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Tabata Workout

What is Tabata?

Tabata quite simply is one of the most effective ways to improve your cardiovascular fitness with the least amount of time spent exercising. Tabata was developed by Dr. Izumi Tabata of the National Institute of Fitness and Sports in Tokyo, Japan by studying the training methods of the Japanese Olympic speed skating team.  In 1996 he published his results in the journal "Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise" showing the fitness benefits of high-intensity intermittent training. He did a 6-week test with two groups: The interval (Tabata) group did 8 reps of 20 seconds of high intensity exercise (170% of VO2max) followed by 10 seconds low intensity performed five times a week.  The aerobic group did one hour of moderate intensity (70% of VO2max). Both groups worked out five times a week. At the end of the study, the interval (Tabata)group increased their VO2max by 7 ml/kg/min and increased their anaerobic capacity by 28%. The aerobic group increased their VO2max by 4.8 ml/kg/min with no increase in their anaerobic capacity. And these were already physically fit athletes, not just random couch potatoes.

Group Workout Time
(5 x week)
Increase in
Increase in
Calories Burned
Calories Burned
Each Workout
Due to EPOC
Total Calories
Each Workout
4 minutes 7.0 28% 130 650 780
Aerobic 60 minutes 4.8 0 500 75 575
Ask not what you can do for your cardio, but what your cardio can do for you.

The above chart shows how little traditional cardio does to improve your fitness.

In fact, the Interval group got better results with just four minutes of Tabata-style interval training than did the test group doing an hour of steady cardio. That's so remarkable that it's worth repeating: Four minutes a day of intense interval training improved cardio fitness more than an hour a day of steady cardio! How's that for time efficiency?

But what if your not trying to get fit, just lose weight?

When most people say they want to lose weight, what they really mean is they want to look fit. And, believe it or not, the best way to look fit is to actually be fit!

The best way to look fit, is

And of course, the fitter you are the more calories you are able to burn per hour when doing exercise. Getting fitter should be part of your overall weight loss/health plan. And if that's not enough, the TOTAL calories burned during a Tabata workout will generally be greater than the total calories burned jogging for an hour. This is due to the EPOC effect. EPOC stands for "Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption." After doing extremely intense exercise, your body will continue to use more oxygen than normal during the next 24 hours, i.e. your metabolism is higher, therefore, you to continue to burn extra calories. For example, if you jog five miles in an hour workout, you will burn about 500 calories during the workout and maybe another 75 due to EPOC over the next day for a total of about 575 calories. During a Tabata workout, the same person would probably burn about 130 calories during the actual workout, but may burn and additional 650 calories due to EPOC for a total of 780 calories.

A University of New South Wales study of women taking part in anaerobic high intensity interval training found that the women burned fat at a rate three times higher than those doing aerobic exercises! The interval training group did only 20 minutes of exercise on a stationery bike, while the aerobic group exercised at a consistent pace in standard target heart rate zones for 40 minutes. After 15 weeks, the women's interval group lost 3 x more body fat than those who did standard cardio for twice as long.

If you want to lose fat, use intense interval training.

Another study by the Physical Activities Sciences Laboratory, Laval University, Quebec, Canada, compared interval training to standard endurance cardio and found while endurance training burned twice as many calories as interval training during the actual exercise, skinfold measurements showed the interval group lost 4½ times more subcutaneous fat!

If you want to lose fat, forget long boring cardio sessions and stick with short very intense interval training.

What does a Tabata Workout Consist of?

A Tabata workout has eight 30-second cycles. Each 30-second cycle consists of 20 seconds of all out effort followed by 10 seconds of complete rest. The eight cycles take a total time of four minutes. You can use the free Tabata Clock to time your sessions. And while Dr. Tabata used a cycling ergometer for his study, any exercise that can be done safely and works the legs hard will work. If you are trying to improve your cycling, then use a bicycle trainer. I don't recommend actual cycling, as the intensity is so high it would be nearly impossible to do it safely. Likewise, going back and forth from all out to rest on a treadmill would be a recipe for disaster. If you are a runner, try using sprints on a track. If you are just striving for overall fitness, then simply doing parallel squats or a full body exercise like burpees will work just fine. The main point is you must work as much of your muscle mass as possible. This means the legs have to be the primary muscles used. You don't need any special equipment, but if doing squats, you may want to add some weight after you've been doing Tabata for a while. You don't need anything special, just a standard weight plate and hold it in front of your chest. The exact amount of weight is not that critical. For most people, this workout will work just fine without any weight. The most important thing is that you are going all out on each and every one of the eight 20 second sets. If you are doing sprints, then you must be running as fast as you can during the 20 seconds. If you are doing squats, then do as many as you can do during the 20 seconds. When you can do more than 12 full squats in EVERY set, then consider adding some more weight. Remember, this is a cardio workout, not a weight training session. It is better to do more reps with a lighter weight.

Don't let the fact that the Tabata workout is very short fool you. It is a very difficult workout. It must be for it to be effective. It's four minutes of all out effort. No matter what exercise you choose for your workout, you must exert yourself so that your lungs feel like you are sprinting. By the fourth cycle, you should feel like your lungs are going to burst. By the eighth, you should just barely be able to keep going. Anything less and you are just doing four minutes of standard cardio - and that's not going to do much for you. Obviously, you must be healthy to do a workout this hard. People with heart problems or other risk factors should consult a physician before attempting anything this strenuous.

If you CAN do more than four minutes, then you are NOT doing Tabata.

People often ask, "Will it work if I do eight minutes of Tabata instead of four?" The answer is: If you CAN do more than four minutes of Tabata, then you are NOT doing Tabata. The workout should be so intense that at the end of four minutes you are done and couldn't do another 20 second work cycle even if you wanted to. That's what it requires in order to be effective.

Of course, the first few times you do the Tabata workout, you should take it easy. Even some well-trained athletes end up very sore the day after doing a single workout. You may want to rest during the even numbered cycles. Work moderately on cycles 1, 3, 5, 7 and rest during all the rest periods and also rest during cycles 2, 4, 6, 8 and work your way up to the full exercise. Just as with any exercise, you should ease into it at the beginning to help prevent injury and soreness.

How often should I do a Tabata workout?

Dr. Tabata had his subjects do it five times a week. You should start out slow and do it once or twice a week at first and then work up to five times a week. If you want to do a regular cardio workout in addition to the Tabata, then you should do the Tabata FIRST - Your lungs need to be fresh to do this workout. I personally like doing it after lifting weights or right before a bike ride.

Warming up and Cooling Down

As stated, a Tabata workout is very short. The actual work portion is only four minutes long. However, you should warm up properly before beginning. Five minutes of easy to moderate cardio should do the trick. You want to do just enough to raise your body temperature slightly and get your blood flowing. The warm-up is not a workout and should be moderately easy. Personally, I like to do Tabata after my regular weightlifting session, in which case I'm already warmed up. And the Tabata workout should be followed by a short cool down, such as five minutes of walking or easy cardio - or just do a regular cardio session after your Tabata session so that you feel you're spending enough time in the gym to get your money's worth from your gym membership.


Tabata is excellent addition to an overall fitness plan and a great way to improve your cardiovascular health. The benefits of adding Tabata to cardio program are tremendous.

So fire up the

Tabata Clock

and give it a go…

Always Use Proper Form on EVERY rep of EVERY exercise

How much is your health worth?

Do you skip routine maintenance for your car?
Your body also requires routine maintenance. You can buy a new car, but you only get one body.  So how much is your health worth? 30 minutes a day 3 times a week?
Disclaimer: YOU should always consult a physician before beginning any exercise or diet program.  If you haven't trained for a while, start out slow with LIGHT weights.  Use a weight or resistance that allows you to do 15-20 reps.  Do this for at least two months to give your muscles, joints, and ligaments time to prepare for the real work.  Besides, for the first 6-8 weeks you're just preparing your body for the real workout.  You'll get about the same results during this time no matter what you do (within reason), so don't risk getting hurt.  Always follow proper form for any exercise. Don't sling the weights.  Often you'll see people in the gym using body English to sling the weights instead of muscle.  Besides the fact that this does little to work the desired muscles and thus will not give you good results, it greatly increases your risk of injury.  And workout with a partner.  It's safer and you're more likely to stick with it.


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