The ONLY Kettlebell Exercise You Should Do a Tabata With

kettlebell press strong

I’m going to be up front with you (when am I not, right?), but I hate the term “Tabata”.

If that term is new to you, “Tabata” is a training protocol named after the Japanese scientist who discovered the cardio and fat loss benefits achieved by using a 20s work, 10s rest protocol.

Mr. Tabata found that elite athletes – members of the Japanese speed skating team – achieved incredible cardiovascular and fat loss results by training at 170% VO2 Max intensity on exercise bikes (that’s the only way he could adjust the work vs rest quickly, I suppose) by working intensely for 20s and then resting for 10s. They did this for 4 minutes straight.

Since his findings back in 1996 the term Tabata gets used and abused more than $2 umbrella in a tornado.

Trainers say stuff like, “Let’s do a Tabata today of bicep curls and lateral raises”. Ha!

Or “Let’s do a rope jumping Tabata today”. Not gonna work.

Or “Let’s do a Tabata of Presses and Swings”. What!?!

You see, it’s next to impossible for someone to work get to the intensity of 170% VO2 max in 20 seconds with any of those exercises…even KB Presses & Swings.

The truth is there is only ONE kettlebell exercise that you can possibly do a Tabata with… and you better be darn good at that exercise as well in order for you to get even close for it to work the way it did for Professor Tabata (kettlebell training is a skill, remember?).

Which exercise, you ask?

The Revolution of Simple.

It’s the snatch. Or more specifically, the Hardstyle Snatch.

Or, if you want to drill it down even more… it’s the Hardstyle Snatch with an overspeed eccentric using your snatch size kettlebell or heavier (So for men that would be a 24kg or 12kg or 16kg for women.)

So how does that work?

Well, I’m going to warn you again… this is really hard and it’s only for people who have really dialled in their snatch technique and who are comfortable working with their snatch sized kettlebell (i.e. if your snatch size bell still “feels” heavy, you’re not ready for this – don’t worry I’ll give you an alternative at the end of this email).

OK, here goes…

After you’re thoroughly warm – I suggest warming up with OS, then doing some swings, goblet squats and get-ups – you’ll set your timer, but don’t hit start yet…

You’ll have to snatch your kettlebell and get it to the overhead position first.

Then, hit start OR just watch the clock and THROW the kettlebell down through your knees into your hinge/back swing – that is the overspeed eccentric part. If you do that properly you should feel your hamstrings stretch like rubber bands on a slingshot.

Using that slingshot energy, explosively contract your glutes, lock out your knees and drive that kettlebell overhead maximizing tension at the top. Hold that position only for a split second and then throw the kettlebell back down.

Repeat that for 20 seconds – throw, extend, lockout.

Then, when the 20s is over, pre-swing the kettlebell – DO NOT PUT IT DOWN – and transfer it to your other hand.  

Hike pass and back swing it through, and snatch it overhead and wait for your 10 seconds of “rest” to finish.

Once the 10 seconds of rest is up, forcefully “hike” it through into your back swing and repeat the protocol with that arm.

20 seconds – throw, extend, lockout, repeat.

Repeat that 6 more times for a total of 4 minutes.

That would be as close to a Tabata protocol with a kettlebell as you could get.

A few notes:

1. You MUST use the Hardstyle Snatch. The HS Snatch is very inefficient in the sense that it uses as much energy as possible to produce the most amount of power. The Softstyle/GS Snatch does not do that – it’s focus is to conserve energy…not the same thing. You won’t get anywhere close to 170% VO2 max with a GS Snatch.

2. You MUST use the over speed eccentric. Don’t just let the kettlebell fall. You have to actively throw it down. This creates virtual forces in the kettlebell that make it feel heavier than it actually is (which is why Hardstyle KB training is so powerful). Which brings me to my next point…

3. Because the kettlebell will feel heavier because of the force you exert into it on the way down, YOU MUST TAME THE ARC. DO NOT turn the eccentric portion of your snatch into a high speed 1-arm swing from over your head. To protect your shoulder and the integrity of your joints you must tame the arc. That means from the overhead position, flip the kettlebell over and bend your elbow keeping the kettlebell somewhat closer to you than you would a swing as you throw it through.

See, I told you this was hard.

I would reserve this protocol for seasoned and strong kettlebell practitioners only. Using this protocol is a very humbling experience – especially with a snatch sized KB. BUT, it’s one of the best ways to get in shape quickly if you’re able to do it.

I’ve done this protocol 3-4 times in my life (I found it much harder than the SFG Snatch Test).

I did not enjoy it.

The point I’m trying to make is that just because something uses a 20-10 timed protocol, does not make it a Tabata. Remember the original Tabata was performed on Elite International Level athletes. Men who were in incredible physical condition to begin with.

That’s not to say that the 20-10 protocol doesn’t work. Just don’t call it a Tabata.

And if you’re not ready for to use your snatch sized bell, you can still get the benefits of Tabata training by using big, bang-for-your-buck exercises with just your bodyweight…

Check out that solution HERE <= 10 Tabata Finishers FR*EE Bonus

Have an awesome day,

P.S. And if you try the protocol above, let me know how it goes. Better yet, take a video of you doing it and I’ll put it up on my Facebook Page and Blog.

P.P.S. Be smart and be safe.

P.P.P.S. Don’t say I didn’t warn you 🙂


  • Reply August 8, 2014

    Joe Koenig

    Nice article. Thanks. But why not
    – thrusters?
    – clean & jerk, resp. clean & press?
    – squats?

    OK, cleans may cause some latency, which might make it hard to achieve the desired vo2max. But they’re still a viable option. Let alone thrusters and squats.

    As for me: I’m seriously overweight, so I’m doing thrusters with an extremely easy weight (26 lbs / 12 kg). The squat portion of the thruster is what actually gets me off.

    • Reply October 9, 2014


      Joe, thrusters & squats are awesome. Anything with the squat movement is actually great for tabata and super tough!

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