What Are The Best Tabata Workouts?

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You might have heard it bandied around the gym or being praised by friends but what exactly is Tabata training?

First and foremost it’s an incredibly popular style of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) that’s mainly used to lose fat. There are eight rounds of incredibly intense bouts of exercise lasting 20 seconds that are immediately followed by 10 seconds of rest.

Usually, the session will target the entire body, but if you just want to exercise one area of the body, then you can adjust the workout accordingly.

A typical Tabata 4 minutes training circuit – 8 working periods and 8 rest periods would look something like this:

There’s an increasing amount of hype surrounding Tabata workouts due to its ability to burn fat and build muscle at a fraction of the time you’d normally spend working out. It’s perfect for anyone on a tight schedule or who just can’t muster up the motivation to hit the gym for an hour or longer. This means you still have time to hang out with friends, get work done, and spend time with your family. No longer do you need to become a gym rat in order to get fit.

Don’t get me wrong; the workouts are not easy by any means. You may be thinking ‘how hard can 20 seconds be?’ But by the end of the session, you’ll see exactly why this method is so effective. Tabata draws its benefits from the sheer amount of effort needed through each working period. As your workout will only last about 4 minutes, it’s a lot easier to convince yourself to give it all. You may want to do some weight training or light cardio afterward to really focus on building muscle or improving your aerobic capacity, but this still means that your workouts will last between 10-20 minutes. As most workouts last between 60-75 minutes, you can already see the clear advantages of this hard-hitting style of training.

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What Exercises To Use In Tabata Workout?

Some forms of Tabata last 4 minutes while others last for 16. It depends on how much time you have, the exercises you’re doing, and your goal. The four-minute sessions are more aimed at being supplemental to your regime and little fitness top-ups when you can’t fit in a good workout. Though, if you want to substitute your entire gym session with Tabata then complete each round (4 working periods, 4 rest periods) 8 times for a total of 32 rounds and 16 minutes. If you’re not absolutely exhausted by the end of each Tabata session, then you haven’t given enough.

Here’s an example list of exercises you can pick from when designing a Tabata circuit:

Once you work out a few different routines that you like, you can start compiling a proper training regime. If you were to use Tabata three times a week, you might have one upper body, one lower body, and one full body. If you were doing 4 workouts a week, you could have two lower body and two upper body sessions.

tabata with kettlebells

For those of you who are more viewing Tabata as an add-on to their regular workouts, you may want to focus on your weak areas. For example, if you want to improve your squats you could add on a short lower body session at the end of your typical leg day. If you’re looking to get your upper body bigger then maybe introduce an 8-minute session as a finisher on your upper body days. You could even dedicate your lower volume days to making your abs really pop by adding in a 16-minute Tabata session solely for your core. The possibilities are seemingly endless.

If you want to burn the most amount of calories, then use an exercise from each category. More muscles being worked means you’re expending more energy, and therefore more calories are being burned.

Example 4-Minute Tabata Workout (Gym or home)


When, where and who invented Tabata training method?

The name “TABATA” stems from a paper on interval training published in 1996 by Dr. Izumi Tabata, a physician, and researcher from Japan. The study looked at how athletes responded to a training regime based on the Tabata protocol we know now. He took two groups: one control who did one hour of moderate-intensity exercises five times per week and another group who did Tabata five times per week.This means that the control group did 1,780 more minutes of training over the entire experiment. The results? The Tabata group improved in both their aerobic (with oxygen) and anaerobic (without oxygen) capacity with a whopping 28% being added onto their anaerobic fitness levels.

Who is Tabata training for?

The method was originally designed for runners with the 20 seconds being dedicated for sprints. However, it has now branched out into other areas of fitness and a wider variety of people. As long as you’re raising your heart rate and really pushing yourself in those working periods, then anyone can benefit from a bit of Tabata. In fact, a full Tabata session will keep your body burning fat 24 hours after your workout has ended. Tabata training is a great way to teach your body to tolerate excess lactic acid which is believed to cause fatigue. The more intense you train then, the more your threshold improves.

Now, Tabata training isn’t exactly for beginners because of its fast paced nature. If you’re new to exercising it’s best to stick to a regular gym plan made by a professional for 3-6 months before trying Tabata. As the intensity increases so does the risk of injury and the risk of making a mistake which could be serious due to the range of exercises and speed. It may also be too uncomfortable and too intense for some people. Be prepared to push yourself and know that there will be times you’ll have to stop yourself from giving up. Don’t skip any part of your warm up and always make sure to complete a proper cool down after to keep your body safe.

How does Tabata training work?

tabata workoutTabata takes advantage of an effect called EPOC (Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption) which is also referred to as the afterburn effect. Essentially, this is the amount of oxygen it takes to bring your body back to its normal level of metabolic function a.k.a. Homeostasis. In this recovery period, oxygen is used for functions such as the replacement of ATP (adenosine triphosphate: a molecule used in short bursts of energy) and muscular glycogen, repairing damaged muscle tissue, and bringing your body temperature back to normal. The more EPOC after an exercise session then the more calories you burn.

Expect to feel very sore after each workout and take this into account when fitting them into your schedule. You don’t want to do a hardcore lower body Tabata session the day before leg day as you’ll barely be able to lift half the weight you normally can the next day. After a while, though, your body will adjust and your recovery periods will become shorter and shorter. You just need to be patient and smart at the beginning. The best way to warm up for Tabata sessions is with dynamic stretches. These are stretches that require your body to move in contrast to static stretches where you simply assume a position and hold it.

How effective is Tabata training? Tabata vs cardio vs HIIT

With short and intense training sessions like Tabata, the amount of EPOC is dramatic. This means that you actually burn more calories after the workout has ended opposed to during the workout itself. With long bouts of cardio you burn a lot of calories during the workout but not many at all after. This is exactly the reason why you can burn as many calories with HIIT that you can with cardio in barely any time at all. The body uses about five calories consuming 1 liter of oxygen. The more oxygen used in and after a workout then the more calories burned.

Can I do Tabata workouts at home and without equipment?

Can’t make it to the gym? That’s no problem at all either. Tabata relies on minimal equipment (if any). Most workouts just need your body and a clear space to move around. Any equipment you will need will be things like dumbbells, jump ropes, yoga balls, ankle/wrist weights, or resistance bands. All of these can easily be stored out of the way so they don’t take up room in your house.

Final Thoughts

As effective as Tabata is you can’t out-exercise a bad diet. Remember to keep a healthy and well-rounded diet alongside your workout regime. Aim to eat from a diverse range of foods with 80% of your diet coming from natural, nutrient-dense, and healthy foods. This means the other 20% of the time you can treat yourself and fit in some of those foods you crave. The 80/20 rule is great to stop binging and keep you on track with a change in lifestyle.

Most importantly, have fun! No exercise methodology is going to work if you hate it as you’ll never be able to stick to it. If Tabata isn’t for you, then there are plenty of other types of exercise to try. Yet, if you do enjoy Tabata and like a challenge then it could be a fantastic new way to keep you in shape without spending your life at the gym.




  1. Tabata I, Irisawa K, Kouzaki M, Nishimura K, Ogita F, Miyachi M (March 1997). “Metabolic profile of high intensity intermittent exercises”. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise 29 (3): 390-5. PMID 9139179.
  2. Tabata I, Nishimura K, Kouzaki M, et al. (1996). “Effects of moderate-intensity endurance and high-intensity intermittent training on anaerobic capacity and VO2max”. Med Sci Sports Exerc 28 (10): 1327-30. doi:10.1097/00005768-199610000-00018. PMID 8897392.