July 02, 2021 9 min read

Embarking on a fitness journey often means discovering the great fun and variety in all the different types of training methods. You may have tried running, weightlifting, biking, or even swimming, but have you ever tried Tabata? 

It may be the sweatiest and hardest full-body workout you’ve ever done, but Tabata is undoubtedly a great form of bodyweight exercise.

Some claim Tabata is the single most effective and efficient form of high-intensity interval training.

In this article, we take a look at Tabata’s characteristics, its history, and even how to do a Tabata workout. Whether you’re looking to create some variety in your routine, or are faced with the task of planning an all-new workout plan, stick around to see if Tabata might just be your new favorite training method.

The tabata circuit system, clocks with times and advice concerning exercices, tabata circuit system, vector illustration isolated on white background

What is Tabata?

Tabata is a training technique developed by Dr. Izumi Tabata, a Japanese exercise science researcher. Tabata is a type of HIIT (high-intensity interval training) workout characterized by a 20-second period of movement followed by 10-seconds of rest.

This pattern is done over the time span of just four minutes, encouraging maximum effort more than other forms of HIIT. Originally, the training method was formulated by Dr. Tabata and a colleague for the Japanese Speed Skating Team.

HIIT training was not new when Dr. Tabata released the Tabata Protocol in the 1990s. In fact, interval training has been around since nearly the early 1900s when a Swedish man developed the Fartlek method. Though, there are arguments that interval training started even earlier than this.

The Benefits of Tabata

Like nearly all forms of physical activity, Tabata comes with a plethora of benefits and advantages, including:

Efficient and Time-Saving

A single Tabata session is just four minutes long. In this four-minute time span, you can easily formulate a workout that engages several muscle groups while also giving you many of the same benefits as traditional cardio. Over the span of a single Tabata session, you should work to engage many muscle groups as well as giving out high effort. This makes Tabata a quick way to burn some serious calories and even build muscle.

Requires No Equipment

Tabata is typically done using a series of bodyweight exercises yet will still give you an amazing workout due to Tabata’s quick bursts of high energy. While you can add weights, resistance bands, or any other form of equipment, a good Tabata session can be completely equipment-free.

Highly Accessible

Not only does Tabata require no equipment, but it also doesn’t require a gym or class and can be done very quickly. For these reasons, Tabata can be done from your bedroom or living room or between shifts, making Tabata perfect for those of us on a budget or time constraint. Furthermore, any level of fitness can participate in Tabata.

Boosts Metabolism

Any form of training can help boost your metabolism and burn fat. This is especially true for Tabata since it involves not only cardiovascular work but also has muscle-building properties. Having more muscle and consistently working out can boost metabolism, and Tabata is an easy way to do so.

Easily Variable

Tabata is easily varied to fit your specific goals or requirements. If you would like to achieve muscle hypertrophy, add weights. If you’d like to increase your cycling endurance, simply do the Tabata method on a bicycle. 

Can Prevent Injuries

Many types of training, such as Tabata, can help prevent injury. This is because your range of motion is typically increased, as well as the ability of your joints and muscles. Injury prevention through physical activity is highly important, especially as our lives adapt to become more sedentary and injury-inducing.

Can Aid Weight Loss

Tabata also encourages weight loss as it is highly effective at increasing your heart rate. Unlike other forms of cardio, such as running, Tabata also encourages muscle growth. The presence of more muscle will burn fat even long after a workout is complete. This makes Tabata an efficient and effective form of weight loss.

Full-Body Workout

Efficiency in fat burning and muscle gain is not the only convenient aspect of Tabata. Tabata is also a full-body workout that is completed in just four small minutes. In other types of training, you might be working only one or a few groups of muscles at a time for a longer time period.

Steady-state cardio like running often does not recruit many muscles nor is it the best for burning fat. Tabata has more potential for engaging several muscle groups at the same time and throughout the entire workout. 

A four-minute Tabata session can easily target glutes, abs, upper body, and lower body for a complete body workout. This is because you’re doing a series of different bodyweight movements paired with high-intensity intervals, encouraging variety and muscle engagement, growth, and endurance.

Can Increase Overall Health

If you’re looking for ways to improve and maintain high levels of health, Tabata is a great tool. Like many types of HIIT workouts, there are several aspects of Tabata that will help keep your body not only looking good but feeling good. Later on, we’ll discuss the aerobic and anaerobic properties of Tabata, both of which contribute highly to your level of health.

Does Not Require High Fitness Levels

Perhaps most importantly, Tabata does not require a high level of fitness to get started. Commonly, people are deterred by the thought of a workout that requires “maximum effort”. However, your maximum effort does not mean an Olympic competitor’s max effort. Maximum effort is quite specific to an individual, so don’t feel deterred by Tabata if it sounds too hard. Sticking with Tabata is likely to increase your fitness level over time.

Aerobic and Anaerobic

Dr. Tabata says his method of training is able to “improve both aerobic and anaerobic” functions of the body. Aerobic refers to exercise that gets your blood pumping and increases the use of oxygen, or VO2, consumption. Tabata exercise claims to boost your VO2 max, thus increasing your overall endurance and health.

Aerobic capacity has shown to be a large predictor of your future health.

Those with a higher VO2 peak show promise in being healthier over time and can even manage fatal diseases. This is especially important for the older population, so it’s never too late to start Tabata training!

Anaerobic literally means “without oxygen” and refers to a type of workout that depletes energy storage without using large amounts of oxygen. Weightlifting is one example of anaerobic exercise. MAOD, or maximum accumulated oxygen deficit, is how anaerobic capacity is measured.

Tabata manages to be both anaerobic and aerobic in nature. While aerobic exercise encourages endurance, anaerobic exercise induces strength and muscle building.For these reasons, HIIT workouts like Tabata have been utilized greatly by professional athletes.

One study found that 6 to 12 weeks of Tabata training increased VO2 max up to 15% and the MAOD up to 35%. These increases are not typically seen in other forms of more conventional exercise.

How to Do A Tabata Workout: An Example Tabata Session

Tabata is not meant to be overly complex or involved and sessions can easily be done from the comfort of your own home. You can even do Tabata jump rope sessions or cycling sessions, which is actually what Tabata was originally intended for.

Below, we’ve formulated the perfect bodyweight total body workout utilizing the Tabata method. These movements may seem easy on their own but implementing the Tabata method can make even the simplest movement feel quite a challenge.

  • Push-ups for 20 seconds
  • Break for 10 seconds
  • Burpees for 20 seconds
  • Break for 10 seconds
  • Lunges for 20 seconds
  • Break for 10 seconds
  • Jumping Jacks for 20 seconds
  • Break for 10 seconds
  • Mountain Climbers for 20 seconds
  • Break for 10 seconds
  • High Knees for 20 seconds
  • Break for 10 seconds
  • Bicycle Crunch for 20 seconds
  • Break for 10 seconds 
  • Squats for 20 seconds 
  • Done!
 Athlete Doing Squats With Kettlebell

 

Weighted Tabata Workout

If you’re looking for more of a challenge and wish to incorporate weights into your Tabata session, we’ve got you covered. While most Tabata workouts utilize a series of bodyweight movements and do not require equipment, you can easily translate the Tabata principles to weighted movements by using kettlebells or dumbbells. Weight lifting alone has many benefits.

Combine these with Tabata, and you’ve got a highly beneficial, efficient, and challenging strength training workout. It is also advised that a lower amount of weight is used as your endurance will really be tested. Weights you’ve been able to do for 5 repetitions in the past will start feeling super heavy in your Tabata session. Furthermore, heavy weights can easily lead to injury if the body is not properly equipped to handle the load.

  • Kettlebell Squats for 20 seconds
  • Break for 10 seconds
  • Dumbbell Russian Twists for 20 seconds
  • Break for 10 seconds
  • Plank Row with Dumbbells for 20 seconds
  • Break for 10 seconds
  • Dumbbell Woodchops for 20 seconds
  • Break for 10 seconds
  • Kettlebell Swings for 20 seconds
  • Break for 10 seconds
  • Dumbbell Side Lunges for 20 seconds
  • Break for 10 seconds
  • Dumbbell Jump Squats for 20 seconds
  • Break for 10 seconds
  • Dumbbell Lunge to Overhead Presses for 20 seconds
  • Done!

Tips for Tabata

Tabata is a simple and minimal style of maximum-effort exercise. However, there are several things you can do for yourself in order to get the most of your Tabata sessions that might not have crossed your mind.

Be Sure to Always Give Your Max Effort

While traditional forms of cardio exercise, such as running, may instruct you to take a steady pace, Tabata is very much the opposite. Each 20-second burst of the Tabata session should be a maximum effort. A steady pace does not follow the Tabata protocol.

One single Tabata session is only four minutes. However, you should strive to make it the most physically difficult part of your day in order to achieve all the benefits Tabata has to offer. Always give your Tabata sessions your absolute all. If you aren’t sweaty and in dire need of a shower afterward, you did not do it right.

However, keeping this in mind, over-exertion should be avoided. Rather, work up to higher levels of effort through continued Tabata training. If you push yourself too hard on your first session, you may not want to do another session in the future. Consistency is key to achieving fitness.

Warm-Up

Like most forms of exercise, an adequate warm-up can make all the difference. Of course, your warm-up for Tabata should not be strenuous or difficult as you should save your energy for the Tabata session itself. Simply take time to stretch and warm up your body to minimize the potential for injury.

Remember that Tabata is short bursts of maximum energy and although you should prioritize form, even the best of us can lose form when doing a certain movement repeatedly and very quickly. This loss of form can lead to potential injuries, so having your muscles and joints warmed up before your session is ideal.

Form is Important

As stated before, form is easily lost when speed is added to the mix. However, with poor form comes a high potential for injury as well as diminished results. In your warm-up, you can briefly go through the movements, checking in with your form and posture.

If the form is not there, you should work hard to perfect the movement. Otherwise, you put yourself at unnecessary risk for injury. This may even mean holding off with incorporating weighted movements or movements that require complex equipment.

Repeat Sessions for Several Rounds

If you find just one round of Tabata is too easy for you or you wish to see more benefits in a shorter period of time, doing several Tabata sessions in a row can help. Even with completing many Tabata sessions back-to-back, you are likely to find this workout is still very time-saving. In fact, you can do five rounds of Tabata in just 20 minutes.

Pair Tabata With A Good Diet

Training alone is not likely to reap many benefits if not also paired with an overall healthy lifestyle. Although Tabata is a fat-burning cardio workout, a balanced diet is vital to see the desired results.

If your goal is to lose fat and/or build muscle, you should aim to get adequate calories and macronutrients, giving special attention to your protein intake.

Utilizing protein powder is a great tool when aiming to get a higher amount of protein in your diet.

Pair Tabata With Other Training Methods

Most people who utilize Tabata training also pair it with other methods of training, such as Crossfit or weightlifting. You can always do several Tabata sessions back-to-back and use that as a larger portion of a training session or as your entire training session.

However, as with any method of training, you’re likely to see increased health benefits when implementing variety and utilizing several different training methods throughout your training week.

Find Online Tabata Sessions

The internet has a plethora of information on a multitude of subjects, Tabata being just one of them.

Many of your favorite fitness Youtubers have likely posted their own Tabata sessions, which are free and typically provide great instruction on form and timing. Think of these videos as free Tabata classes. After doing these “classes”, you can have a better idea of how to conduct your own Tabata sessions in the future.

Tabata Training: Conclusion

There are various ways to incorporate the principles of Tabata into your training sessions. Additionally, Tabata is a great on-the-go workout and can even be done between those online meetings. Just four minutes of your day is all you need to complete one Tabata session.

Tabata is also a highly approachable workout. If you can’t afford a gym membership, the equipment needed for weightlifting, or expensive HIIT classes, Tabata provides a cost-free option for high-quality physical activity.

However, for those who do have access to equipment and gyms, you can easily add Tabata to a physique training program for added fat burn. 


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