What Is Tabata?

What is Tabata Training?

When fitness enthusiasts and trainers talk about “Tabata training” or the “Tabata Protocol”, they are referring to a type of high intensity interval training.

This training protocol involves performing a particular exercise (or exercises) at high intensity for 20 seconds followed by 10 seconds of rest. This is repeated 8 times for a total training time of 4 minutes. On a graph, the training protocol would appear as follows:


Single Exercise Tabatas Vs Multiple Exercise Tabatas

You could perform the same exercise for each of the eight 20-second intervals or you could perform a series of different exercises to create a 4-minute circuit training type of workout. You could also repeat the 4-minute Tabata cycle for multiple sessions. Typically, 4 sets of “Tabatas” is recommended with 1 minute of rest time in between each set for a total of a 20-minute workout.

You can see an example of using this training protocol for a single exercise for squats in the video below:

You can also apply the Tabata training protocol to a combination of exercises (with or without weights) within each set . For example, this is a video of a Tabata set that combines pushups, chinnies and mountain climbers:

The Origins of The Tabata Training Protocol

The Tabata training method and its many variations are “unofficial” adaptations of the training protocol used by Dr Izumi Tabata in a research study published in 1996. In this landmark study, Dr Tabata showed that short bursts of high intensity training had superior aerobic and anaerobic training effects compared to longer moderate intensity training. These benefits were seen in already well conditioned elite athletes.

In his research study, Dr Tabata divided elite athletes from the National Institute of Fitness and Sports in Tokyo, Japan into two groups. Each group trained for 5 days a week on a mechanically braked cycle ergometer over a 6 week period. The first group trained at moderate intensity for 60 minutes 5 days a week. The second group trained using the 4-minute high-intensity protocol (e.g. 20 seconds at high intensity followed by 10 seconds of rest repeated 8 times).

At the end of the training period, Dr Tabata found that the first group that trained at longer durations with moderate-intensity showed slight improvement in aerobic capacity but did not show any improvement to anaerobic capacity.  However, the test group that trained at short bursts of high-intensity showed improvement in both anaerobic and aerobic capacity. More interestingly, the second group showed superior training improvements compared to the first group.

Since this study was published, many athletes and trainers have adapted the training protocol used in this study as the basis of formulating their training programs. This is what is now known as “Tabata Training”.

Who Should Do Tabata Training?

It is no surprise why Tabata training is becoming increasingly popular among fitness enthusiasts and professionals. Firstly, the training method is supported by scientific evidence to show that it is a superior training method compared to traditional cardiovascular training. Secondly, who wouldn’t prefer better results in just 4 minutes compared to 60 minutes of traditional cardio exercises?

However, I should point out that despite the benefits above, the high-intensity nature of the training will make this training “feel” a lot harder than traditional cardio exercises. Especially for individuals who are not already physically conditioned. People who are not used to training at such high intensity should start of slowly and with supervision from a fitness professional to avoid the the risk of injury.

The benefits of Tabata training would appeal to the following groups of people:

  1. People who want to increase their athletic capacity. As Dr Tabata demonstrated in his study, the Tabata training protocol improves both aerobic and anaerobic capacity in already fit individuals.
  2. Individuals who want to lose weight or reduce fat. Studies have shown that high-intensity training result in Excess Post-exercise Oxygen Consumption or “EPOC” for short. In layman terms, research shows that the metabolic effect of exercising at high-intensity can continue long after training resulting in more calories being burnt!
  3. Individuals who do not have a lot of time for fitness training. Finally, busy professionals or individuals who do not have a lot of time for exercising could adopt the Tabata training protocol to ensure that they maximize the efficiency of their workouts.

How Do I Get Started?

Everyone has a different level of fitness, so finding a universal program that suits everyone is not possible. The basic rule to follow is to start easy and build up as your level of fitness improves.

You don’t need any fancy equipment to get started. We do recommend getting a simple Tabata Timer that can help you time your workout and rest intervals conveniently. This fits in your pocket and you can then bring it anywhere and workout anywhere.

To get started, first – measure your weight and body fat percentage. If you don’t have a baseline to compare with, its hard to know if the workout is working for you.

Next, select just one or two Tabata exercise that is easy for you to do and just do that for 2 weeks. Use the Tabata Worksheets that are provided FREE from this website to record your progress.

After 2 weeks, check your weight and body fat measurements. If you feel comfortable, add on more Tabata exercises or choose more challenging exercises to do.

If you’re still lost – try this simple program: https://tabataexercise.com/a-simple-new-year-tabata-workout-program/

Don’t forget to share you results and workout ideas at our community page at: http://Facebook.com/TabataExercise

45 thoughts on “What Is Tabata?”

  1. First Tabata Protocol is scientifically proven to improve aerobic and anaerobic capacity for elite athletes on exercise bikes. The efficacy of the training for all other exercises is merely inferred from this original study. Personally, for teenagers and kids, I would recommend Tabata Protocol for exercises that focus on body weight only without weights. So exercises like squats or burpees is good because the risk of injury is very low. Using the Tabata Protocol on exercises that uses weights like dumbbells, medicine balls, sledgehammer..etc is only recommended for people who have had sufficient experience in weight training.

  2. It depends. If you’re doing Tabata intervals on a stationary bike, there’s no problem but you should have at least 1-2 rest days in any workout regiment. But if you’re doing Tabata that uses some kind of weights you should allow each muscle group to rest for 2 days. For example, you could alternate between Tabata for upper body workouts then followed by Tabata for lower body workouts.

  3. Can you just do 1 4 in session or maybe 2 4 min sessions? You don’t have to do 4 correct. I usually do in 4 min session after I lift.

  4. Correct. The actual Tabata protocol is just 1 session. I normally do 2-4 in one workout session depending on the type of workout or combos I pick.

  5. Hi Brian,
    I’ve been using Tabata on the Stationary Cycle after you came out with an article about it in your other blog, and it has helped me lose weight tremondously.
    So, thank you for the information.
    I wanted to enquire about the bodylastics. I’m actually confused as to which one is better, as there is another that’s called exercisebands.com that says that they have the best system…So, which one is good?

  6. Hi Kumar – Tabata is absolutely the best form of exercise for rapid fat loss and also saves time. But it is also very tough because when you hit the last couple of rounds your muscles will be crying. About the Bodylastics bands, they are the best in the market. But I see the link you sent is also selling Bodylastics but the domain is different so that is a little suspicious. I think its safer if you buy from Bodylastics directly. I have an affiliate link on the sidebar of this blog. It helps me to defray some of the cost of maintaining this site so if you decide to get it, I would appreciate the support by clicking via the link. Thanks for dropping by and stay tuned for more updates.

  7. Sure. Did use your link but they don’t have a direct link purchase for International Clients. I’ve to contact the support apparently. So, how do you get your affliate commission if I were to contact them directly?

  8. Hi Kumar: Don’t worry about it. Its a small matter. Just go ahead and get the product as it is a good product. You can use it for many other workouts aside from just pure Tabata workouts. These bands are also used extensively in the P90X program.

  9. HI may i use this protocol with wingate cycle ergometer and how much resistace that we have to keep for an fit individual

  10. Yes, you can. The resistance depends on your fitness level. Set it up at a point where it feels mild. Use that as a baseline. Then do the Tabata Protocol. If you find it too easy, then increase it accordingly. (and vice versa)

  11. I work out 5x a week w weights. 3 days a week Tabata on elipitical. can i do tabata 5 x a week? 5 days on 2 days rest? if not, can i do spinning on the days inbetween my tabata?


  12. Hi,

    I’ve done Tabata off and on and I am thinking about using it more extensively in a more daily routine like crossfit is. My question is, if I increase the frequency, is it okay to just do one rotation of the Tabata and will the results still be as effective?

  13. Hi, I’ve been doing tabata workout for over 2 months everyday. But I havn’t lost any significant weight. I want to loose fat from my lower stomach. My workout is rope jumping: 3 minutes warm up, 4 sets of tabata with 1 minute rest in between.

  14. It depends what workouts you are doing and what muscle groups you are stressing. The rule is to allow each muscle group 24 to 48 hour rest to recover after overloading them. You can do Tabata 5 days a week if you choose workouts that stress different muscle groups so that you can 24-48 hour recovery for them.

  15. According to Izumi Tabata’s protocol you will see improvement to aerobic and anaerobic fitness level just doing 1 round. The research applies to cycling. However, I find that 2 to 4 rounds is ideal for a general feeling of “satisfaction” from a total body workout.

  16. I am amazed that you are not cutting weight. Maybe try to reduce calories. Alternatively – measure and track your body fat %. You may be losing fat and gaining muscle such that you are not seeing changes in weight!

  17. Right now I am only doing 1 round ( on ellipictal). still feels like my heart and chest will explode! can i do spinning on alternate days?

  18. Thanks for the advice. I’m doing jump rope exercise for 4 sets. I just can’t seem to get rid of the lower stomach fat. My diet is pretty normal.

  19. Brian, thank you for this page. I have been an athlete the majority of my life, but with starting a company haven’t been able to dedicate an hour to an hour and a half at the gym So excited to begin starting my day with tabata and getting back in shape again.

  20. A friend just told me about Tabata and I think this is definitely something I can do! I’m prepared for it to be much harder than anticipated though. In 2008 I lost 50 pounds on my own, doing weight watchers 1-2-3 success program. I gained some weight back and NEED to lose 15 – 20 pounds by March. That gives me 2 months.

    My question is this – I have a Total Gym at home. What exercises should I use to do the Tabata? If you wouldn’t mind giving me some suggestions on what I can do to mix things up so I make sure and tone all over. Thanks for your time!

  21. hi Bonnie, good job to lost the 50 lbs before. I recommend you start with a super simple Tabata program like the one I described here: https://tabataexercise.com/a-simple-new-year-tabata-workout-program/ . Use that as a base program as its simple and does not require any equipment. From that program, you can start to add more routines as you get fitter. If your goal is just to lose weight, then just being consistent with the base program will get you great results already. Good luck!

  22. We are just starting out (restarting) our working out after some injuries, we have been cleared by our doctors to go for it. Here is our split, my question is, is it too much? Each of these are Tabata workouts:

    Monday/Thursday – Push ups (A.M. and P.M. session)
    Tuesday/Friday – Supine bicycle (AM); the Swimmer (PM)
    Wednesday/Saturday – Air Squats

    We will incorporate the beginners Tabata cardio (on our elliptical trainer) on Tuesday and Thursday to begin with, and increase to 3 per week, it if proves not hard enough.

    So is that too much? Do we need to incorporate longer resting times?


  23. Hi Dre. Tough question as I do not know what injury you recovered from and what physical training your body is used to. If you’re already used to training then what you have listed sounds like a reasonable program. Meaning, I don’t see any where you would over stress the body. But its best to check with your doctor or trainer to be sure.

    For me personally – I used to do: 4 Tabata rounds (various exercises) every alternate day. That got me rapid body fat loss but after 3 months I was feeling tired a lot. It took me a while to adjust to find the right combination of exercises that was not too stressful on my body. For a period, I cut that down to 2 rounds of Tabata exercises every alternate day.

    I’m currently testing out Scott Sonon’s special forces Tacfit Training and that requires 6 body weight Tabata rounds at a time. The program is 2 consecutive Tabata days with 2 days light stretches between. So its normally 3 to 4 times a week on full-on Tabatas and 3-4 times stretching and light warm up exercises per week. At first, I thought that was a little extreme to do 6 Tabatas. But I’m on day 34 and its working out great for me. Feeling strong and my body fat is down to 12%.

    Hope that helps.

  24. I have a couple of questions. We offer a fitness class at work, and the trainer uses the tabata timer for one or two areas. Calisthenics and a mix of body weight exercises, like squats (LOTS of squats) and deadlifts. We also do a circuit with squats, weights, planks. It’s just a thirty minute class, but it will definitely make you sweat. I’ve been doiong this since January with a power yoga class twice a week, and I feel so much stronger. I have a lot (100+) of weight to lose though, so I want to step it up. Obviously, a lot of that is diet but I really like the tabata set up and don’t get nearly as bored as I have with past workouts. My questions are
    -How many 4 min. sets should I do in a workout/day?
    -Should I be aiming for a more cardio exercise than strength?
    – On the days between, should I still get in some type of exercise?

    I have a very sedentary job, if that helps. Thank you!

  25. Hi, Brian, I see that you posted in March about trying Tacfit. I’m just wondering what your success was with it, and if you would recommend it. Thank you for all the information on here!

  26. Tacfit is really awesome. The exercises are well planned and can be performed anywhere there’s enough space to lie down. There’s 3 levels of difficulty starting from beginners all the way up to advanced. If you’re looking for a systematic tabata training program to follow, then Tacfit is ideal.

  27. Tabata is just a training protocol. Applied to cardio type exercises – its excellent for burning fat and toning muscle. If you apply to heavy weighted exercises, it can improve muscle bulk but its not recommended unless you have experience and training in lifting weights prior to applying the protocol. The reason is risk of injury when using heavy weights with fast repetition. Nonetheless you can see a mix of both body weight or light weight exercises as well as heavy weighted exercises posted on this website as reference.

  28. I have just tried my first sessions of tabata in a circuit class and think it is ok. I think it depends on who the people are who are receiving the training and what their goals are…not everyone needs to hang out in anaerobic zone for long periods esp when their fitness is not up to speed to get their recovery heart rate down soon enough before it skyrockets again. Also, I’ve noticed in my group and in the guy doing squats in the video above, that form can be very poor by the last phases which can lead to injury. Faster is not always better. With the right fitness level (and I believe it has been stated multiple times that Dr. Tabata used elite athletes) it can be a great thing–for those disciplined enough to watch their form. Others should build up to it and make sure they know when to quit if their form starts to fade.

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