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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
You’ll be alternating between two sets of exercises: hammer curls and squats. For this set, you’ll need two dumbbells.
Tip: When you’re doing hammer curls, stay in control. Let your muscles control the lift and descent of the weights, not gravity.
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.
To up the intensity, you’ll be alternating between four types of exercises. Your Tabata workout will look like this:
Tip: Don’t let your back arch when the dumbbells pass overhead.
Tip: Keep your weight on your heels and don’t lose integrity as you jump.
Tip: Don’t cramp your neck—keep your whole back straight.
Tip: Getting the motion of a burpee down can be tricky at first. Practice a few times to get comfortable before doing it fast.
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.
Tip: Keep your core and back strong in plank posture. Try not to let your body sag.
Tip: Don’t let your dumbbells hang too far in front of or behind your head when you lift them.
Tip: Keep the dumbbell at chest height as you squat. If holding it between your palms feels unsteady, clutch it with both hands instead.
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.
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.
Tip: Get your knees as high as you can on each revolution to sustain the intensity.
Grab your resistance bands for this Tabata workout. You’re going to be performing the following exercises:
Tip: Keep your back and legs as straight as you can while you’re rowing. Don’t collapse in the core—keep it strong.
Tip: Don’t let your knees sink as you twist from side to side. Twist only your torso, keeping your lower body stable.
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:
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.
Tip: You only need to bend your back and knees a little as you go through these motions.
Tip: Use your strength to lift the ball up and down. Don’t let gravity do the work for you.
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.
This straightforward Tabata workout involves five basic moves, most of which you’ve probably encountered before. You’ll be doing the following:
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.
Tip: Don’t let your back collapse while you do these push-ups. Keep it firm and straight.
Tip: Lean back as far as you can to maximize this exercise, making sure not to slouch.
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:
Tip: Don’t forget to maintain the integrity of your lunge. Save higher jumps for when you get used to the movement.
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.
Tip: Don’t let your arms get higher than your shoulders when you jump out.
Tip: Don’t let your back cave in or your arms buckle.
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.
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.
Tabata workouts are tough—there’s no doubt about that. Still, Tabata training can benefit you in numerous ways, including:
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.