Tabata is 20 seconds of work, followed by 10 seconds of rest, repeated 8x for a total of 4 minutes. It is a specific High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) protocol based on scientific evidence.
Tabata is a specific type of High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) proven to burn fat, increase metabolism functionality and increase your aerobic and anaerobic capacity. Simply put, Tabata is an effective and attainable training program for competitive athletes, casual gym-goers, and beginners.
So, what does a Tabata look like? It is 20 seconds of work followed by 10 seconds of rest, repeated 8x (4 minutes total). This Tabata Protocol was designed with 100% max effort in mind for all 8 intervals. However, the timing of this training method has been adapted and put to use across the fitness industry in countless different ways. But more on that in a minute.
Where did Tabata Come From?
Dr. Izumi Tabata, a professor, researcher, physician, and many other incredible titles, developed the Tabata Protocol after conducting a study to test the benefits of interval training on athletes. Dr. Tabata studied two groups for six weeks.
One group performed a “control” type of exercise, and the other completed an interval-based workout that he developed (Tabata). The “control” training program consisted of a one-hour training period five times a week at a moderate intensity. After the six weeks, the “control” group had trained for over 1800 minutes, while the Tabata group had trained 120 minutes…Total.
Scientifically, it was proven that the group of athletes who performed the Tabata training protocol drastically improved its aerobic and anaerobic fitness levels. In contrast, the control group found improvements in their aerobic capacity only. In short, Dr. Tabata proved that Tabata training protocol benefits are scientifically proven and have become a staple training program for all levels.
More about Dr Tabata’s Study HERE.
How Can Tabata Be Used?
Though the True Tabata calls for an all-out 100% effort for all 8 intervals, the protocol has been varied and adopted by many athletes of various abilities and goals around the globe. Tabata training programs are famous for flexibility both in intensity and modification.
Now, we know a Tabata is 20 seconds of work and 10 seconds of rest with a goal of high intensity during the working periods and maximal rest during the resting periods. But, intensity can look different for EVERYONE. A 25 year old competitive CrossFit athlete’s Tabata will look much different than a 58-year-old computer engineer’s workout (not to say they can’t be competitive athletes too, but let’s play devil’s advocate). Although they might feel the intensity in the same way, their bodies and overall physical abilities are much different. Let’s take this workout for example:
Tabata: 8 Rounds (4 minutes)
Again, flexibility… this Tabata can be performed by doing four rounds of burpees and then four rounds of jumping squats, OUCH, or switching between the two movements for the eight rounds. Theoretically, both people mentioned above can do this and get intense during their working efforts. BUT the competitive CrossFit athlete may get 17 burpees in a 20s period, and the engineer may get 7. The total number of reps makes no difference here. What does matter is that both of those people gave their BEST effort in each of those working sets. When the workout is complete, they will both have increased their fitness levels, boosted their metabolism, and worked out for four minutes!
Increasing the workout length from 4 minutes to 8, 12, 16 or 20+ minutes to create longer workouts can be super beneficial as well. It will continue to build your aerobic capacity, which will allow you to run longer distances, perform longer CrossFit Hero workouts, or go on an all-day hike through the mountains. Your ability here to work at your highest intensity over 8+ rounds will be lower, which will allow you to work for a longer period bringing us into more of our aerobic capacity vs. anaerobic. The variation permitted in Tabata training programs makes it an incredible tool for all levels.
You will notice that within our TABATA+ workout catalogue we have workouts that are 4, 8, 12, 16 & 20+ minutes long. Our 4-minute workouts aren’t necessarily “easier” than our 16 minute workouts. Take for example Pete’s 4 Minute Tabata Burpee Challenge vs Ash’s 16 Minute Bodyweight Workout. Pete’s workout utilizes one movement… the burpee. A full body movement which, if repeated at a relatively high intensity for all 8 intervals of a Tabata, will absolutely gas an athlete’s entire body. Ash’s workout on the other hand features 8 different movements that rotate: Lunge, push-up w/ rotation, single deadlift, plank on the left side, squat, push-up hold, single deadlift again and plank on the right side. Thought each movement is performed for 20 seconds at a time, the same movement is never repeated twice in a row. This particular workout is designed to alternate specific movements, allowing the athlete to recover before returning to any one movement, which allows for a longer workout and higher training volume.
How Should I Start?
That’s a great question that we get all the time! The answer really depends on your fitness level.
A couple great options we might suggest are Tabata Squat Holds / Wall Sits, or Tabata Planks.
If you are a runner or have access to a cardio machine, you could also try running, biking or rowing at a higher intensity that normal for the 8 intervals, while resting in between. Try using Tabata Songs or one of our Tabata Timers to help time out your sets.