Tabata is a type of HIIT training that claims to burn as many calories as an hour-long run. But how does it work?
What is Tabata?
Japanese scientist Dr Izumi Tabata developed this 4-minute workout whilst training Japan’s speed skating team. Dr Tabata and his team conducted research on two forms of training: high-intensity interval training and steady state cardio. One group completed an hour of steady cardio on a stationary bike 5 times per week, whilst the other group completed 10 minutes warm up, followed by what we now refer to as the Tabata training principle, (20 seconds of all-out work followed by 10 seconds rest and repeated eight times in total), four times a week. The steady state group clocked up 300 minutes of training whilst the Tabata group spent under a third of that working out, just 86 minutes a week. After 6 weeks of following the routine, those completing steady state cardio improved their VO2 max (maximum oxygen uptake) by 10%, however, the Tabata group not only increased their VO2 max by an average of 15% they also increased their anaerobic capacity (energy without oxygen) by 28%.
When describing Tabata, the creator says, "If you feel okay afterwards you've not done it properly."
Can anyone do Tabata?
Despite its extreme intensity, Tabata says “Everyone can do it but beginners should start with educated trainers so that they can work at the correct intensity for them”. When it comes to Tabata training, it is you against yourself, so there is no set speed or number of repetitions. If you’re not sure or have never tried it before, try the routine with a personal trainer or partner, that way someone is there to keep an eye on how you’re doing, as well as keep you motivated. If you have any underlying health conditions or are pregnant, however, this is not the routine for you.
How should I feel after Tabata?
Common symptoms of an effective Tabata performance include:
- Shortness of breath / Inability to talk
- Elevated body temperature
- Increased lactic acid
The Tabata training principle can be applied to any exercise to make an intense workout regime, but exercises which work the best tend to be big compound exercises, which require lots of muscle groups and lots of effort.
Examples of bodyweight Tabata exercises include:
- Kettlebell Swings
- Box Jumps
- Jumping Lunges
- Mountain Climbers
These exercises are all big calorie burners to make the most of your short workout and get your heart rate up quickly.
Workout at work: Tabata
Research has shown it is essential not only to exercise in the gym but to keep active throughout the day to keep healthy. Being so short, Tabata is perfect to pull out on your lunchbreak. Try bodyweight-only moves for a workout you can take anywhere and return to sit in your office guilt-free, as you’ll be burning calories to recover from your lunchtime performance for up to 24 hours!
Benefits of Tabata
- Save time - After a quick warm up all you need is 4 minutes for one round of Tabata.
- Increase your body’s Aerobic and Anaerobic capacities - Working with and without oxygen.
- Afterburn - Research has shown Tabata has an EPOC effect (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption) and can burn up to 150 calories in the 12 hours after training.
- Tabata raises your base metabolic rate (BMR- The number of calories your body burns at rest).
- Maintains muscle tissue - High-intensity exercises stress the muscles to create an anabolic effect.
- Easily adaptable protocol - Bored of your Tabata workout? Just switch up the exercises!
In this modern world, many of us find we don't have time for everything we want to do and exercise is often neglected. We've got the answer if you want to workout but are short on time.
It may sound like a silly word to us English speakers, but Fartlek is the Swedish training style that everyone is talking about. A type of high intensity interval training, Fartlek takes things one step further by randomising the intervals so that your body can't adapt and you make bigger gains without hitting a training plateau.
The Swedish word 'Fartlek' translates as 'speed play' and that's exactly what you do - play around with the speeds of your intervals. This is done the most easily on a treadmill but you can do it outside too by using a stop watch or fitness watch to time your intervals.
The way to get best results is to change all of the variables - speed, gradient, and time. An example of a 5-minute Fartlek workout on a treadmill is as follows:
Speed Gradient Time 10km/h 5% 60 seconds 16km/h 0% 30 seconds 9km/h 0% 45 seconds 11km/h 10% 60 seconds 5km/h 0% 60 seconds 20km/h 0% 15 seconds 10km/h 1% 30 seconds
This workout incorporates rest into some of the intervals so that it's sustainable but includes some tough intervals so that you get great results. The point of Fartlek is that it's totally random, so you could make it up as you go along if you want to. Additionally, it is best if you don't repeat this exact workout again, instead doing a completely different set of intervals next time.
Due to its intensity and unpredictability, Fartlek training is perfect for those on limited time. You can get a great workout done in as little as 10 minutes which will test your fitness and increase your lung capacity and heart rate. Because you can make it up as you go along, it never gets boring or repetitive and you can have some fun with it.
Tabata training is a very popular type of interval training that works at a high intensity and is done in only 4 minutes. You can incorporate any exercises you want meaning you can target the parts of your body that need work or just use cardio exercises to improve your fitness.
The way Tabata works is 8 rounds of exercises, 20 seconds of work followed by 10 seconds of rest. Due to the rest period being so short, your heart rate remains high throughout while still remaining realistic. It's a great way to get a good burn in a short time.
Read more: 10 minute Tabata workout
Read more: Tabata Workout
Tabata is a form of high intensity interval training used to gain the maximum calorie burn in the minimum amount of time.
What is Tabata?
8 exercises. 20 seconds work. 10 seconds rest.
Tabata is simply a method of HIIT (high intensity interval training) with set timing protocols. Originally designed by Dr. Izumi Tabata as part of the training regime for Japanese athletes in the speed skating team, the workout was conducted on static bikes with cycling intervals. Now, Tabata's principle is applied to many HIIT training exercises for when time is short and intensity is needed to get the most out of your training session.
Why Tabata Works
Tabata only works if you do. The principle is that for 20 seconds, you apply your maximum effort to an exercise. The short rest periods mean that your heart rate remains elevated throughout the entire workout, increasing your calorie expenditure but allowing you do continue without burning out.
What is anaerobic training?
Short, high intensity intervals require us to use our anaerobic energy system. This energy system provides us with energy without the presence of oxygen. The anaerobic energy system is always used in the first few minutes of exercise whilst there is insufficient oxygen available at the muscles for aerobic metabolism. It is also used for fast, powerful bursts of energy, for which the aerobic system is insufficient. During this phase our Phosphocreatine energy system is used as the primary energy (ATP) source.
We only have 120g of Creatine within our bodies and so this repeated breaking down of Phosphocreatine in order to produce energy to resynthesise ATP is temporary and can only last a maximum of 10 seconds. Therefore the ATP-PC system is used mainly for bursts of speed. As a Tabata push phase lasts 20 seconds it is likely that the body will then move onto using your Lactic anaerobic energy system. This energy system is otherwise known as your sugar system. This form of energy still requires energy expenditure in an environment without oxygen like the phosphocreatine energy system, but after 10-12 seconds the body basically starts utilising simple carbohydrates or glucose as a fuel source, rather than pure ATP. Sugar requires some breakdown and chemical changes to occur for this system to be effective and training this system leads to a better utilisation of glucose and a greater duration of exercise at a higher intensity.
Due to the metabolic processes required to work at this intensity despite there being a lack of oxygen required during the exercise itself, the workout has a EPOC effect. EPOC: excess post-exercise oxygen consumption, is the need to increase the rate at which oxygen intake is increased following strenuous activity to erase the body’s “oxygen deficit”.
Hang on. Didn’t we just say we were training anaerobically (without oxygen) when we complete a Tabata? How can this then cause EPOC?
When we train anaerobically, it is indeed true that we are training without the requirement of oxygen. However, during the recovery period the body utilises the cv system to remove the lactic acid and repay the “oxygen deficit” that is created during the high intensity anaerobic interval. The oxygen deficit is created by calculating the difference between the oxygen the muscles would have required if they were to perform the exercise aerobically versus the amount of oxygen which was actually able to be delivered during the short burst of intense activity. During this recovery period you actually need more oxygen than your body would have used to fuel the prior exercise, which is how we get the EPOC effect.
A study conducted by The Journal of Medicine, Science and Sports Exercise conducted experiments on the effects of moderate-intensity endurance and high-intensity intermittent training on anaerobic capacity and VO2 max. The researchers had two groups, the first completed 6 weeks of moderate intensity cardio at 70% of their VO2max, whilst the other group completed a Tabata HIIT routine, with 8 rounds of 20 seconds maximal effort. In conclusion, this study showed that moderate-intensity aerobic training that improves the maximal aerobic power does not change anaerobic capacity and that adequate high-intensity intermittent training may improve both anaerobic (by up to 28%) and aerobic energy supplying systems significantly, probably through imposing intensive stimuli on both systems.
Another study in the Journal of Exercise Science experimented with kettlebell swings using a regular protocol and a Tabata training format. The experiment used the same group of participants and put them through two training programmes, on separate occasions, one with significant rest between working sets and one following the 20 seconds on 10 seconds off protocol. The kettlebell swing demonstrated significantly greater cardiovascular and metabolic responses within a Tabata vs. a traditional framework.
Tabata and Body Weight Exercises
The original Tabata workout was performed as intervals on a static bike, so that the effort during the push intervals was easily measurable. Nowadays the principle is frequently adapted and applied to a variety of exercises. It is particularly popular for those short of time and equipment to use bodyweight exercises. Bodyweight exercises which incorporate multiple muscle groups are the most effective as the more muscles worked, the more energy needed and the more calories burned.
Example Tabata bodyweight circuits:
Each of the following 4 exercises should be repeated twice.
Walkout push ups
Sprint on the spot
Rock star jumps
Plyometric push ups
Alternating Swing kicks
Tabata to Burn Fat
Despite what many articles may say, there is little research into the effects of a Tabata training principle and the effect it has on weight loss. It is an assumption, that the EPOC and therefore cause of excess energy expenditure causes extra calorie burning. The original workout devised by Dr Izumi contained not just 4 minutes of work, in fact he had his men completing five days of training a week, where they performed up to eight 20-second sprints of high-intensity cycling with a 10-second rest (pedaling at a slower rate) in between. He also scheduled them into 30 minutes of steady state cardio with 4 blast intervals on their fifth day, so hardly just four minutes of intervals. It is also important to recognise that what Dr Izumi was testing was aerobic capacity, he did not do any research into the EPOC effect of this training nor the effect on fat and weight loss.
That’s not to say it won’t work for fat loss, it can and if you’re combining Tabata training with a calorie deficit, it definitely will. However when using Tabata strictly for fat loss rather than increasing VO2 max there’s an obvious setback. Tabata training is so short in timing that even with a doubled energy expenditure, your overall calorie burn will not be as excessive as for example, a 30 minute weight session.
Tabata to Get Fit
This we know is effective. Will a Tabata help you get fit? Yes, it will improve your cardiovascular fitness by helping to develop your VO2 max, which is supported by multiple research studies as mentioned above. However, this anaerobic effect can be triggered from additional protocols which use high intensity intervals, so if Tabata isn’t for you, try different work to rest intervals, working flat out and then recovering as quickly as possible.
Tips to get the most from Tabata
- Make sure you have warmed up sufficiently. As a Tabata is so short, make your warm up a little longer. Try 10 minutes of exercise where your heart rate is at at least 70% of its max to increase your calorie burning potential and make sure you are limber enough to exercise at high intensity. You need your muscles to be warm when you are working this hard to prevent injuries.
- When starting out, pick exercises which have little injury risk. For example, use the exercise bike or better yet, Wattbike for intervals until you become better adapted to the principle before throwing yourself on and off a treadmill running at 16 mph.
- Without intensity, you’ll burn half a cucumber. Crank up the ante, you need to be pushing yourself as hard as you can to get the most of this workout. If the intensity isn’t there, you won’t need post exercise oxygen consumption, nor will your VO2 max be challenged enough to cause an adaptation.
- Remember Tabata training is a form of conditioning, so if you’re applying the principle to weight training, you’re not going to be able to lift your 1 rep max for the duration of 8 rounds.
- Pick movements which are difficult and where you can exert 110% effort to achieve the greatest results.
- Do NOT forget to cool down, just because you’ve completed a shorter workout doesn't mean you should be skipping on your cool down.
If you're short on time, try our 10 Minute Tabata Workout to get your heart pumping and your lungs working. One round of Tabata is just 4 minutes long, but work hard enough and you’ll carry on burning calories for up to 24 hours due to the ‘afterburn’ effect known as post-exercise oxygen consumption.
This workout consists of 2 minutes of skipping as a warm up followed by 2 rounds of Tabata.
8 rounds, 20 seconds on, 10 seconds off. Punch the air or a punching bag for 20 seconds straight and then rest for 10 seconds. Repeat this 8 times for a total of 4 minutes.
Kick the bag for the first 4 rounds then switch to punching for the last 4 rounds.
Cool downAlways make sure you cool down after a tough workout by doing dynamic stretches so that your muscles do not cool down too quickly and cramp up. And drink plenty of water!
When you're stuck inside, it can feel frustrating not being able to work out. Try this super effective home workout that requires no equipment and will be sure to get your heart rate up and get your engines burning!
Full Body Tabata Home Workout
This workout follows the Tabata style of interval training, whereby you complete 8 exercises with 20 seconds of work followed by 10 seconds of rest. This means you will complete the workout in just 4 minutes, so depending on how much time you have, you can complete as many rounds as you like.
This workout is full body meaning you will target every muscle group and enjoy a great burn. You will certainly work up a sweat and burn lots of fat! Make sure you are comfortable in well-fitting fitness clothing and that you stay hydrated by having a water bottle handy.
Get fit at home
Complete each of the following exercises for 20 seconds with 10 seconds rest in between. Click or tap the name of the exercise to find out more about it and how to do it properly. See how many rounds you can do!
4. Press Ups
Try our 10 Minute Tabata Workout which incorporates skipping and boxing.
Read more about the benefits of Tabata training here.
Read more about how to get fit at home here.