What if I told you that fitness gains were possible in only four minutes per day? Sound too good to be true? If it does, you’ve likely never tried a Tabata workout before.
The original science behind Tabata workouts, as well as first-hand experiences from anyone that’s ever done the 20 seconds on/10 seconds off interval will show you just how hard you can push yourself in a four minute workout.
Originally created in 1996, Tabata workouts are one of CrossFit’s first loves.
And as much as CrossFit has evolved since the early 2000s, it still finds its way into main site programming now.
What exactly is a Tabata workout? Are they really that effective for fitness? Can they help you lose weight? And how can you add them to your training?
We’ll answer those questions in this guide.
What Is A Tabata Workout?
The Tabata protocol is an interval workout that uses a 20 second on, 10 second off timer. This means that you do as many reps as possible in 20 seconds, then rest for 10 seconds before going again.
Each 20 on/10 off circuit equals one round of Tabata.
The original protocol, as well as famous CrossFit Tabata workouts like “Tabata This” use eight rounds per exercise.
However, you can do as many or as few as you’d like. One of the benefits, as you’ll see later, is that Tabata intervals are highly adaptable to your specific goals or needs.
You can do as few or as many rounds as you want.
The History of Tabata
Dr. Izumi Tabata and a team of researchers from the National Institute of Fitness and Sports in Tokyo created the Tabata protocol as part of a 1996 experiment on high-intensity interval training on speed skaters using stationary bikes.
Basically, one group trained with the Tabata intervals four times per week for only four minutes (doing one full Tabata workout).
The other trained at a moderate intensity for one hour.
The results? Those doing the Tabata intervals improved the same amount of aerobic capacity as those training for one hour. And, their anaerobic capacity increased 28%.
Tabata’s study was revolutionary in the exercise science world and has helped spark the current HIIT wave we’re riding in the fitness industry.
Outside of CrossFit, many gyms offer some form of high-intensity interval training these days, in no small part to the original conclusions of this study.
Tabata workouts go back to the beginning of CrossFit. Workouts like “Tabata This” go back as far as 2004 on the CrossFit.com main page, making it one of the original CrossFit Tabata workouts.
“Tabata This” is a 24 minute workout consisting of rowing, air squats, pull-ups, push-ups, and sit-ups. Each exercise is performed 8 times in a row for a total of 40 Tabata intervals. In between each exercise you rest for one full minute.
Tabata Workouts Benefits
Here are 5 benefits to adding Tabata workouts to your training.
If they’re anything, Tabata workouts are efficient. A Tabata workout can be completed in as little as four minutes by following the 8 rounds, 20 on/10 off prescription.
Take a look at the original Tabata study linked above–participants exercising only four minutes a day got similar or better results than those doing a long, low-intensity training session.
Plenty of studies show how HIIT (high-intensity interval training) workouts like Tabata help people lose weight better than moderate-intensity cardio.
And don’t think you can’t burn a ton of calories using Tabata workouts, either. You may not burn as many calories during a HIIT workout, at least compared to something like a long run.
But high-intensity training helps you burn more calories for up to 24 hours after, due to increased exercise post-oxygen consumption (EPOC).
3. Gain Muscle
While high-intensity implies that you are focusing on improving cardio, don’t forget that Tabata workouts can also help you gain muscle.
As long as the movements are not too heavy, exercises with barbells, dumbbells, and kettlebells plug right into the Tabata protocol.
If you’re programming your own workouts, stick to 60% or less of your 1 rep max the first time you do weighted Tabata exercises. Yes, the first round or two will feel easy. But by round 6, you’ll be thankful.
4. Increased Anaerobic and Aerobic Capacity
CrossFit athletes and fitness enthusiasts will both benefit from increased cardio and anaerobic capacity when doing Tabata workouts.
This means you’re able to sustain bouts of exercise much longer (cardio) and perform high-intensity exercises longer (anaerobic) without getting fatigued.
Tabata exercises are easily adaptable for any training session. Whether you have a gym, a hotel room or a track, you can plug the 20 on/10 off in.
The next two sections on exercises and WODs will give you some ideas to get started.
Best Tabata Exercises
There are no “best” Tabata exercises, but there are many that make it easy to get in and start working. The only guideline is to pick compound movements like the ones found in CrossFit.
Losing weight and gaining muscle (or both) is possible depending on your goals.
Any bodyweight exercise, like push-ups, pull-ups, sit-ups, squats, planks, and lunges are perfect for 20 on/10 off.
Either combine several like the “Tabata This” workout or do a 1a/1b workout (one set of push-ups, one set of pull-ups, then back to push-ups).
Here are 4 Tabata workouts you can try today. Most of them require minimal equipment,
1. Classic Push/Pull Tabata – 8 Min
20 on/10 off for 16 Rounds:
- Kettlebell Snatches, 1.5/1 pood
- Alternate between exercises.
2. Tabata Cardio Crusher- 12 Min
- Row for Calories
- 15m Shuttle Runs
- Bike for Calories
3. Tabata Fran- 4 Min
- 95 lb thrusters
4. “Linda Tabata” (For Muscle Gains)- 16 min (with rests)
24 total rounds (8 per exercise, 2 minute rest between)
- Deadlift, 225 lbs
- 2 min rest
- Bench Press, 135 lbs
- 2 min rest
- Power Clean, 115lbs
If you need to get in and out of the gym, want to add muscle or improve your cardio, or simply test your fitness, Tabata workouts are the perfect solution.
While Tabata intervals won’t make you a CrossFit Games competitor or the fittest person ever in four minutes per day, it will help you become a better, stronger, more fit athlete.
Pick full body compound exercises that fit your goals and go as hard as you can.
You’ll see just how much you can get done quickly.