Tabata Training Guide (with sample workouts)

March 8th, 2019 Functional Fitness
tabata training and workouts

If you’re curious to learn more about Tabata training and workouts, you’re in the right place. Perhaps you’ve heard success stories and you want to try it out for yourself. Or maybe you’re tired of your current routine and want to try something new.

Tabata training is not for the faint of heart—you’re going to feel the burn. That being said, Tabata training can bring you a whole range of benefits.

Tabata workouts are ideal for those of you struggling to fit exercise into a hectic lifestyle. This style of training can also help you achieve other fitness goals. Burning fat is another bonus to giving Tabata a try.

In this article, you’ll get an in-depth understanding of what Tabata training could do for you. I’ve also detailed Tabata workouts to suit people of all preferences: from gym-goers to those of you who prefer equipment-free workouts.

Tabata Training: What Is It?

If you’ve heard of Tabata training, you’ve likely heard of high-intensity interval training (HIIT). What you may not be aware of is that Tabata training was the source behind many of the HIIT programs we know and practice today.

Tabata is named after Izumi Tabata, a Japanese scientist. Tabata and his fellow scientists performed a study in 1996 that changed the way we approach exercise.

The point of the study was to measure aerobic and anaerobic capacity. For those of you who are new to the world of exercise and training, let me define those for you.

Aerobic vs. Anaerobic

Aerobic capacity refers to how well your cardiovascular system works to transport oxygen while exercising. The definition of aerobic is literally “with oxygen.”

Aerobic exercises consist of any workout that allows you to increase your heart and breathing rate sustainably. Although you may work up a sweat, you’ll be able to keep going without collapsing.

In contrast, the word anaerobic means “without oxygen.” Your anaerobic capacity is how long you can keep pushing through a workout without oxygen. Obviously, that is not very long.

Anaerobic exercises are workouts that can only be done in short bursts. For example, sprinting at full speed rather than running at a leisurely pace. Or doing a set of squats as fast as you possibly can without stopping.

The Original Tabata Training

Now that we’re clear on that, let’s get back to Tabata’s study. The subjects were given one of two workouts: moderate or high-intensity. The moderate workouts were continuous, using roughly 70 percent of maximal oxygen consumption over one hour.

The high-intensity workouts were eight bouts of exercise, each lasting only 20 seconds. Including a 10 second rest period between bouts, these sessions lasted for a total of four minutes.

Subjects used 170 percent of maximal oxygen consumption, or VO2 max. This is a measurement of how much oxygen a person uses while exercising intensely. More oxygen is consumed to create more energy for your cells.

For those brief 20 seconds, the subjects were exercising at full intensity. This means the HIIT subjects were performing anaerobic exercises rather than aerobic ones.

Both moderate and HIIT exercise improved the subjects’ aerobic capacity. However, the HIIT subjects also showed a 28 percent increase in anaerobic capacity. That may not sound like much to you, but it’s an impressive figure.

At this point, you may be wondering what the difference is between a HIIT and a Tabata workout. Well, Tabata workouts follow the pattern determined in the study: 20 seconds on, 10 seconds off.

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What Are the Benefits of Tabata Training?

I briefly touched on the perks of adding Tabata training into your regime. Whatever your fitness level and objectives are, Tabata can work for you.

Improves Your Endurance

Endurance (or stamina) is essential for certain sports. Marathon running, triathlons, competitive swimming—the list goes on.

These types of sports and activities require that you perform consistently, usually at an intense pace. Professional athletes are able to maintain their performance levels while nearing maximum oxygen capacity, or anaerobic respiration.

Sound familiar? Remember that Tabata training can improve your anaerobic capacity after just one session. Just as with any physical activity, repetition and patience can go a long way.

One study monitored the effects of a seven-week HIIT program on maximum oxygen capacity. By the end of the study, the participants showed an increased maximum oxygen capacity.

If you’re an established athlete, Tabata can heighten your abilities. Adding HIIT to your training regimen can strengthen your performance and increase your anaerobic power.

Even if you’re not aiming to participate in an event, Tabata training is a challenge in and of itself. You can set yourself different goals (e.g., your progress as you exercise) and watch yourself improve over time.

Promotes Good Health

Granted, any physical activity has health benefits. Still, Tabata training can do more for you than just enhance your athletic prowess and keep you trim.

Fat Burning

If weight loss is your primary goal, Tabata training is the way to go. HIIT has been proven to control obesity swiftly and successfully. Practicing Tabata regularly can target abdominal fat in particular.

Workouts like Tabata have been shown to be more successful at promoting weight loss. Moderate or low-intensity routines aren’t as effective at reducing body fat overall.

Shorter, higher-intensity workouts also burn more calories than longer exercise intervals.
tabata training

Cardiovascular Health

Any form of HIIT is great for boosting heart health. Whether you’re low-risk or high-risk for cardiovascular disease, HIIT, like Tabata workouts, can be of use.

Lowers Disease Risk

Practicing Tabata workouts can also lower your risk for age-related diseases. Older individuals of both sexes were found to have significant health improvements after six weeks of regular HIIT. This includes lowered cholesterol and body fat and increased muscle mass.

Promotes Mental Health

Your physical health isn’t the only thing that Tabata can be good for. HIIT workouts can reduce fatigue and depression too. You can also experience better self-esteem and cognitive function and less anxiety.

Saves Time

There are many reasons why we have trouble sticking to our workout routines. One of the most common excuses is a lack of time. I’ve used it myself in the past—after a long day of work, who has time for an hour or more at the gym?

With Tabata training, sparing time won’t be an issue anymore. After all, these workouts last for minutes rather than hours.

The quick duration of Tabata training has one more key advantage. You’re more likely to stick with Tabata than other forms of exercise.

This is because you’ll see results from your workouts faster than with low or moderate intensity exercise. When we see visible consequences from our hard work, we’re going to persist with it.

Flexibility

One of the most attractive things about Tabata training is how flexible it is. The only thing set in stone is the intervals: 20 seconds of exercise, 10 seconds rest, until you’ve hit the four-minute mark. Otherwise, you can pursue nearly any exercise that you want.

Can Anyone Do Tabata Training and Workouts?

The answer to that is a resounding yes. Almost anyone can do a Tabata workout. If you have existing conditions or past injuries, it’s best to check with your doctor before getting started.

Keep in mind that the way you approach Tabata will determine how well it works for you. This is definitely not the type of workout you can do with your head in the clouds.

During the 20-second periods of activity, you have to give it your all. The whole foundation of Tabata is high-intensity, anaerobic exercise. If you’re not pushing yourself to the very limit of your endurance, it won’t work.

If you want to know more about what you should expect for your first four minutes, watch this video:

What Do I Need For Tabata Training?

The only thing you’ll need for a Tabata workout is a timer. Trust me, this is a necessity. It’s not easy to keep track of the seconds when you’re exerting yourself to the limit.

You can set the timer on your phone to go off at the correct intervals. Otherwise, you can download a timer designed for HIIT workouts in general or Tabata specifically.

If you like using equipment when you work out, you can use this for Tabata training too. If not, then you’re not obligated to do so.

Regardless of your fitness level, it’s always better to warm up before you dive in. Tabata workouts are intense physical feats.

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Tabata Workouts Including Weights

If weights are an integral part of your standard routine, you can use them in Tabata training too.

If you decide to go this route, take precautions to avoid injury. Don’t start by lifting what you’re accustomed to, go lighter during your first Tabata sessions.  What may be comfortable to lift at a leisurely pace can be dangerous at high intensities.

#1 Light Tabata Workout with Weights

You’ll be alternating between two sets of exercises: hammer curls and squats. For this set, you’ll need two dumbbells.

Minutes One Through Four

  • 20 seconds hammer curls
  • 10 seconds off
  • 20 seconds squat presses
  • 10 seconds off

Hammer Curls

  • Stand with your feet hip-width apart, keep your core engaged and knees slightly bent
  • Hold your dumbbells so that your palms are facing each other
  • Lift the dumbbells up to your shoulders and back down again
  • Repeat

Tip: When you’re doing hammer curls, stay in control. Let your muscles control the lift and descent of the weights, not gravity.

Squat Presses

  • Stand with your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart, maintain a slight bend in the knee
  • Hold your dumbbells with elbows bent up to your shoulders, keep your palms facing each other
  • As you squat down, lift the dumbbells up to your shoulders
  • When you stand up from your squat, extend the dumbbells overhead, arms straight
  • Repeat

Tip: When you’re squatting, rest your weight on your heels rather than your knees. You might want to practice your squatting posture before you add weights.

#2 Moderate Tabata Workout with Weights

To up the intensity, you’ll be alternating between four types of exercises. Your Tabata workout will look like this:

Minutes One and Three

  • 20 seconds tricep extensions
  • 10 seconds off
  • 20 seconds in/out squats
  • 10 seconds off

Minutes Two and Four

  • 20 seconds wide rows
  • 10 seconds off
  • 20 seconds burpees
  • 10 seconds off

Tricep Extensions

  • Stand with feet hip-width apart, palms facing each other
  • Lift dumbbells up and overhead, bending your elbows
  • Lower dumbbells back to starting position at your sides
  • Repeat

Tip: Don’t let your back arch when the dumbbells pass overhead.

In/Out Squats

  • Stand with feet slightly wider than hip-width apart, squat down and hold
  • Jump your feet inward, maintaining squat posture, then jump out to a wide squat
  • Repeat

Tip: Keep your weight on your heels and don’t lose integrity as you jump.

Wide Rows

  • Stand with your feet hip-width apart and bend over, keeping your back straight
  • Hold your dumbbells with your palms facing the floor
  • Lift the dumbbells to your chest and then lower
  • Repeat

Tip: Don’t cramp your neck—keep your whole back straight.

Burpees

  • Stand with your feet hip-width apart
  • Drop into a squat
  • From there, reach your hands to the ground and jump your feet back into a plank
  • Jump your feet back inwards, going back into a squat pose
  • Stand up
  • Repeat

Tip: Getting the motion of a burpee down can be tricky at first. Practice a few times to get comfortable before doing it fast.

#3 Intense Tabata Workout with Weights

For an intense Tabata workout, you’ll be switching it up every minute. This workout is also ideal for those of you who don’t like to do the same exercise twice.

You’ll be doing some of the exercises from the light and moderate workouts as well as some new ones.

Minute One

  • 20 seconds burpees
  • 10 seconds off
  • 20 seconds hammer curls
  • 10 seconds off

Minute Two

  • 20 seconds plank rows
  • 10 seconds off
  • 20 seconds tricep extensions
  • 10 seconds off

Minute Three

  • 20 seconds in/out squats
  • 10 seconds off
  • 20 seconds shoulder press
  • 10 seconds off

Minute Four

  • 20 seconds jumping jacks
  • 10 seconds off
  • 20 seconds goblet squats
  • 10 seconds off

Plank Rows

  • Get into plank position, resting on your dumbbells rather than palms
  • Alternate by lifting left and right dumbbells upwards, keep your elbows close to your body
  • Repeat

Tip: Keep your core and back strong in plank posture. Try not to let your body sag.

Shoulder Press

  • Stand with feet hip-width apart
  • Lift your dumbbells up to your shoulders, elbows bent, keep your palms facing away from you
  • Extend your dumbbells overhead, arms straight up in the air
  • Lower your dumbbells to shoulder height
  • Repeat

Tip: Don’t let your dumbbells hang too far in front of or behind your head when you lift them.

Jumping Jacks

  • Stand with feet hip-width apart, arms by your sides
  • Jump your feet out and reach your hands up overhead
  • Return to start position
  • Repeat

Goblet Squats

  • Stand with feet slightly wider than hip-width apart, keep your knees a little bent
  • Hold one dumbbell vertically, clasping the head between the palms of your hands
  • Squat down, keeping your chest up
  • Raise yourself up
  • Repeat

Tip: Keep the dumbbell at chest height as you squat. If holding it between your palms feels unsteady, clutch it with both hands instead.

Tabata Workouts With Equipment

If you don’t want to let your jump rope or resistance bands gather dust, don’t worry. You can pick one or more of these three Tabata workouts that require this equipment.

#1 Jump Rope Tabata Workout

All you’ll need for this workout is a jump rope. You can up the difficulty of your workout by selecting a heavier weight rope if you prefer.

Minute One

  • 20 seconds high-knee jumps
  • 10 seconds off
  • 20 seconds high-knee jumps
  • 10 seconds off

Minute Two

  • 20 seconds forward jumps
  • 10 seconds off
  • 20 seconds forward jumps
  • 10 seconds off

Minutes Three and Four

  • 20 seconds high-knee jumps
  • 10 seconds off
  • 20 seconds forward jumps
  • 10 seconds off

High-Knee Jumps

  • Stand with feet hip-width apart, jump rope in hands
  • As the rope passes under your feet, raise one knee high in the air
  • Repeat with alternating knees on each revolution

Tip: Get your knees as high as you can on each revolution to sustain the intensity.

Forward Jumps

  • Stand with feet hip-width apart, jump rope in hands
  • As the rope passes under your feet, jump as high as you can with both feet
  • Repeat

#2 Resistance Band Tabata Workout

Grab your resistance bands for this Tabata workout. You’re going to be performing the following exercises:

Minutes One and Three

  • 20 seconds boat-rows
  • 10 seconds off
  • 20 seconds plank toe-taps
  • 10 seconds off

Minutes Two and Four

  • 20 seconds bicycle crunches
  • 10 seconds off
  • 20 seconds Russian twists
  • 10 seconds off

Boat-Rows

  • Wrap the resistance band around your feet
  • Sit on the floor and extend your legs outwards so that your body is in a V shape, keep your back straight
  • Holding onto the resistance band, row your hands back to your chest
  • Extend your hands
  • Repeat

Tip: Keep your back and legs as straight as you can while you’re rowing. Don’t collapse in the core—keep it strong.

Plank Toe-Taps

  • Get into plank position with the resistance band around your ankles
  • Alternate between extending your right and left toes out to the side, tapping the floor and then returning to center

Bicycle Crunches

  • Get into a crunch position, knees parallel to the floor
  • Wrap the resistance band around your feet
  • Raise right elbow to left knee, extending right leg straight
  • Return to the starting position
  • Raise left elbow to right knee, extending left leg straight
  • Repeat

Russian Twists

  • Wrap the resistance band around your feet
  • Sit on the floor and lift your knees in the air, parallel to the floor
  • Hold onto the resistance band, twisting your torso to the left and the right
  • Repeat

Tip: Don’t let your knees sink as you twist from side to side. Twist only your torso, keeping your lower body stable.

#3 Medicine Ball Tabata Workout

Time to bring out the trusty old medicine ball. As with dumbbells, use a medicine ball lighter than the weight you’re used to. Your medicine ball Tabata workout is going to look like this:

Minutes One and Three

  • 20 seconds toe-touch
  • 10 seconds off
  • 20 seconds sit-up press
  • 10 seconds off

Minutes Two and Four

  • 20 seconds wood-chop
  • 10 seconds off
  • 20 seconds curl
  • 10 seconds off

Toe-Touch

  • Place the medicine ball on the floor in front of you
  • Stand with feet hip-width apart
  • Jump up, raising your left knee to lightly tap the medicine ball with your left foot
  • Repeat with the right knee and right foot
  • Alternating between legs, repeat

Tip: Pick a medicine ball that isn’t too high for you. You don’t want to end up kicking the ball rather than tapping it.

Sit-Up Press

  • Get into a sit-up position, holding the medicine ball over your head
  • As you lift into a sit-up, lower the medicine ball to your chest
  • Bring the medicine ball back overhead as you return to the floor
  • Repeat

Wood-Chop

  • Stand in a wide-legged stance
  • Hold the medicine ball to your chest
  • Lift the medicine ball from left to right in a diagonal motion, lift it up to your right shoulder then bend slightly to take it to your right knee
  • Once you take the ball back to center, repeat in the opposite direction, lift the medicine ball to your left shoulder then bend slightly to take it to your left knee
  • Alternating directions, repeat

Tip: You only need to bend your back and knees a little as you go through these motions.

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Curl

  • Stand with feet hip-width apart
  • Hold the medicine ball in front of you, arms extended downwards
  • Curl the medicine ball up to your chest then take it down again
  • Repeat

Tip: Use your strength to lift the ball up and down. Don’t let gravity do the work for you.

Tabata Workouts Without Equipment

If you’re not a fan of equipment or can’t access it easily, don’t worry. There are Tabata workouts you can do totally equipment-free.

#1 Light Tabata Equipment-Free Workout

This straightforward Tabata workout involves five basic moves, most of which you’ve probably encountered before. You’ll be doing the following:

Minute One

  • 20 seconds high-knee jogging
  • 10 seconds off
  • 20 seconds squats
  • 10 seconds off

Minute Two

  • 20 seconds jumping jacks
  • 10 seconds off
  • 20 seconds scissor kicks
  • 10 seconds off

Minute Three

  • 20 seconds high-knee jogging
  • 10 seconds off
  • 20 seconds knee push-ups
  • 10 seconds off

Minute Four

  • 20 seconds jumping jacks
  • 10 seconds off
  • 20 seconds Russian twists
  • 10 seconds off

High-Knee Jogging

  • Start with feet hip-width apart
  • Jog in place, raising each knee as high as you can

Scissor Kicks

  • Lie on the floor, flat on your back, extending your legs straight up in the air
  • Extend your left leg as far down as you can, and then lift it back to starting position
  • Repeat with the right leg, in a scissor motion
  • Repeat the cycle, alternating legs

Tip: Keep your lower back flat on the floor. If you can’t extend your legs perfectly straight at first, don’t worry. That will come with time.

Knee Push-Ups

  • Get down on all fours
  • Set your hands wider than shoulder-distance apart
  • Keep your knees in line with your hips
  • Perform a push-up, lowering your chin to the floor and back up again
  • Repeat

Tip: Don’t let your back collapse while you do these push-ups. Keep it firm and straight.

Russian Twists

  • Get on the floor in a seated position, knees bent, feet on the floor, and back straight
  • Lean back so that you’re in a slight V position
  • Press your fists against one another in front of your chest
  • Twist your torso to the left and then return to center
  • Repeat with the right side
  • Repeat the cycle, alternating sides

Tip: Lean back as far as you can to maximize this exercise, making sure not to slouch.

#2 Moderate Tabata Equipment-Free Workout

If you’re looking to up the burn, the exercises are going to get a little harder. Here’s a moderate, equipment-free Tabata workout:

Minute One

  • 20 seconds plank leg-raises
  • 10 seconds off
  • 20 seconds jumping lunges
  • 10 seconds off

Minute Two

  • 20 seconds mountain climbers
  • 10 seconds off
  • 20 seconds jumping T’s
  • 10 seconds off

Minute Three

  • 20 seconds donkey-kicks
  • 10 seconds off
  • 20 seconds jumping lunges
  • 10 seconds off

Minute Four

  • 20 seconds bicycle crunches
  • 10 seconds off
  • 20 seconds jumping T’s
  • 10 seconds off

Plank Leg-Raises

  • Get into plank position
  • Raise your left leg straight up behind you and set it down
  • Repeat with the right leg
  • Repeat in cycles, alternating legs

Jumping Lunges

  • Get into a lunge position, taking care that your front knee doesn’t extend over your front ankle
  • Jump into the air, switching legs on your lunge
  • Repeat

Tip: Don’t forget to maintain the integrity of your lunge. Save higher jumps for when you get used to the movement.

Mountain Climbers

  • Get into a plank position
  • Jump your left knee all the way up to your chest
  • Jump your right knee forward, extending your left leg back
  • Repeat in cycles, alternating legs

Tip: Think of mountain climbers as running in place while in a plank or high push-up position. Your legs should be constantly in motion.

Jumping T’s

  • Stand with your feet together
  • Jump your feet out, extending your arms in a T shape
  • Jump your feet and arms back in again
  • Repeat

Tip: Don’t let your arms get higher than your shoulders when you jump out.

Donkey-Kicks

  • Get onto all fours, keeping your hips and shoulders in alignment with your feet and hands
  • Kick your left leg backward, raising your foot toward the sky, keep it bent—don’t extend it straight back
  • Return your left leg to the ground and repeat with the right leg
  • Repeat the cycle, alternating legs

Tip: Don’t let your back cave in or your arms buckle.

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Bicycle Crunches

  • Lie on the floor, raising your knees to be parallel with the floor
  • Extend your elbows to either side of your head, fingers touching your temples
  • Curl your left elbow to your right knee in a crunching motion
  • Return to center and repeat with your right elbow and left knee
  • Repeat the cycle, alternating sides

Tip: Let your abdominals carry you up and down. Don’t crunch your neck—keep your gaze up towards the ceiling rather than pointed at your legs.

#3 Intense Tabata Equipment-Free Workout

You won’t be repeating any exercise more than once! As with the intense weight-lifting Tabata workout, you can try this one out if you dislike repetition.

Minute One

  • 20 seconds burpees
  • 10 seconds off
  • 20 seconds mountain climbers
  • 10 seconds off

Minute Two

  • 20 seconds jumping lunges
  • 10 seconds off
  • 20 seconds in/out squats
  • 10 seconds off

Minute Three

  • 20 seconds plank rotations
  • 10 seconds off
  • 20 seconds single-leg deadlifts
  • 10 seconds off

Minute Four

  • 20 seconds push-ups
  • 10 seconds off
  • 20 seconds scissor kicks
  • 10 seconds off

Plank Rotations

  • Get into plank pose
  • Rotate to the right, putting all your weight on your left hand as you extend your right arm into the air
  • Return to center and repeat with the left side
  • Repeat in cycles, alternating sides

Single-Leg Deadlifts

  • Stand with your feet together
  • Lower your arms and torso as you lift your right leg up behind you, bending your left knee slightly
  • Return to center and repeat with the left leg
  • Repeat in cycles, alternating legs

Tabata Training Summary

Tabata workouts are tough—there’s no doubt about that. Still, Tabata training can benefit you in numerous ways, including:

  • Lower your risk of cardiovascular and other diseases
  • Encourage weight loss
  • Enhance your mood
  • Reduce fatigue
  • Up your endurance
  • Build strength in general

Best of all, you can’t say that you don’t have the time to fit at least one Tabata workout into your busy schedule. We’re talking about four minutes here—that’s less than the average commercial break on TV.

If you decide to give Tabata a try, don’t forget the old mantra that practice makes perfect. You may not be able to perform every exercise consistently straight away, and that’s fine. Just make sure you’re putting 100 percent into every workout.

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