doing the full 8 rounds, as described below.

The reason for starting out with lower volume (only 2 rounds/sets of 20 seconds at first) isn’t simply to ease you into Tabatas. It’s because that first week, the weight you’ll use is too heavy to complete eight rounds without needing extra rest – and if you’re resting more than the prescribed 10 seconds between rounds, you’re not really doing Tabatas anymore.

Each week, the weight gets lighter while the number of Tabata rounds (volume) you perform will increase – a reverse-linear periodization scheme. Because you’re starting out with lower volume and gradually working your way up, in Week 4 you’ll be doing full 8-round Tabatas for every exercise, likely with more weight than you’re currently using.

The escalating volume and increasing workloads of the reverse-linear model will help you systematically boost muscle size and strength over the course of the program. By adding in more rounds each week, your body’s ability to recover between rounds is enhanced.

Tabata Add-On Rounds

One element I’ve thrown in for Weeks 1-3 to make up for the lower volume are two “add-on” rounds for each exercise, with additional rest added in (1-2 minutes). So instead of doing only two, four, and six rounds/sets total per exercise, respectively, in Weeks 1, 2, and 3, you’ll be doing four, six, and eight rounds total. (These add-on rounds are explained in greater detail in the below “Week-by-Week Rundown” section.)

This added volume will promote better size and strength gains over the course of the 4-week program. The add-on rounds will drop off in Week 4, at which point you’ll be doing a full 8-round Tabata sequence for each exercise.

Tabata Builder Program Snapshot

Here’s how the weeks will break down from a volume and load standpoint:

Week 1: 2 + 2 rounds = Heavy (8-10 RM)

Week 2:  4 + 2 rounds = Moderate/Heavy (12-15 RM)

Week 3: 6 + 2 rounds = Moderate/Light: (16-20 RM)

 Week 4: 8 rounds = Light: (16-20 RM or 21-25 RM)

Note: In parentheses is the amount of weight you’ll use for each exercise – your estimated 8-10, 12-15, or 16-20 rep max (RM). As I’ll explain below, ideally, you’ll be able to stay with the same weight in Week 4 as in Week 3 (16-20 RM), but you may have to go a little lighter than that.

Week-by-Week Rundown

Week 1

In the first week of the program, you’ll complete just two Tabata rounds at a time (20 seconds of reps per round, with 10 seconds rest between rounds). But you won’t just do two sets of 20 seconds and stop there; instead, you’ll take a 1-2-minute break and repeat the two rounds again with the same weight. Most people should be able to use their 8-10 RM max in Week 1.

And just to be clear, here’s how it will go for each exercise: Take your 8-10 RM on the exercise (refer to your weight selections for Shortcut To Size if you just finished that with me) and perform as many reps as you can in 20 seconds. Rest 10 seconds, then perform another 20 seconds of reps. Then, rest 1-2 minutes and repeat those two 20-second rounds with the same weight.

You should be able to complete anywhere from 5 to 10 reps in those 20 seconds. Keep in mind, the more reps you complete in the first 20-second round, the fewer reps you’ll complete in the second round. So pace yourself. But don’t pause between reps as a way to conserve energy; instead, slow your rep tempo down so that you’re doing reps the entire 20 seconds. This way, you’re doing fewer reps, but you still have the time under tension for the 20 seconds as you would have had you banged out reps as fast as possible.  

Week 2

For the entire second week of the program, you’ll do four rounds of Tabatas (as always, 20 seconds of reps and 10 seconds of rest per round) for each exercise. Then, like in Week 1, you’ll take a 1-2-minute rest and repeat two more rounds with the same weight you used for the initial four rounds.

Most people should be able to use their 12-15 RM to complete both sets of four 20-second rounds. If you feel up for it, you can try to use the same weight you did in Week 1 for those last two rounds.

Week 3

We’re jumping up to six rounds of Tabatas at a time to start the second half of the 4-week program. Again, for each exercise, after you complete the six rounds, you’ll take a 1-2-minute rest and complete another two rounds using the same weight.

Most people should be able to use their 16-20 RM here. Again, feel free to you use heavier weight (ie, your 12-15 RM) for the last two rounds if it’s manageable. 

Week 4

In the final week of the program, you’ll increase to eight straight rounds for each exercise – a standard Tabata protocol. And because you’re doing all eight in succession, you won’t need to tack on an additional two rounds to like in previous weeks to make up for the lower volume. Just do your 8-round Tabata, then move on to the next exercise and repeat.

Here, an appropriate weight to use would be somewhere around your 21-25 RM. However, you may find that you’re able to use the same weight as you did in Week 3 (your 16-20 RM), thanks to muscle adaptation. If so, stick with the heavier weight. Otherwise, go with your 21-25 RM.

Training Split: The "SFS" System

As introduced in my Full-Body Shortcut to Size program, I’m again employing a unique style of training split here – a hybrid between a full-body and a body-part split. I call this my Stoppani Full-Split training system, or SFS for short.

As you’ll see in the below workouts, all 10 major muscle groups (chest, back, shoulders, legs, triceps, biceps, traps, abs, calves, forearms) are being worked every training day. But each workout includes two “focus” muscle groups that get more volume than the others.

In this program, the focus muscle groups get anywhere from 2 to 4 exercises in the workout and all other (eight) muscle groups get one exercise.

The way I see it, this training-split approach offers the best of worlds: (1) maximized fat-burning due to full-body training (hitting every muscle group in every workout), and (2) emphasis on select muscle groups in every workout to enhance strength and size in those areas and bring up weak points in the physique.

SFS Breakdown

The focus muscle groups from workout to workout in this program are as follows:

Workout 1: Chest and Triceps (4 chest exercises, 3 triceps exercises)

Workout 2: Legs and Calves (4 leg exercises, 2 calf exercises)

Workout 3: Shoulders and Traps (4 shoulders exercises, 2 trap exercises)

Workout 4: Back and Abs (4 back exercises, 2 ab exercises)

Workout 5: Biceps and Forearms Focus (3 biceps exercises, 2 forearm exercises)

To Cardio Or Not To Cardio?

As I explained in my SFS article, full-body training serves as both my weight training and my cardio. Fat-burning is maximized because you're turning on the genes in every muscle, every workout. Plus, my rest periods tend to be very short in my workouts, so I'm getting cardiovascular conditiong from being in constant motion. In this particular program, the Tabata protocol itself is providing yet another great cardiovascular benefit. In other words, you're getting plenty cardio if you follow the Tabata Builder program as written.

Cardio Option #1: More Tabatas During the Workout

That said, if you want to turn it up a notch, feel free to add in a few rounds of bodyweight-style Tabatas using exercises like high knees, burpees, jumping jacks, step-ups, etc. You can fit these extra bouts of cardio in between exercises during the workout or save them until the end of the workout and do anywhere from 1-4 bodyweight Tabata circuits (or more if you're in really good shape and can handle it).

Cardio Option #2: HIIT in Separate Workouts

Or, you can do additional cardio in separate workouts during the week – in the morning, at night, on weekends, etc. In these sessions, I definitely recommend high-intensity interval training (HIIT) if you want to really maximize fat-burning. As for weekends, it's important to stay active even though these are off days from the Tabata Builder program. HIIT workouts like my Lucky 13 Circuit are great for weekend "active rest" days.

Cardio Option #3: Cardioacceleration

If you don't want to tack on more time to your workout or training week with added Tabatas or HIIT, another option for boosting fat-burning and conditioning is cardioacceleration. With this technique, instead of resting between sets during the workout, you perform a cardio activity like jumping jacks, running in place, or step-ups.

Do cardioacceleration anywhere the workout calls for 1-2 minutes rest – in other words, between Tabata protocols and add-on (+2) sets. I wouldn't recommend trying to do cardio in lieu of the short 10-second rest periods. Let that be full rest.

Superset Exercises to Save Time and Boost Fat Loss

To make your workout go faster and increase intensity for better fat-burning, you can also superset your add-on sets.

For example, in Workout 1, do 20 seconds of bench press, 10 seconds rest, and another 20 seconds of bench press. Then, do 20 seconds of step ups, 10 seconds rest, and another 20 seconds of step ups. Then, go back to bench press and repeat the process (two sets of bench, followed immediately by two sets of step-ups, resting 10 seconds between sets).

After that, do the same type of supersets for the add-on sets with reverse-grip bench press and reverse-grip rows, and so on throughout the workout. Which exercises you pair as supersets can vary, but generally speaking I prefer to superset either opposing muscle groups (chest and back, biceps and triceps); upper and lower body exercises (chest and legs, shoulders and legs, traps and calves, etc.); or smaller, unrelated bodyparts (abs and forearms, traps and abs, traps and forearms, etc.).

Tabata Builder Workouts

Week 1

Week 2

Week 3

Week 4

Download All Workouts Here


Build Your Physique 4 Minutes at a Time

Get more strength, muscle, fat loss, and conditioning with this 4-week HIIT-style weight training program.

Get the Workout