“I want to burn fat and shape my body, but I don’t want to spend hours at the gym every week.” If this is you and you are not familiar with the term “Tabata”, then this article is most definitely for you.

I am pretty sure you have heard the term HIIT (high-intensity interval training) before. Perhaps at your gym, or you have seen pins about it on Pinterest (because it’s literally full of it). Tabata is just a specific and very time efficient type of HIIT. A Tabata workout is only 4 minutes long! …wait, what? And that’s efficient training? Yes! Keep on reading.

What is Tabata and what are its benefits?

tabata trainingHIIT is a kind of cardio training, but not the traditional, moderate intensity and steady pace training. In high-intensity interval training you alternate between high-intensity and low-intensity intervals. Plenty of studies have proven the effectiveness of HIIT for sustainable weight loss over normal, moderate and steady pace cardio. High-intensity interval training does not only burn fat. It also builds lean muscle which in turn accelerates the fat burn. The normal type of cardio training does not build muscle. However, more muscle means more fat burn. You do not have to worry though because Tabata will not make you “big” in terms of muscle mass. Instead, it can help you look leaner and in shape.

It is called Tabata after the Japanese researcher Dr. Izumi Tabata who has been doing intensive studies around this particular interval training method with various kinds of athletes to prove its efficiency. The most famous and groundbreaking study was comprised of two workout groups. They were training over the course of six weeks for five days per week.

  • The first group was doing 60 minutes moderate pace cycling on the ergometer.
  • The second group was doing 4 minute Tabata training.

The result was groundbreaking in the sense that both groups improved their aerobic fitness level at around the same rate. Keep in mind that the first group worked out for 5 hours per week and the second one for 20 minutes per week. The aerobic fitness level refers to the maximum amount of oxygen intake by your body. However, only the people in the Tabata group also built lean muscle over the course of the study which has a positive and accelerating effect on burning body fat.

To HIIT or not to HIIT?

There are numerous types of interval training but not every single one has been researched as thoroughly as the 4 minute Tabata. If you would like to minimise your training time and maximise results, then Tabata is a good choice because its effectiveness has been proven.

In a Tabata workout you go through 8 intervals with 20 seconds of high-intensity followed by 10 seconds of low-intensity or complete rest. During the high interval you really want to give it all. Full power, maximum effort! There are a few things you need to keep in mind before adding Tabata workouts to your training regimen:

  • tabata trainingIf you are new to HIIT training, take it easy in the beginning and gradually work your way up to maximum effort. HIIT training is very stressful for an untrained cardiovascular system.
  • For non-professional athletes and fitness lovers exercises with a low risk for injury are more suitable. For example, using the ergometer at the gym is less risky than doing sprints outdoors.
  • High intensity is the key to success with Tabata training and four minutes are sufficient. It might feel like the workout is not long enough. However, adding more intervals will not increase results in the long run.
  • How many Tabata trainings you should add to your workouts depends on your goal. Do you mainly want to increase strength and are already doing strength training? In this case, adding one session per week is sufficient to fuel fat burn and increase endurance. If you are mainly working on your endurance and fat burn, you can potentially do Tabata training up to five times a week. This should be the absolute maximum.
  • Your body needs sufficient rest periods to recover from HIIT training. Tabata is very taxing for your central nervous system. Ideally, you should grant yourself resting periods of 48 hours between two Tabata sessions.

On another note: Normal cardio training has its benefits, too, and HIIT is not for everyone. Finding your own balance is the goal.

If you are still looking for a way to do strength training at home, check out my related post on working out with resistance bands.

Ideas for Tabata workouts

Recap: You will work full power for 20 seconds, then rest for 10 seconds before starting the next high interval. In total there are 8 intervals of 20/10 so that your workout is 4 minutes long. Please don’t forget to warm up properly before you start your workout.

It’s nearly impossible to time your workout by checking your watch or counting seconds. Good news though: there are plenty of Tabata timer apps available. Some of them even come with music. Just check your app store and you will find one.

Following, there are a few ideas for exercises you can choose from for your Tabata training.

At home or outdoors:

  1. Burpees
  2. Jump squats
  3. Sprints

For girls who love to work with iron:

  1. Power cleans (light to moderate weight)
  2. Back squats (light to moderate weight)
  3. Kettlebell swings

For Crossfit fans:

  1. Double unders
  2. Box jumps
  3. Battle ropes

For those who prefer minimal risk for injury:

  1. Rowing machine
  2. Bicycle ergometer
  3. Skiing ergometer

This is a Tabata I just recently did: Alternating between battle ropes and skipping.

Perhaps I got you inspired to try out something new. If you do so, it will be hard in the beginning but you will get better with every Tabata training you do. Keep pushing for your results!

And as always, leave a comment if you have questions or leave your feedback after completing your first Tabata. <3