Are 4 Minutes of Burst Training Better Than An Hour At The Gym?

The modern world is incredibly and increasingly fast-moving, giving people less and less time to balance their work, relationships and fitness needs. Spending an hour or more at the gym or out running is often time that we simply don’t have, or it’s time which is taken from one of our other needs whether it be self-care or managing your social life and relationships.

However, there could be an alternative to long, time-consuming workouts which will make it easier for everyone to balance their physical fitness goals alongside the rest of their needs and desires.

The idea is to replace traditional workouts with burst workouts which last as little as 4 minutes, and this workout style has been championed by Dr. Sara Gottfried, a leading health expert and bestselling author of ‘Brain, Body, Diet: 40 Days to a Lean, Calm, Energized, and Happy Self.’

The core premise of this idea is that ancient humans would often tend to need bursts of intensive exercise, whether it be to fight off predators, flee from danger, build fires and shelter or carry heavy loads around a camp. This means that the human body is well accustomed to handling short and intense bursts of physical activity, and the benefits of this can be extremely potent and efficient.

The beauty of burst training is that it can be tailored to your own specific needs. It can be applied to weight training if you’re seeking to build size and power, or cardio if you’re looking to slim down and become leaner.

There are many configurations for burst training, but we’re going to look at some of the most popular formats to help give you some inspiration to work with, allowing you to change things depending on your own fitness level and motivation.

The Routines

Chi running or sprinting intervals for 30 seconds – with a short rest in between intervals. Complete 4 minutes of sprints and that is considered one ‘unit’ of a burst workout.
Another option is walking, which is great for those who are starting out.

Walk for 3 minutes at a fairly fast pace, so that you’re able to feel yourself actively exerting yourself but are still able to maintain a conversation. This will put your exertion levels in the cardio range at about 70% exertion. After 3 minutes of fast walking, you can slow down to a resting pace to recover, before starting another 3 minute round if you feel like it. 

This format is great because it’s rewarding and doesn’t put as much stress on the body as running.


Arguably the original and most pure form of burst training, Tabata was developed by the Japanese, specifically by the coaches of the Japanese Olympic Speed Skating team.

The coaches were curious about how effective their fast, short and intense workout regime actually was, so they called in Dr. Izumi Tabata to run a study on how effective their intensive workouts were.

In 1996 Dr. Tabata ran a study where he compared two test groups who were both on different training regimes. The first group was tested over a period of 20 weeks and performed traditional long-form aerobic exercises such as walking and running, while the other group trained for 15 weeks using a HIIT regime developed by the Olympic coaches.

The group that performed the aerobic exercises burned slightly more calories during the session, which initially seems like traditional exercise is more effective.

However, the group who trained HIIT or ‘Tabata’ burned 900% more fat over the 15 weeks of training than the group doing traditional exercise.

Another later study showed that Tabata and HIIT style training can increase metabolism by 4.2% for up to 16 hours after short intensive training sessions.

This phenomenon is known as EPOC or excess-post-exercise oxygen consumption. This phenomenon is commonly referred to as ‘afterburn’ and is essentially a process where your body continues to burn calories at a much faster rate for a long period after intensive exercise which is very efficient and helps to increase fat loss and fitness even after you’ve stopped working out.

Longer traditional workouts do not lead to EPOC, so it’s actually a scientific fact that short intense rounds of burst exercise can have enormous health and fitness benefits that normal cardiovascular exercise simply can’t provide.

The Routine

Tabata can be done with running, jumping or weights and kettlebells, it’s not so much the movement that is important, rather it’s the format of the routine.

One round of Tabata is structured like this;

The first 20 seconds of your chosen exercise need to be performed at maximum intensity, using 80 or 90 percent of your effort levels. If you’re unsure of your maximum effort levels this can be determined by using a heart rate monitor or by the inability to maintain a conversation while performing the exercise.

After the first 20 seconds are complete you take a 10-second window of rest, before working out again for 20 seconds at the same high intensity, then resting for 10 seconds again. Completing eight of these intervals for four minutes is considered one ‘round’ of Tabata.

Much like burst training, Tabata is great because you can simply perform one round as a beginner, and add rounds as you improve your fitness levels which will progress rapidly using this regime.


The benefits of burst workouts are very clear. Not only are they more efficient, but there are reputable studies indicating that they have huge benefits for fat loss and building fitness levels.

The benefits of these regimes are vast, and they can improve your metabolism, balance out your hormones, release stress and give you a huge mental health boost in a very short space of time.

If you’re someone who is finding it hard to squeeze a workout into your day, but you’re desperate to get control of your health, burst workouts are a great option to try and could revolutionize the way you see exercise and yourself.