February 26, 2024

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What is Tabata, the workout personal trainers love?

7 min read

In the past decade, Tabata workouts have become so popular that they are now a fitness staple for many. But Tabata can seem intimidating if you don’t know what it is or how to do it. Consider this our definitive guide to Tabata.

What does Tabata mean?

Tabata is a high intensity interval training — HIIT — workout with timed intervals and short recovery times. “Tabata” is named after a Japanese speed skating coach whose last name is Tabata. He designed the workout to improve cardiovascular fitness and build muscular strength. In other words, Tabata isn’t an acronym, it’s a style of exercise named after the person who created it.

What is the Tabata workout?

In a traditional Tabata workout, there is 20 seconds of going all out and then 10 seconds of rest. This repeats 8 times for a total of four minutes. If you’re running, for example, you would sprint for 20 seconds and then walk or stop for 10 seconds.

Similar to other types of HIIT workouts, Tabata focuses on going fast and then slow. This approach gives your body time to perform at an all-time high and then recover. 

Why are Tabata workouts so popular?

Tabata workouts are popular because they can be performed with just your body weight in a short amount of time. That makes Tabata ideal for people who are short on time but want to get in a killer workout — or people who just want their fitness regimen to take as little time as possible. Also, Tabata can help you improve your cardio endurance and your aerobic fitness, according to research

For those who like HIIT workouts, Tabata can be even more intense. Because you’re going all out and doing as many reps or going as hard as you can for a specified amount of time, it can feel more exhausting than a traditional HIIT workout.

Why are Tabata workouts effective?

Doing Tabata workouts consistently and effectively can help you build lean muscle mass and boost your metabolism, which may help with weight loss. It’s also a great workout for people who get bored easily, because it will keep you on your toes — literally — as you move from one exercise to the next. 

What does the research say about Tabata?

Recent studies suggests that consistent Tabata training may help the body use insulin more effectively, which can increase your body’s ability to burn fat. Another recent study showed that doing Tabata workouts for 10 weeks significantly improved the respiratory fitness of participants — by up to 28%.

What’s the difference between Tabata and HIIT?

Technically, Tabata is a kind of HIIT workout. But Tabata can be more intense than typical HIIT workouts because doing 20 seconds of high intensity followed by 10 seconds of rest is harder than the longer — but lower exertion — segments in traditional HIIT workouts. Traditional HIIT workouts also allow more rest time and don’t require full out effort during the high intensity bursts.

How to do Tabata workouts

A traditional Tabata workout would consist of eight rounds of the routine — which makes the whole workout just four minutes long. If you repeat this a few times and add time for a quick warm up and cooldown, a comprehensive and effective Tabata workout won’t take more than 20 minutes. That’s amazing, given that most of us don’t really have time to spend hours in the gym, anyways.

Bodyweight exercises are great for Tabata because you don’t need to waste time worrying about how to hold or use equipment. You can simply flow from one exercise to the next. The fact that you don’t need to invest in any fancy gear to do Tabata makes it more accessible, plus you can experiment with adding Tabata into your routines with little planning.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t use equipment in a Tabata workout. Athletes or advanced Tabata enthusiasts may want to do Tabata on a rowing machine or resistance bike. And dumbbells or a kettlebell can be used to change up the exercises and add another level of difficulty. While doing a Tabata workout at home, adding in plyometric exercises like jumps or side shuffling can help up the intensity and difficulty. 

Who should do Tabata

  • People with fitness experience.
  • People looking to level up their workouts without increasing the amount of time they work out.
  • People familiar with traditional workout moves who want to do them faster, with less instruction.

Who should not do Tabata

  • People who are new to exercise.
  • People who prefer or require lengthy instruction.
  • People with high blood pressure or know heart conditions.

Tabata workouts

I’ve created two 5-exercise Tabata workouts that you can do at home with no equipment. For each routine, do each exercise for 20 seconds at maximum effort, rest for 10 seconds and then repeat for a total of eight rounds. 

Tabata workout #1

High knees

A woman doing a tabata workout
High kneesCourtesey of Stephanie Mansour

Start standing with feet hip-distance apart. Lift your right knee as high as it will go and raise the opposite arm, then switch quickly so left knee is up before right foot lands with a little hop. For a low-impact modification, eliminate the hop and just march in place with high knees while swinging the arms! Repeat 20 times or for 20 seconds.

10 second rest.

Skaters

A woman doing a tabata workout
SkatersCourtesey of Stephanie Mansour

Start with your legs a little wider than shoulder distance apart and your arms at your sides. Bring the left leg behind at a slight angle into a reverse lunge. The right knee will bend to a 90-degree angle. Then swing the arms in front of that bent knee and jump the back leg forward to switch sides in a skating motion. Alternate your arms as you switch sides and channel your inner speed skater! For a low-impact modification, only bend the knees halfway and go into a halfway reverse lunge. Also slowly shift from one side to the other. Repeat 5 times to each side or for 20 seconds.

10 second rest.

Knee tuck to pushup

A woman doing a tabata workout
Knee tuck to pushup — the tuckCourtesey of Stephanie Mansour

Start in a push-up position with hands wider than the shoulders. Lower down with the elbows bending out to the sides and then press down with the hands hard to come up. While at the top, bring your right knee up towards the center of your chest into a knee tuck position. Then place it down, repeat the push-up, and then bring the left knee tucked in towards the chest. Repeat 6 times or for 20 seconds.

10 second rest.

Plank to Downdog Tap

A woman doing a tabata workout
Plank to down dog tapCourtesey of Stephanie Mansour

Start in a plank position, and then lift the hips up and back to downward facing dog. Your body should look like an upside down V. Once you get that movement down, shift forward into plank. Then shift back to down dog and reach your right hand back towards your left ankle. Come forward to plank, and repeat with the left hand reaching towards the right ankle as you move into down dog. Repeat 10 times, alternating sides — or for 20 seconds.

10 second rest.

Bicycle Crunches

A woman doing a tabata workout
Bicycle crunchesCourtesey of Stephanie Mansour

Lying on your back, bend your knees and lift them up to a table top position. Place your hands behind your head. Curl up with your head, neck, and chest and crunch your left chest towards your right knee. Extend your left leg at a 45 degree angle, and then switch sides. Repeat 10 times or for 20 seconds.

Repeat the above for 8 rounds.

Tabata Workout #2

Squat jump

Squat jump
Squat jumpCourtesey of Stephanie Mansour

Stand with your feet shoulder width apart, and reach your butt back as you bend your knees into a squat position. Press down through the heels as you jump up, and then bend the knees to land softly. Repeat 10 times or for 20 seconds.

10 second rest

Lateral shuffle

A woman doing a tabata workout
Lateral shuffleCourtesey of Stephanie Mansour

Stand with your feet as wide as your shoulders, and sit your butt back almost into a full squat. Take a step to the right with your right foot, and then bring your left foot to the right to get into the starting position. Repeat this 5 times to the right and then 5 times to the left or for 20 seconds.

10 second rest

Lateral plank walk

A woman doing a tabata workout
Lateral plank walkCourtesey of Stephanie Mansour

Start in a push-up position. Pick up your left hand off of the ground and step it to the left about ½ a foot. Then bring your right hand to the left to get into the push-up position again. Repeat this 3 times to the left, and then 3 times to the right or for 20 seconds.

10 second rest

Mountain climbers

A woman doing a tabata workout
Mountain climbersCourtesey of Stephanie Mansour

Come into a plank position and then pull your right knee into your chest, step it back and then pull your left knee into your chest. Pretend like you’re running in a plank position for high impact, and go slower for lower impact. Repeat 10 times or for 20 seconds.

10 second rest

Russian twist

A woman doing a tabata workout
Russian twistCourtesey of Stephanie Mansour

Sit on the mat on your sits bones, and bend your knees. Lean back slightly by engaging your lower abs and squeeze your inner thighs together. From this leaned back position, twist your torso side to side with your hands clasped at your chest. Repeat 10 times to the right and left alternating sidesor for 20 seconds.

Repeat the above for 8 rounds. 

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