What Exactly Is Tabata Training?

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Tabata training is basically the OG of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts. The term “Tabata” dates back to 1996 when a researcher by the name of Izumi Tabata pitted moderate-intensity continuous exercise for 60 minutes against HIIT (or Tabata) for just four minutes. As it turned out, the interval training group saw a similar increase in their aerobic capacity (the body’s ability to send oxygen to muscles to do work, necessary for cardio exercise), compared to the other group. But, they also saw improvements in their anaerobic fitness, or the body’s ability to work at intense levels, necessary for power movements. The original Tabata consisted of 20 seconds of work, followed by ten seconds of rest. Since then, Tabata has become more synonymous with all types of HIIT workouts—all with those same fitness-boosting payoffs.

What is a Tabata workout?

“[Tabata] is a form of high-intensity interval training that induces high anaerobic responses in short periods of time to challenge the entire system more effectively than simple cardio,” explains Aaptivtrainer Mike Septh. While you could achieve this by following the 20:10 ratio of work to rest, you could also switch it up with say, 40 seconds on and 20 seconds off for a total of five minutes.

You also don’t have to do only cardio-focused workouts. You can follow this same format for strength exercises, says Sultan Malik, an Aaptiv trainer and vice president at ConBody in NYC. “If performed with weights, you can achieve improvements in muscular strength and hypertrophy,” or muscle growth, he says. Malik also believes that switching up the work intervals and rest periods, along with the exercises, is important for progressing a program and avoiding plateaus.

What are the pros and cons of Tabata training?

As mentioned, Tabata training can increase aerobic and anaerobic performance in one workout, challenging both your cardiovascular and muscular energy systems, says Malik. It’s also efficient at burning fat. It’s an ideal solution for someone short on time who still wants to improve their fitness on a few levels. As mentioned, Tabata is essentially HIIT training. It’s made up of easy to follow intervals that alternate between rest and work so you may burn more calories in less time.

As for cons, it’s safest to do this method only after you have a strong fitness base, says Septh. “You should be able to perform at 80 percent to 95 percent of your max heart rate in a short period of time,” he explains. Keep in mind, by working at these high intensities, a Tabata workout could be hard on your joints and tissues.

Malik also says you need to make sure that you switch up the programming of your Tabata so that your results don’t level off. And, one final note: as you’re working quickly through high-intensity bursts, make sure that you still have good form. Otherwise, you increase your risk of injury.

How to Do a Tabata Workout

You can turn most exercises and types of cardio into a Tabata workout. For instance, Septh suggests taking a goblet squat at 60 percent to 70 percent of your max weight and working for 40 seconds, then resting for 20 seconds. Do three to four rounds. Or, for cardio, row for 30 seconds on and 20 seconds off, for eight to ten rounds.

Malik offers a few other Tabata-style combos.

For cardio, try one of these:

High knees: 20 seconds, ten seconds rest for eight sets. Rest one minute.
Mountain climbers: 20 seconds, ten seconds rest for eight sets. Rest one minute.
Jumping jacks: 20 seconds, ten seconds rest for eight sets. Rest one minute.
Shadow boxing: 20 seconds, ten seconds rest for eight sets. Rest one minute.
Squat thrusts: 20 seconds, ten seconds rest for eight sets. Rest one minute.
Lateral bounding: 20 seconds, ten seconds rest for eight sets. Rest one minute.

For strength, have a go at these exercises:

Chest presses: 20 seconds, ten seconds rest for eight sets. Rest one minute.
Military shoulder presses: 20 seconds, ten seconds rest for eight sets. Rest one minute.
Alternating lunges and bicep curls: 20 seconds, ten seconds rest for eight sets. Rest one minute.
Renegade rows: 20 seconds, ten seconds rest for eight sets. Rest one minute.

Now that you know the ins and outs of a traditional Tabata workout, take your normal fitness routine up a notch with tons of Tabata-style classes in the Aaptiv app.

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