In 1996, a Japanese researcher named Izumi Tabata conducted a study to determine the most effective type of workout for improving both aerobic and anaerobic fitness. He found that short, intense bursts of exercise were far more effective than traditional, longer-duration workouts (4). The Tabata protocol has since been proven to be an extremely effective way to improve both cardiovascular fitness and muscular endurance. Research has shown that just four minutes of Tabata training can be as effective as an hour of traditional cardio exercise! That said, what are the benefits of Tabata training? What happens to your body when you push it to its limits for just 20 seconds at a time? Let’s dive in and find out!
What Is Tabata Workout?
Before Dr. Izumi Tabata published the groundbreaking results of his research, he had been studying aerobic and anaerobic systems using sprint-style protocols.
Dr. Izumi investigated how and when the body’s long and short-form energy systems were triggered. His goal was to create a training protocol that would improve the efficiency of ATP (adenosine triphosphate) production (8).
ATP is the body’s primary energy source and it is produced through both aerobic and anaerobic metabolism. The body can only store a limited amount of ATP, so it needs to be constantly replenished. The more efficiently ATP is produced, the more energy the body has available for exercise (7).
Tabata’s research showed that short, all-out bursts of exercise followed by brief periods of rest result in more ATP being produced than traditional, longer-duration workouts. In other words, the body can produce energy more efficiently when it is pushed to its limits for short periods.
His 1996 study involved 16 male amateur athletes aged 18-24. Their VO2 max (a measure of aerobic fitness) and anaerobic capacity were tested before, during, and after a six-week training protocol. They worked out 5 days a week for a total of weeks.
Before each training session, they warmed up for 10 minutes on a stationary bike at 50% VO2max.
The athletes were divided into two groups. The first group completed a traditional, hour-long endurance workout on the bike 5 days a week.
The second group completed four minutes of high-intensity exercise on the bike followed by two minutes of rest (20 seconds at a maximum effort followed by 10 seconds of rest). This cycle was repeated 8 times for a total of 4 minutes of exercise.
Both groups improved their VO2 max, but the group that completed the Tabata protocol made significantly greater gains. The athletes in the Tabata group also saw a 28% increase in anaerobic capacity, while the traditional endurance group saw no change (4).
These results clearly showed that short, intense bursts of exercise are more effective than traditional, longer-duration workouts when it comes to improving both aerobic and anaerobic fitness. And wa-la, the Tabata protocol was born!
How To Do A Tabata Workout
A Tabata workout consists of 8 rounds of 20 seconds of all-out effort followed by 10 seconds of rest. The exercise can be anything you want, but it should be something that gets your heart rate up quickly and that you can do at maximum intensity for the 20-second work period.
Some popular exercises for Tabata workouts include:
- Jumping jacks
- Mountain climbers
- Running in place
You can also do different exercises for each 20-second interval if you want to mix things up. Just make sure that you choose exercises that work for different muscle groups so that you don’t overwork any one area.
The key to getting the most out of a Tabata workout is to go all out for those 20 seconds. You should be working at about an 8 on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being maximal effort. This means that you should be breathless and your muscles should be burning by the end of the interval.
If you’re new to this type of training, start with a lower intensity level and work your way up. You can also use a heart rate monitor to make sure you’re working at the right intensity.
Once you’ve completed all 8 rounds, you should be pretty exhausted! Take a few minutes to catch your breath and then you can either call it quits or do another set of 8 rounds if you’re feeling up for it.
Is Tabata Really Effective?
Better results in less time sound too good to be true, but the science behind Tabata’s training is solid. There have been dozens of studies conducted on the efficacy of the Tabata protocol. Here are some of the noteworthy benefits of this type of workout:
1. Increased Aerobic And Anaerobic Capacity
One of the most well-known benefits of Tabata training is its ability to improve both aerobic and anaerobic fitness. In the original study conducted by Dr. Tabata, participants who completed six weeks of Tabata training improved their VO2max (a measure of aerobic fitness) by 14 percent (4).
Not only that, but their anaerobic capacity (the amount of energy the body can produce without oxygen) increased by 28 percent! This is a significant improvement in just six weeks of training (4).
Having a higher VO2max means that your body can use oxygen more efficiently, which is important for any type of endurance activity. And the increase in anaerobic capacity means that you’ll be able to handle high-intensity exercise for longer periods (12).
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2. More Calorie Expenditure
Another great benefit of Tabata training is its ability to increase caloric expenditure beyond what would normally be expected in such a short period. Like other forms of high-intensity interval training (HIIT), Tabata burns a lot of calories in a relatively short amount of time (5).
Furthermore, HIIT workouts like Tabata tend to continue burning calories at an elevated rate even after the workout is over. This phenomenon, known as excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC), can last for several hours after a HIIT workout and can lead to even more calories being burned (3).
3. Increased Muscle Endurance
If you’re looking to improve your muscle endurance, Tabata training is a great option. This type of workout is incredibly demanding on the muscles and can help to improve both muscle strength and endurance.
In addition, because Tabata training is a form of HIIT, it can also lead to increased levels of human growth hormone (HGH), which is important for muscle growth (9).
4. Improved Brain Function
Another benefit of Tabata training that is often overlooked is its ability to improve cognitive function.
Studies have shown that HIIT workouts like Tabata can lead to improved executive function, memory, and task switching ability. This is likely due to the increased levels of BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor) that are seen with HIIT (13).
5. Reduced Risk Of Disease
Tabata training can also lead to a reduction in the risk of several chronic diseases, such as heart disease, cancer, and stroke. By improving cardiovascular fitness and reducing body fat, Tabata training can help to reduce the risk of these diseases (11).
Furthermore, the increased levels of BDNF that are seen with HIIT can also help to protect against age-related cognitive decline (1).
6. Increased Longevity
Because Tabata training can lead to all of the above-mentioned benefits, it’s not surprising that it can also increase longevity. Studies have shown that people who are physically fit tend to live longer than those who are sedentary (2).
And, because Tabata training is an excellent way to improve physical fitness, it stands to reason that it can also help you to live a longer and healthier life.
Is Tabata Good For Losing Weight?
No. Tabata alone will not lead to weight loss.
To lose weight, you need to create a negative energy balance, which means that you need to burn more calories than you consume (6).
Tabata can indeed help you to create a negative energy balance by increasing the number of calories that you burn. In addition, because Tabata training can lead to a higher level of EPOC, it can also help you to continue burning calories at an elevated rate even after the workout is over.
Whether the increased caloric expenditure is enough to lead to significant weight loss is what you should consider. 4 minutes of exercise is not going to be enough for most people to lose a significant amount of weight. Furthermore, the intense nature of this exercise makes it difficult to sustain for long periods.
Dr. Izumi Tabata himself says that his workout protocol is not meant to be used for weight loss, but rather for improving athletic performance.
With this in mind, if you need to lose weight, you can use Tabata to improve your performance in other exercises that are more conducive to weight loss, such as jogging or cycling. You can also use the principles of Tabata to create a modified workout that is more focused on weight loss.
Read More: 7-Minute Fat Burning Tabata Workout
Drawbacks Of Tabata Workouts
While there are many benefits to Tabata training, there are also some potential drawbacks that you should be aware of.
Weight Loss Isn’t Guaranteed
Although Tabata workouts increase energy expenditure in the short term, they don’t guarantee weight loss. There are two reasons why you may not lose weight through Tabata workouts:
- You’re not creating a significant calorie deficit: To lose weight, you need to burn more calories than you’re consuming.
4 minutes of exercise, even if it’s intense, isn’t going to be enough to create a significant deficit. Plus, you also need to account for the calories you’re eating throughout the day.
- You’re stressing your body: Exercise is a stressor on the body and HIIT workouts like Tabata are even more so. When we’re stressed, our bodies release the hormone cortisol, which can lead to increased appetite and cravings for unhealthy foods (10).
It’s Not For Everyone
Tabata training is an intense workout and it’s not for everyone. This type of workout is best suited for people who are already in good shape and who have experience with HIIT workouts.
If you’re new to exercise or if you haven’t worked out in a while, Tabata training is likely too much, too soon. In this case, it’s best to start with a less intense workout program and work your way up to HIIT workouts like Tabata.
It Can Be Dangerous
Tabata training is an extremely demanding workout and it’s important to be careful when doing it. Because of the high level of intensity, there’s a risk of injury if you push yourself too hard.
It’s also important to make sure that you have the proper form when doing the exercises. If you’re doing the movements incorrectly, you could end up injuring yourself.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is Tabata Or HIIT Better?
Tabata is a more intense form of HIIT (11).
Both are excellent ways to improve cardiovascular fitness and burn calories. However, HIIT workouts can be tailored to specific goals, whereas Tabata is more of a set protocol.
Tabata is more suitable for experienced exercisers who are looking to improve their athletic performance. HIIT, on the other hand, can be modified to be more suitable for beginners or those who are looking to lose weight.
What Happens If You Do Tabata Every Day?
You should not do Tabata every day.
Tabata is an intense form of exercise that puts a lot of stress on the body. If you do it too often, you will increase your risk of injury and burnout.
It’s important to allow your body to recover between workouts. The ideal frequency for Tabata is 2-3 times per week.
How Long Should A Tabata Workout Be?
A typical Tabata workout should last 4 minutes.
This includes a warm-up period, the actual Tabata interval, and a cool-down period.
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Can You Do Tabata With Weights?
Yes. You can do Tabata with weights.
Many people use weights as a way to make Tabata more challenging. However, it’s important to use a weight that is appropriate for your fitness level.
If you are new to Tabata or HIIT, you should start with bodyweight exercises before moving on to weighted exercises.
What Are The Best Tabata Exercises?
The best Tabata exercises are the ones that you can do with proper form and that work the entire body.
Some excellent exercises for Tabata include squats, push-ups, lunges, burpees, and sit-ups.
Can You Do Tabata On A Treadmill?
Yes. You can do Tabata on a treadmill. The idea is to sprint for 20 seconds and then rest for 10 seconds.
You can do this by setting the treadmill to a high speed that you can run without holding on to the handrails. After 20 seconds, you can either slow the treadmill down or jump off to the sides and then rest for 10 seconds.
Don’t attempt this technique if you are new to running on a treadmill.
Is Tabata Good For Building Muscle?
Tabata can be good for building muscle, but it’s not the most efficient way to do so.
Because Tabata is a high-intensity exercise, it’s difficult to sustain for long periods. This makes it better for short, explosive exercises that work the entire body.
If you are looking to build muscle, you should focus on strength training with heavier weights and lower reps.
The Bottom Line
Tabata training is a type of HIIT that is characterized by short, intense bursts of exercise followed by brief periods of rest. This type of workout has been shown to be incredibly effective in a variety of ways, including increasing aerobic and anaerobic fitness, burning calories, improving muscle endurance, and reducing the risk of chronic disease.
If you’re looking for a workout that can help you to improve your overall health and fitness, Tabata training is a great option.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- Acute effects of high-intensity interval training and moderate-intensity continuous exercise on BDNF and irisin levels and neurocognitive performance in late middle-aged and older adults – ScienceDirect (2021, sciencedirect.com)
- Does Physical Activity Increase Life Expectancy? A Review of the Literature (2012, hindawi.com)
- Effect of exercise intensity, duration and mode on post-exercise oxygen consumption (2003, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Effects of moderate-intensity endurance and high-intensity intermittent training on anaerobic capacity and ˙VO 2max (1996, journals.lww.com)
- Exercise Intensity and Energy Expenditure of a Tabata Workout (2013, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Fat loss depends on energy deficit only, independently of the method for weight loss (2017, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Interaction among Skeletal Muscle Metabolic Energy Systems during Intense Exercise (2010, hindawi.com)
- Physiology, Adenosine Triphosphate (2022, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Pilot study: an acute bout of high intensity interval exercise increases 12.5 h GH secretion (2018, physoc.onlinelibrary.wiley.com)
- Stress and Obesity: Are There More Susceptible Individuals? (2018, link.springer.com)
- Tabata training: one of the most energetically effective high-intensity intermittent training methods (2019, biomedcentral.com)
- The Effect of Training Intensity on VO2max in Young Healthy Adults: A Meta-Regression and Meta-Analysis (2016, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- The Impact of High-Intensity Interval Training on Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor in Brain: A Mini-Review (2018, frontiersin.org)