Over 50? Try This 4-Move, Low-Impact Tabata Workout

Tabata training improves strength, cardio fitness and mobility for older adults.
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Tabata training is a form of HIIT that involves 20 seconds of work followed by 10 seconds of rest. And while it's typically a high-intensity and advanced form of interval training, it doesn't have to be.


If you're over 50, it's important to keep your workouts challenging without putting stress on or straining your body's joints and muscles.


The good news? You can get Tabata's strength-building, stamina-boosting, mobility-improving benefits with lower-impact moves that don't involve elements like jumping or spiking your heart rate up too much and too fast. Just follow along with the 16-minute, four-move workout below!

First, a Quick Refresher on Tabata Training

Each Tabata move requires eight sets, which lasts 4 minutes total, before you can move onto the next Tabata exercise, according to Julia Kaufmann, CPT, a performance coach with the training app Future. Each set includes alternating "on" and "off" periods where you push yourself to your maximum for 20 seconds, and then take 10 seconds to rest and recover before repeating it again.


Finishing the 20 seconds of work and 10 seconds of rest signifies one set. Once your 10-second rest period is up, you'll repeat the "20 seconds on, 10 seconds off" process until you've completed eight sets and 4 minutes have elapsed.

The goal for each 20-second work period is to get through as many repetitions of an exercise as possible within that timeframe, Kaufmann says,


Because Tabata's technique and format is quite specific, a Tabata workout can vary in length and duration. However, will generally, last for 4, 8, 12 or 16 minutes.

How to Do This Workout

"The CDC recommends adults get 75 minutes of vigorous activity per week, and by doing this workout once a day for five days of the week, you'll hit that," Kaufmann, who created this workout, says.


There's flexibility in intensity, so you can make the movements harder or easier based on your individual needs and fitness level, Kaufmann says. There's also no equipment needed for this workout, so you can do it anywhere.



  • Perform each of the four exercises below for a total of eight sets, which means dedicating four minutes of workout time to each move.
  • Perform each exercise for 20 seconds at a high intensity (whatever that means for you), then take 10 seconds of rest before repeating the exercise for another 20-second push.
  • Do this eight times, for those eight full sets, then move to the next exercise listed in the workout.


A 16-Minute Tabata Workout for Seniors

1. Single-Step Wall March

"This exercise is going to improve core, glute and hip flexor strength, the latter which is very important in gait, posture and balance in older adults," Kaufmann says.

  • Sets:‌ 8
  • Work Duration:‌ 20 seconds
  • Rest Duration:‌ 10 seconds

Type Cardio and Strength
Region Core and Lower Body
  1. Stand arm's distance from a sturdy wall with your feet under your hips.
  2. Place your palms on the wall, shoulder-width apart at shoulder height. Your body should be at a slight angle. This is the starting position.
  3. Brace your core and squeeze your glutes to lift your right knee up toward your chest.
  4. Return to the starting position, then repeat on the left side.
  5. Continue alternating legs.


Start out with slow marches, but once you start to feel more comfortable with the move and your fitness level and mobility allow, you can gradually increase your speed.

2. High-Knee March

"This movement is going to improve coordination and locomotion, as it's engaging the hips, knees, ankles, shoulders and elbow joints for a full-body movement," Kaufmann says.


This movement pattern is especially important because it helps make daily movements — like walking up stairs, stepping up onto a curb or getting into a car — easier to do, she says.

  • Sets:‌ 8
  • Work Duration:‌ 20 seconds
  • Rest Duration‌: 10 seconds

Type Cardio and Strength
Region Full Body
  1. Stand up straight and tall, arms hanging down by your sides.
  2. Drive your right knee up toward your chest, one at a time. Make sure you're hitting a 90-degree angle in the suspended knee.
  3. Move your arms in conjunction with your feet to engage your upper body.

3. Air Punch

This exercise is great for targeting your shoulders and thoracic spine. "It is going to improve upper-body power and speed, and its movement pattern correlates to grabbing an item from the pantry or off a shelf at the grocery store," Kaufman says.


  • Sets: ‌8
  • Work Duration:‌ 20 seconds
  • Rest Duration:‌ 10 seconds

Type Cardio and Strength
Region Core and Upper Body
  1. Stand up straight with your feet hip-width apart.
  2. Make a fist with both hands in front of your chest, right below shoulder height.
  3. Punch your right arm straight out in front of you, then bring it back in toward your chest.
  4. Repeat, punching out with your left arm instead.
  5. Continue alternating arms, moving as quickly as possible with both hands. However, remain intentional with your punches.

4. Quick Feet

This movement works your quadriceps and calves, which are two lower-body muscle groups that are important for preventing slips and falls.


"They help support the body's center of gravity to enhance overall stability," Kaufmann says. And, good balance, coordination, posture and stability will reduce the risk of developing pain and aches or succumbing to accidents and falls, fractures, or other injuries.

  • Sets:‌ 8
  • Work Duration: ‌20 seconds
  • Rest Duration: ‌10 seconds

Type Cardio and Strength
Region Lower Body
  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart.
  2. Make a fist with both hands in front of your chest, right below shoulder height.
  3. Push your hips back and bend your knees slightly into an athletic stance.
  4. Alternate tapping your feet in place as quickly as possible.
  5. When doing the move, stay on the balls of your feet, keeping your feet light with the taps.

Benefits of Tabata Training for Older Adults

Regular cardiovascular exercise, like Tabata training, improves heart health, blood circulation and stamina. With age, your risk of cardiovascular disease increases, but "regular activity at a moderate intensity helps improve cardiovascular fitness and heart health," says Lalitha Bhowani-McSorley, MScPT, lead physical therapist and owner of Brentwood Physiotherapy Calgary in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

Bhowani-McSorley cites a December 2021 review in the journal ‌Sports Medicine Open‌ that found older adults reaped more health benefits — like better aerobic fitness and quality of life and lower blood pressure — from doing HIIT workouts, like Tabata, than they did doing traditional endurance exercises.

1. It Boosts Your VO2 Max

Tabata is excellent for increasing VO2 max, which refers to the maximum amount of oxygen you can utilize during intense activity, and it's indicative of cardiovascular health. The higher your VO2 max is, the lower your risk of early death is — particularly from heart disease — according to UC Davis Health.

And, a higher Vo2 max specifically helped prevent onset of dementia later in life. A July 2018 study in ‌Age Ageing‌ found a connection between a high VO2 max and a lower risk of developing dementia later in life.

2. It Improves Your Metabolic Health

Tabata also betters your metabolic health, which lowers your risk of developing high blood pressure, high cholesterol and high blood sugar levels, per a September 2021 article in ‌ACSM's Health & Fitness Journal.


3. It Builds Muscle

Tabata training builds muscle mass, another factor that's vital for seniors.

"As we age, we lose 3 to 5 percent of muscle mass per decade, and lower muscle mass increases risk of accidents, like falls and fractures," Kaufmann says. "High-intensity training improves muscle hypertrophy, specifically in the lower body and abdominal muscle groups, which are two areas that are essential for preventing falls."

4. It Increases Joint Mobility

Tabata workouts often include functional movements, which increase joint mobility and reduce stiffness.

"As we age, joints become less flexible, which can lead to reduced mobility and increase risk of injury. So, maintaining flexibility to support everyday movement and prevent joint-related issues is critical," McSorley says.

In fact, a September 2017 study in the ‌Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research‌ found that older adults who participated in a regular HIIT program over 16 weeks improved their flexibility and range of motion, McSorley notes.

As long as you create a low-impact, body-weight Tabata workout to alleviate the stress on your joints — which will lower your risk of injury — it'll be safe and suitable for seniors.

"High-intensity intervals promote cardiovascular fitness, while body-weight exercises enhance strength and functional mobility," McSorley says.

5. It Enhances Cognitive Function and Memory

"Cognitive decline is a natural part of aging, but staying active can delay its onset and improve overall brain health," McSorley says.

But research shows regular HIIT training to help combat cognitive decline in older adults. For example, a small September 2020 study in ‌Brain Sciences‌ found a link between improved cognitive function and doing HIIT three days a week in adults around 68 years old.




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