Tabata Interval Training

Short on time?

Still need a simple and effective workout plan?

Willing to feel totally exhausted post-workout?

Tabata training ticks all of the above…

In fact a complete Tabata workout, only requires 4 minutes of your time!

So if you’re skipping workouts due to lack of time, this might be for you…


Be aware… this is an ADVANCED training style. When done correctly, Tabata training is brutally difficult! So make sure that you have already built up a decent level of fitness before trying this method. However appealing the short time commitment may be, this is not a suitable starting point if you’ve been neglecting your fitness recently.

What Is Tabata Training?

Dr Izumi Tabata observed the Japanese speed skating team training in the 90s. He noticed that their coach focussed on short bursts of very high intensity exercise to increase fitness of his athletes. These training sessions produced remarkable results considering the relatively short amount of time actually spent training.

So Tabata set up a scientific study to better understand the effects of this style of training...


The Study:

- compared 2 groups of subjects

- 1 group completed a simple programme consisting of steady, aerobic cycling for 60 minutes, 5 times per week (total = 300 minutes per week).

- the other group performed 5 'Tabata Interval' workouts per week (20 seconds of maximum effort cycling, alternated with 10 seconds of rest. Total = 4 minutes per workout. 20 minutes per week).

- aerobic and anaerobic fitness were measured before and after each programme.

- Tabata Intervals produced significantly better results in both aerobic and aerobic fitness.

Link to full study:


Think of Tabata as a form of (very) High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT).

As little as 4 minutes (8 sets of 20:10 second intervals) has been proven to be effective.

However, the total time can be gradually increased, perhaps using a variety of exercises rather than just one. Be careful not to sacrifice the high intensity aspect by increasing the volume/time of exercise too aggressively.

The whole point of Tabata, apart from being very time-efficient, is to encourage maximal physical effort. You’re more likely to push yourself to your limit if you know that you have a relatively short workout, versus a longer one.

As well as simply being an option for when you are short on time, Tabata is very effective in terms of fitness gains…

- significantly increases VO2 Max; increases the maximum amount of oxygen that your body is able to use during exercise before you switch to the anaerobic energy system. In other words, you are able to perform exercise at a higher intensity, and for longer without being forced to slow down or stop due to the fatigue caused by switching to the anaerobic energy system.

- significantly increases anaerobic fitness; when you do train at a high enough intensity to engage the anaerobic system, you will be better able to sustain that high intensity for longer. (more reps, more seconds added to sprints etc). This will benefit exercise that requires short, intense exercise effort. eg. weight training, treadmill/running sprints, cycling/spinning hill climbs and sprints etc.

Tabata is so effective because, like HIIT, the structure of the workout forces you to work far outside of your comfort zone for pre-determined periods of time.

All too often we see people turn up to the gym, pick out their ‘favourite’ cardio machine and settle into an easy, steady pace. While it would be harsh to call that pointless, it is less likely to challenge your body in the same way and you will miss out on the benefits of more intense training (greater fat loss, metabolic improvements etc).

Secondly, intense intervals exploit the benefit of raising your post-workout metabolism. A slow, steady walk/cycle may well burn a decent number of calories if you are patient enough. But by generating an ‘after-burn’ effect, which causes your body to burn extra calories for hours after you leave the gym, you can once again increase efficiency (burning extra calories while doing NOTHING later in the day). More often than not, a shorter workout, that produces a greater 'after-burn', will ‘beat’ the number of total calories burned by steady cardio. Even if the number on the screen* at the end of the workout was lower.

(Those numbers are unlikely to be accurate by the way).

Thirdly, depending on your choice of exercise, as well as lifestyle factors (including diet), you may also be able to build muscle via Tabata training. Once again, this adds to your metabolic rate improvements. (For example, if you choose to perform an explosive exercise such as jump squats, you could potentially build up additional muscle in the lower body).

When NOT To DO Tabata Workouts

- Tabata is extremely intense. This is not a beginners workout.

- the workout, when done correctly, will push you to the point of fatigue. If you can’t maintain proper exercise technique, throughout, you will be risking injury.

- the exercises that make Tabata most effective are likely to be relatively explosive. Past injuries might dictate that this is not suitable for you.

- if you have a ‘good’ reason to focus on long duration workouts, then obviously continue to do so. When training for marathons or other long duration events, there is no substitute for putting the miles in. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t add Tabata sessions to your existing schedule. In fact you may find that the extra benefits have a knock-on effect on your long distance ability.

- due to the physical demands required by the protocol, you won’t be able to do Tabata daily. Allow adequate rest days and be mindful of other workouts throughout the week that could be affected by the effects of these workouts. Perhaps start off by adding one Tabata workout per week on a day where you are otherwise struggling to fit in any exercise. If you are already training frequently, this could be a replacement for a workout that has become stale or is not producing the expected result. DO NOT FORGET TO SCHEDULE REST DAYS...

Modify If Necessary

Be prepared to work to your LIMITS!

If your main concern regarding Tabata intervals is the sheer intensity of the 20:10 seconds structure, you could simply modify the timings. Do this BEFORE the workout. Don’t just make it up as you go along. Eg. Start with a workout where you spend 10 seconds on the exercise (still maximum effort), followed by 20 seconds rest. You’ve halved the time spent working, and doubled the rest time. Gradually aim to increase the workout intervals back up to 20 seconds, and the rest intervals back down to 10 seconds*.

*One at a time would be advisable... eg. Week 2 - increase the 'work interval' by 1 second while maintaining the 'rest interval'. Week 3 - Mainatin the 'work interval', reduce the 'rest interval' by 1 second.

Remember, when it comes to High Intensity Interval training, the clue is in the name; Intensity is key. Don’t assume that doing ‘more’ (longer time, more reps etc) is always ‘better’. If you are sacrificing intensity in favour of time (and not progressively increasing that intensity), then you are slowly moving away from the principles of High Intensity Interval Training. And gradually making it less likely that you will experience the associated benefits of that method of exercise.

Example Exercises That You Could Use During Tabata Workouts:

- sprints (running, cycling, rowing etc)

- compound weight exercises (push-ups, bent-over rows, bodyweight squats etc)

- explosive bodyweight exercises (mountain climbers, jump squats, burpees etc).


Again… don’t forget, Tabata is an extremely intense form of exercise. Make sure that you have built up adequate fitness to complete the workout safely, and have no injuries or health conditions (past or present) that might cause you to be at risk during very intense exercise. Also your exercise choice should reflect your current fitness/ability.

However, if you’re safely able to give Tabata a go, and you’re looking for a way to add some efficiency to your workout routine, this may be a great addition for you. Even if you’re sceptical of the suggestion that you can challenge your body sufficiently in just 4 minutes… commit one training session to this method. Make sure that you are genuinely pushing yourself to your absolute limit during the exercise intervals (it’s ‘only’ seconds).

“If you feel ok afterwards, you’ve not done it properly”.

You may be surprised just how difficult it is to complete the full 4-minute workout.