Tabata training is one of the most popular forms of high-intensity interval training, aka HIIT. It consists of eight rounds of ultra-high-intensity exercises in a specific 20-seconds-on, 10-seconds-off interval. It may take only 4 minutes to complete a Tabata circuit, but those 4 minutes can push your body to its absolute limit.
Tabata training was born after Japanese scientist Izumi Tabata and his colleagues compared the results of moderate-intensity training and HIIT. They evaluated two groups of speed skaters. The first group trained on ergonomic cycles at moderate intensity for one hour, five days per week, for six weeks. The second group completed 4-minute, high-intensity workouts on ergonomic cycles, four days per week, for six weeks—eight intervals of all-out training and then resting 10 seconds.
The scientists concluded that the athletes who performed high-intensity training saw increases in both aerobic and anaerobic system capacities, while the moderate-intensity group did not improve in anaerobic performance. The Tabata training method was developed by modeling workouts after those done by the second group.
Technically, Tabata workouts should be done with a single movement. So, if you choose a movement like front squats, or thrusters, or burpees, you do it at absolute maximum intensity for 20 seconds, take a 10-second rest, and then begin again. Part of what makes Tabata so difficult is performing 4 minutes of the same movement at kill-yourself intensity. If you're not absolutely toast after those 4 minutes, you didn't go hard enough.
Some people now vary the exercises during a Tabata session. It's also popular to increase or decrease rounds and intensity. Although the variations may not count as Tabata protocol, technically, adding or subtracting rounds or changing movements every other round can be useful. (If you really want an insane full-body workout, try three rounds of Tabata!)
Either way, Tabata burns a lot of calories and provides a killer full-body anaerobic and aerobic workout. It also improves athletic performance, improves glucose metabolism, and acts as an excellent catalyst for fat burning. The excess post-exercise oxygen consumption effect, or EPOC, is off the charts for Tabata training.
If you'd like to add Tabata to your training regimen, I advise doing it twice per week. You can do it more often if you're better trained, need quick results, or have recovered well from the previous workout.
Here are some sample workouts I use, but there are plenty of premade circuits out there, or you can easily put together your own. Movements to incorporate include lunges, jump lunges, thrusters, cleans, hang cleans, burpees, mountain climbers, jump squats, and even push-ups.
You can follow these workouts or do one movement for all eight rounds. Make certain that you work at your maximum power output.
- Tabata, I., Nishimura, K., Kouzaki, M., et al. (1996). Effects of moderate-intensity endurance and high-intensity intermittent training on anaerobic capacity and VO2max. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 28(10): 1327-30.