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what is a tabata workout

Lung busting. Fat blasting. Muscle building. Do anywhere. No equipment. All in just 8 minutes.
That’s a Tabata workout in a nutshell.

Essentially, Tabata is an abbreviated form of high intensity interval training (HIIT) where you pack several energetic movements into timed segments of work and rest. For example: 60 seconds of burpees, followed by 30 seconds of rest, repeat 3x. These sets are usually accompanied by 3 or 4 other exercises to form a circuit that takes around 30-45 minutes to complete.

The Tabata Protocol was developed by a team of Japanese researchers led by Dr. Izumi Tabata. Testing the VO2(max) of Olympic speed skaters, Tabata concluded that we can optimize cardio benefits with 20 seconds of all-out work followed by 10 seconds of rest, and repeating this 8 times.

Research was conducted using two teams of athletes.

  • Team One – Moderate intensity workouts, 1 hour long, 5 days a per week, 6 weeks – total of 1800 minutes.
  • Team Two – High intensity workouts, 04:20 in duration (yes, that’s 4 minutes and 20 seconds), 4 days per week for 6 weeks – total of 120 minutes.

After the six week period, Team One showed improvements to their cardio but virtually no improvements in muscle mass or strength.

Team Two not only showed greater increases in their aerobic (cardio) capacity but also added 28% to their anaerobic (muscle) capacity.

You see, the body works on two fuel systems.

Aerobic work burns oxygen (O2) for fuel.

Anaerobic work burns glycogen (essentially carbohydrates) and fats for fuel.

Your body kicks over into anaerobic work when you require more energy than just oxygen can provide. When you go anaerobic, the by-product of the work is lactic acid. This chemical devil is responsible for the stiff and sore muscles a day or two after an intense load workout.

For customized Tabata workouts, check out the Workout Decks – Bodyweight One deck of cards. With 48 different coded exercises, you can choose your Tabata workout cards based on their icon and create a simple or complex high intensity workout. Watch the video here.

Here’s the one major drawback to the Tabata exercise protocol. If you aren’t completely busted by the end of the 4 minutes, you didn’t go hard enough. You only reap the benefits if you give every drop of sweat you have. With that in mind, if you aren’t already working out or in reasonably good cardio condition, you’ll want to ease into the full meal deal.

My recommendation would be to start slow with one or two movements – cycling, rowing, sprinting – and rather than 8 sets, start with 2 or 3. Monitor your heart rate. Push it up into your max zone. Work for 20 seconds and then rest for 30 or 40. Slowly decrease the amount of rest between reps. Once you manage to get to 4 or 5 sets and feel good about pushing, let ‘er buck.

The Bodyweight One deck of cards workout can create customized Tabata routines for you. All the cards are coded with the Tabata symbol. Choose 1 to 8 movements and you’ve got your workout. You can purchase that deck below.


Doug was raised as a farm boy on meat, potatoes and vegetables. He began martial arts at an early age and it lead to a life long pursuit of health in body, mind and spirit. He ate a lot of 2-for-1 pizzas in university though. And hotdogs. While watching Tim "The Toolman" Taylor.