What is Tabata, Anyway?

The latest fitness trends are all about short intervals, which encourage your body to burn fat long after you leave the gym. You’ve likely heard of, or even tried, high-intensity interval training (HITT), which is one such exercise routine that has quickly risen to fame. But now, a lesser-known routine called Tabata is becoming the next thing that everyone wants to try at home or in the gym.

What is it Tabata, and what does it have to do with HIIT? Here’s a quick primer on this popular interval exercise routine, plus a few tips to get you started.

What is Tabata?

Tabata is a form of HIIT developed in 1996 by Dr. Izumi Tabata at the National Institute of Fitness and Sports in Tokyo. Contrary to popular belief, Dr. Tabata didn’t design the routine that shares his namesake. Instead, he was hired by the Japanese speed skating team to analyze the effectiveness of their current training routine. The team was already using the interval training that we know as Tabata today; various forms of HIIT have been recorded and used by global athletes for more than a century. Although Dr. Tabata simply measured the results of the team’s training, his name has been attached to that specific interval routine, which has been taking the fitness world by storm lately.

Dr. Tabata specifically researched the effects of using short, high-intensity intervals on a stationary bike. He discovered that after four minutes of high-intensity intervals of exercise and rest, athletes could get the same benefits as 60 minutes of more traditional cardio exercises.

Here’s how it works: Similar to HIIT, Tabata consists of short intervals ofhigh-intensityy exercises followed by short intervals of rest. You can choose to perform the same exercise throughout the entire circuit, or grab a list of exercises online to try. Either way, you perform the exercise at your maximum capacity for 20 seconds and then rest for 10 seconds. After eight circuits—four minutes of heart-pumping Tabata—you’re done.

Many trainers recommend a few circuits and extending the workout to eight, 12, or even 20 minutes. However, Tabata’s four minutes can still have a major impact on how your body functions throughout the rest of the day.

Tabata health benefits

Tabata and HIIT are popular for many of the same reasons: you can get a fantastic workout in a short amount of time. But Tabata isn’t as easy as it sounds. Experts say that if you aren’t completely drained at the end of four minutes, you haven’t worked hard enough.

Putting out so much effort depletes your body of oxygen and starts a process called EPOC after you have left the gym. EPOC stands for Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption. During EPOC, the body has to work hard throughout the day to get your energy levels back to normal, and that’s why it’s so important to push yourself to the limit when you are completing a Tabata circuit. You’ll only get the full effects of the workout if you push yourself enough for the EPOC process to kick in.

In addition to boosting your metabolism and burning calories throughout the day, a Tabata circuit also has the following benefits:

  • Encourages fat loss
  • Reduces risk of metabolic syndrome
  • Increases testosterone levels
  • Works a large range of muscle groups
  • Increases strength and endurance

Try Tabata now

Ready to get started? Before you set your timer or put on a video online, assess your options. Tabata offers a lot of variety, including the option to repeat the same exercise a few times or to switch it up after each break. You can focus strictly on one set of muscles or use Tabata to get a full-body workout.

If you’re new to exercise, Dr. Tabata and other fitness experts recommend easing into the Tabata intervals. HIIT is more suited for athletes or people who are used to cardio exercises. When you first start out with Tabata, commit to one circuit, or four minutes total. Start with an exercise that you are comfortable with, but perform that exercise to your maximum capacity.

For many, the easiest way to get into Tabata is to watch a video with a trainer who can keep track of your exercise and rest periods. Personal trainers on Health and Shape offer 4- and 8-minute videos featuring their favorite Tabata circuits. If you don’t want to follow along with a trainer, you can also repeat your favorite cardio exercise a few times based on the Tabata intervals. Tabata addicts suggest repeating exercises like burpees, lunges or rowing.

Tabata and HIIT are two of the hottest workout trends for athletes, busy adults and anyone else who wants to maximize their workout in a short amount of time. Try a few different Tabata circuits to see if it’s right for you. After all, at just four minutes, you don’t have much to lose—but a lot to gain, so long as you hit that maximal heart rate.

Cory is a veteran health industry writer and content creator. His work has been featured in major publications such as MyFitnessPal, Healthy Living, and Low Carb Fanatics. His health industry writing career spans over nearly two decades.

In his free time, Cory enjoys snowboarding, fictional writing, and online chess.