Similar to circuit training, a Tabata workout has distinct weight-loss and fitness benefits.

But what is it exactly?

Developed by Dr. Izumi Tabata and a team of researchers from the National Institute of Fitness and Sports in Tokyo, the tabata workout is a high intensity workout that lasts for four minutes. "On average, you can burn 53 calories in just one four-minute circuit," U.S. News and World Report reports.

The Tabata workout experience

Even though the tabata workout lasts only four minutes, it’ll probably feel like the longest and hardest four minutes of your life. "Nausea. Seeing stars. Sucking wind. This is how you know you're doing a Tabata workout correctly," Shape notes.

The program consists of eight rounds of working out hard for 20 seconds and resting for 10 seconds. During the 20 seconds of working out, push yourself as hard as possible.

The best part of a tabata workout is that you can do basically any exercise you want, including squats, pushups, and rows.

Here’s a sample 20-minute tabata workout. In it you do:

  1. Push-ups
  2. Squats
  3. Rows
  4. Sit-ups

Perform the push-ups for 20 seconds at a high intensity. Then rest for 10 seconds. And then go back to doing push-ups for 20 seconds. Once you’ve completed eight rounds of push-ups, rest for one minute. Then do the same thing with squats, rows, and sit-ups.

The science of Tabata workouts

Dr. Tabata and his research team conducted an experiment on athletes whom they divided into Group A and Group B.

Group A

  • Trained with moderate intensity
  • Worked out one hour each time, five days a week for six weeks

Group B

  • Trained with high intensity
  • Worked out one hour each time, five days a week for six weeks

Dr. Tabata compared the two groups. The members of Group A increased their cardiovascular system but didn’t gain much muscle. The members of Group B saw higher cardio fitness than Group A, and they increased their muscle mass by 28%.

Tabata workout benefits

Exercise physiologist Michele Olson MD found that a Tabata workout:

  • Burns up to 13.5 calories a minute
  • Doubles your metabolic rate for 30 minutes following a workout
  • Speeds your metabolism by up to five times what regular cardio exercise would

"These effects will help you shed those extra pounds of fat," Muscle & Fitness reports, "while also building lean muscle." The best part of a Tabata workout is that you can easily incorporate these techniques into your own routine.

What’s more, a Tabata workout is low-tech and affordable — all you need is a timer. And it's so versatile that you can even do it in a pool.

Tabata technique is easier than you think

Think of the Tabata technique as a guideline for creating a high-intensity interval workout. Because there’s no one specific workout or plan, you get to design it yourself. As long as you follow the 20/10 work-to-rest ratio, you can use almost any exercise.

The Tabata technique is also adaptable, so you can keep your workouts fresh and engaging. It is demanding, though, so make sure to warm up beforehand.

You can easily design your own Tabata workout by choosing one or two exercises per circuit. You can either complete six rounds of the same exercise, or you can alternate between two or three exercises. And you won’t need any special equipment other than a timer.

A Tabata routine for every muscle

Lower body

  1. Jump squat
  2. Box jumps
  3. Kettlebell squats

Upper Body

  1. Push-ups
  2. Triceps dips
  3. Pull-ups
  4. Plank rows

Total body

  1. Thrusters
  2. Mountain climbers
  3. Kettlebell swings
  4. Burpees

Cardio

  1. Jump rope
  2. Indoor rowers
  3. Stationary cycling
  4. Sprints

A Tabata workout is only four minutes long and consists of eight sets. You work out intensely for 20 seconds and rest for 10 seconds. You can extend your Tabata workout as long as you want. Once you’re done with a four-minute workout, rest for a minute or two. Then move onto another four minute workout. "Sometime between rounds six and eight the body reaches maximum oxygen intake," Active reports. Many people work out for 30 minutes. This burns around 400 calories.

fitness | interval training | weight loss | metabolism | exercise