• Introduction
  • Basics of Tabata training
  • Benefits of Tabata training
  • Tabata training samples
  • Final thoughts
  • Sources

Introduction

Tabata training is a form of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) that was originally designed in 1996 for elite-level speedskaters by the Head Coach of the Japanese Speed Skating Team, Irisawa Koichi. At first, the method was known as the IE1 protocol, and it included 20s of all-out exercise on a stationary bike, followed by a 10s rest, and repeated for eight minutes. This exercise was performed four times a week, combined with an endurance training day for a total of six weeks. 

To study its effectiveness, Koichi asked Izumi Tabata, a Ritsumeikan University Professor, to analyze the physiological effects this method had on their athletes. The results were very promising.

The athletes experienced comparable aerobic capacity improvements to another test group who were assigned to run at an easy pace for 60 minutes, five times a week. However, only the Tabata training group saw a whopping 28% increase in anaerobic capacity (total amount of energy produced without oxygen). These findings caused widespread interest around the globe, and the method became known as the Tabata Protocol.

Nowadays, Tabata training has slowly evolved from a simple bicycle workout into a HIIT routine that usually includes various light resistance or bodyweight exercises. 

Is the modern version of Tabata training all it is cracked up to be? Let’s find out!

Basics of Tabata training

Although Tabata training has gone through some changes since its inception, its core principles remain the same. It is a high-intensity interval training (HIIT) method that focuses on exerting maximum effort in the shortest amount of time possible.

Tabata workouts also still consist of eight rounds of 20s maximum effort intervals, with a 10s break in between. Usually, each exercise is performed once or twice before moving onto the next one. This also means that a single Tabata workout lasts for only four minutes.

The reason why high-intensity exercises are so effective is that they use more energy during the workout, while also keeping your metabolism elevated for a long time after it. Due to their intense nature, Tabata workouts mainly focus on working at the anaerobic zone, where energy is produced without oxygen. This also means that as you keep pushing your body to its limits, you’ll also start producing lactic acid in the process, which is one of the main causes of fatigue. 

Although jumping straight into Tabata training might sound intimidating, it is generally considered a safe training method for most people. However, you should also keep in mind that it has very short recovery periods. Thus, beginners may feel discouraged after only a few sets. So, if you feel like the intensity of Tabata is too much for you, feel free to try out some moderate-intensity continuous training (MICT) of other HIIT methods to work on your foundation and exercise form. 

Tabata Training


20s of maximum effortTwo sets for each exercise8 sets all in all10s break between setsConsists of a variety of light resistance/bodyweight exercises likepushups, squats, lunges, kettlebell swings, burpees, etc.

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Benefits of Tabata training

Tabata training offers a number of beneficial effects on your overall health. For example, it can increase insulin sensitivity, boost your metabolism, enhance cardiovascular fitness, and improve aerobic capacity (the highest amount of oxygen consumed during maximal exercise). Due to its high-intensity nature, Tabata training also improves your anaerobic capacity and muscular endurance. 

Metabolism also undergoes several beneficial changes due to Tabata training. For example, consistent exercise increases resting metabolism, which is a result of higher energy expenditure and increased fat-free muscle mass. Studies state that high-intensity interval training can even improve fat oxidation (burning) and increase insulin sensitivity, which is vital for diabetics. However, it is important to remember that any type of consistent exercise offers these effects – not just Tabata. 

Aerobic capacity, also known as maximum oxygen uptake (VO2 max), is considered the best indicator for cardiovascular fitness. This means that you are able to deliver more oxygen to the muscles during exercise, which can significantly improve your endurance capability. Regular training has been proven to prevent metabolic diseases such as coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, obesity, and metabolic syndrome. 

Anaerobic capacity refers to the total amount of energy you can produce without oxygen. Because high-intensity exercises require you to produce energy as fast as possible, you often have to perform beyond your lactate threshold. This means that your body starts producing lactic acid in the process, which causes nausea and fatigue. Tabata exercises can help you tolerate and remove lactate and ensure you can maintain a high level of performance for a longer time. 

Muscular endurance refers to your muscles’ ability to perform repetitive movements for an extended amount of time. Consistent Tabata training can improve this, which results in reduced fatigue, improved sports performance, and even fewer injuries. 

High-intensity workouts like Tabata can keep your metabolism elevated a long time after the exercise.

Tabata training samples

Want to see what all the fuss is about? Lucky for you, we’ve hand-picked some of our favorite Tabata training routines for you to try out. Try some! They might be just what you’ve been looking for.

Tabata’s original workout

  • 20s of maximum intensity effort on a stationary bike
  • 10s rest
  • 8 sets

Total workout duration: 4 minutes

Bodyweight workout 1

  • 2x20s burpees (as many as possible)
  • 10s rest between sets
  • 2x20s plank punch (as many as possible)
  • 10s rest between sets
  • 2x20s squats (as many as possible)
  • 10s rest between sets
  • 2x20s push-Ups (as many as possible)
  • 10s rest between sets

Total workout duration: 4 minutes

Bodyweight workout 2

  • 2x20s jump rope (as fast as possible)
  • 10s rest between sets
  • 2x20s Russian twists (as many as possible)
  • 10s rest between sets
  • 2x20s split squats (as many as possible)
  • 10s rest between sets
  • 2x20s lunges (as many as possible)
  • 10s rest between sets

Total workout duration: 4 minutes

Bodyweight workout 3

  • 2x20s jumping jacks (as many as possible)
  • 10s rest between sets
  • 2x20s push-ups (as many as possible)
  • 10s rest between sets
  • 2x20s box jumps (as many as possible)
  • 10s rest between sets
  • 2x20s split squats (as many as possible)
  • 10s rest between sets

Total workout duration: 4 minutes

Bodyweight workout 4

  • 2x20s mountain climbers (as many as possible)
  • 10s rest between sets
  • 2x20s squats (as many as possible)
  • 10s rest between sets
  • 2x20s high knees run (as fast as possible)
  • 10s rest between sets
  • 2x20s skater jumps (as many as possible)
  • 10s rest between sets

Total workout duration: 4 minutes

Note that we are not responsible for any injuries that may occur during these drills or practices. Always remember to train within your own limits and at the guidance of a professional instructor.

It is recommended that you perform four Tabata workouts back-to-back to have a beneficial impact on health.

Final thoughts

Although Tabata is all the rage right now, it is important to remember that there are no shortcuts to healthy body weight. So, next time you hear about the newest “Incredible 4-minute fat burning workout!” think again.

One of the main criticisms of Tabata training is that individuals simply cannot burn a sufficient amount of calories in just four minutes to have a beneficial effect on body composition. Thus, organizations like the American Council on Exercise (ACE) recommend performing a total of four rounds of Tabata training to have any significant health benefits. This also effectively increases the duration of the workout to ~20 minutes.

If you want to be successful with your Tabata exercises, you must also have realistic expectations and keep your own goals in mind. For example, if you want to build your endurance, you could perform Tabata exercises up to five times a week. On the other hand, if your goal is to become stronger, you could technically do them a couple of times a week as conditioning. But, keep in mind that developing strength requires heavy resistance – something that traditional Tabata training simply cannot offer. 

The most important thing to remember is that any type of consistent exercise is good for maintaining healthy body composition – this goes for Tabata exercises too. Just don’t expect these types of exercises alone to be a one-stop-shop to getting a beach body.

If you truly want to burn fat and improve your physique and overall health, you should maintain a healthy diet, exercise regularly, and remember to have enough rest. 

Did you learn anything new about Tabata training? Let us know in the comments.

Sources

  • Emberts, T., Porcari, J., Doberstein, S., Steffen, J. & Foster, C. (2013). Exercise Intensity and Energy Expenditure of a Tabata Workout. Journal of Sports, Science and Medicine. Volume 12, Issue (3), pp. 612-613.
  • Tabata, I. (2019) Tabata training: one of the most energetically effective high-intensity intermittent training methods. The Journal of Physiological Sciences. Volume 69, pp. 559-572. 
  • Tabata, I., Nishimura, K., Kouzaki, M., Hirai, Y., Ogita, F., Miyachi, M. & Yamamoto, K. (1996). Effects of moderate-intensity endurance and high-intensity intermittent training on anaerobic capacity and VO2max. Medicine and Science in Sport and Exercise. Volume 28, Issue (10), pp. 1327-1330.
  • Tabata, I., Irisawa, K., Nishimura, K., Ogita, F. & Miyachi, M. (1997). Metabolic profile of high intensity intermittent exercises. Medicine and Science in Sport and Exercise. Volume 29, Issue (3), pp. 390-395.

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