In a busy world, efficiency is king. Everyone wants the maximum reward for their efforts in the shortest possible time, especially when it comes to fitness. This is one of the reasons why high intensity interval training, or HIIT, has become so popular. Workouts lasting just 20 to 30 minutes can provide huge cardiovascular benefits, help you burn fat and lose weight, strengthen muscles and bones, lead to better blood sugar control and insulin sensitivity, and make you stronger

But what if you didn’t have to spend 30, 20, or even 10 minutes on your workout? What if you could achieve the same results, maybe even better, in just 4 minutes? Enter Tabata.

Tabata is a specific type of very high intensity interval training. When done correctly, the entire workout takes just 4 minutes. The problem here is that doing it “right” means pushing yourself to the limit in just 160 seconds of work. Tabata is hard. It’s also, according to research, incredibly effective.

If you’ve been around the blog for a while, you probably know that I’m a big proponent of short and sweet, or rather, short and intense workouts. this former marathoner has seen the errors of their ways, and I’ve spent years trying to convince my readers that the typical fitness paradigm has people doing workouts that are too long and that they exist in the so-called “black hole.” They are too hard to be aerobic, but not hard enough to get maximum anaerobic benefits. In other words, workouts that break you down at least as much, if not more, than they build you up in the long run.

But Tabata is not your typical HIIT protocol. Not your typical guy sprint protocol (my favorite type of high intensity exercise). Not your typical guy micro training (despite being a bite). Tabata is its own beast altogether.

The questions we have today are: Should you be incorporating Tabata into your workout routine? If so, how? If not, why not?

The Tabata training protocol

Tabata workouts are named after Dr. Izumi Tabata, researcher and former fitness coach for Japan’s national speed skating team. Dr. Tabata was the first to systematically measure and publish the results of the training protocol that now bears his name, although he apparently didn’t actually have the idea. (It was ’80s speed skating coach Kouichi Irisawa.)

A true Tabata training protocol, according to Dr. Tabata, involves 7 to 8 “exhaustive sets” of exercise performed at 170 percent VO2max for 20 seconds, with 10 seconds of rest in between. If you quit after 6 reps, that’s not really Tabata. It’s also not Tabata if you can get a 9th round, if you do 30 second work intervals, or if you rest more than 10 seconds.

Dr. Tabata did his studies on a stationary bike, which allows him to increase endurance and quickly reach this effort. Now I don’t know if you’ve ever ridden a bike at 170 percent VO2max (which is the intensity you can sustain for just 50 seconds of hard pedaling before you fall off the bike in a pool of sweat), but let me telling you that a 4-minute workout will feel like a lot. Even though you only went 20 seconds at a time, the 10-second rest intervals aren’t enough for you to really recover, so you start each new interval already in deficit. After 8 rounds you will be spent.

That’s what Tabata is. what is not

Tabata vs. HIIT

Tabata is not HIIT. Or is HIIT not Tabata? One of the two

Anyway, Tabata differs from HIIT in several key ways.

  • HIIT workouts usually last 20 to 30 minutes, maybe up to an hour. Tabata workouts last exactly 4. No more.
  • With HIIT training, recovery periods last anywhere from 30 seconds to several minutes, and can involve complete rest or low-intensity activity, such as pedaling with lighter resistance. Tabata workouts involve 10 seconds of total rest, period.
  • True Tabata, as described by the eponymous doctor, must be performed at the prescribed intensity. HIIT workouts, while challenging when done correctly, are not as intense.

This last point is where many people get confused. There’s just no way you can go on for 20 minutes, let alone an hour, at the intensity Dr. Prescribes. tabata Even the world’s fittest elite athletes would struggle to complete several rounds with proper form and intensity, let alone your average guy doing an hour-long “Tabata class” at the local gym. To last that long, you will be forced to reduce your production. These so-called Tabata workouts that stack multiple rounds of 20 seconds on/10 seconds off exercises are not Tabata in the truest sense. tabata-style, may be. HIIT, without a doubt.

that’s fine There are many proven benefits to HIIT, but it’s not Tabata.

Tabata versus Sprint

Tabata and sprinting have a lot in common: Very short and very intense work intervals. Relatively short Leave feeling more invigorated than wiped out for the rest of the day.

But Tabata isn’t running.

The two big differences are this with sprintyou take longer rest intervals so you start each sprint fairly fresh and can perform up to 8 or 10 reps.


For my money, the biggest benefit of Tabata, compared to other types of HIIT training especially, is its efficiency. My biggest complaint with HIIT training it’s generally that it’s easy to overdo it, exactly the way Primal Blueprint Fitness discourages. The line between HIIT and chronic cardio it is often blurred. An hour-long HIIT class will almost certainly keep you pegged at the heart rate of a black hole. Tabata won’t do it.

In this way, Tabata is much more similar to the sprint workouts I advocate. I all the things I love about sprintingShort, full bursts that increase growth hormone, increase fat burning, promote insulin sensitivity, and provide full-body fitness benefits.—should also be true of Tabata.

The other thing to note about Tabata is that, compared to other types of exercise, it seems to uniquely maximize gains in the aerobic and anaerobic energy systems. According to research from the laboratory of Dr. tabata, 20-second intervals at 170 percent VO2max hit a good spot for targeting both. Most types of exercise preferentially benefit one or the other.

How to do the Tabata workout

You’re already familiar with the basics: do a proper warm-up, get on an exercise bike, increase the resistance, and start doing your 20-second work/10-second rest intervals. Do eight reps, cool down, hydrate, call it a day. May be go for a walk.

Tabata really is that simple. You’ll know you’re hitting the right intensity if you go deep to complete those seventh and eighth reps.

What if you don’t have access to an exercise bike? Dr. Tabata cautions that we don’t know if the benefits extend to other modes beyond cycling, but I see no reason to think they would be specific to cycling. Any exercise that allows you to achieve high work yields in 20 seconds should be just as effective. The beauty of the bike is that you can go from total rest to pedaling hard with a quick twist of the resistance dial. You could probably replicate this with a Versaclimber, battle ropes, sled push, or even an elliptical.

I see a lot of Tabata workouts that include four or five 4-minute circuits of exercises like burpees, kettlebell swings, Russian twists, jumping jacks, mountain climbers, and the like. They use the same 20/10 splits, but the fact that they include 16 or 20 total work intervals tells you that the intensity isn’t the same, which you can feel. There is no way that 20 seconds of planking is as hard as 20 seconds of pedaling on a high resistance bike. So they are not really Tabata.

This is not a dig at these types of workouts. They’re still HIIT, and you’ll reap the benefits accordingly. For beginners, this type of low-intensity (but still challenging) Tabata-style HIIT workout is a safer starting place. That said, since you’re not doing a strict Tabata workout anyway, there’s no reason to strictly limit yourself to 20/10 intervals either.

The bottom line

Although I think Tabata is awesome, I wouldn’t do it not more do Tabata workouts. Much research shows that intervals of other lengths and intensities are also worthwhile. Just as I don’t always do the same types of dead weight or squatsand I change the surfaces on which I runit makes sense to do different types of interval training. Mixing it up probably gives you the best bang for your buck long-term.

If you want to do a Tabata session, I recommend doing it instead of your weekly sprint. Or you can do it in addition; just watch your recovery and make sure you don’t overdo it. Remember that real Tabata workouts are hard. Very hard. Not for the faint of heart. (Literally. If you have heart problems, talk to your doctor before doing such a strenuous workout.)

how about you Have you incorporated Tabata into your workout routine? Do you notice any benefits?


About the author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather of the Primal Food and Lifestyle movement, and the News from New York best-selling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is also the author of many other books, including The primordial planwhich was credited with driving the growth of the primal/paleo movement in 2009. After spending more than three decades educating people about why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primary kitchen, a real food company that creates tasty and delicious cooking staples made with premium ingredients like avocado oil. With over 70 condiments, sauces, oils and dressings in their line, Primal Kitchen makes it easy to prepare delicious meals that fit your lifestyle.

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