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In the page of “Exercise” I have introduced high intensity interval training (HIIT) and why it is good for your health and weight loss goals. Here we will be talking about a discipline that belongs to this training modality: the Tabata protocol.

What Is Tabata?


Photo Credit: adrian8_8

Though the name of this training comes from Dr. Izumi Tabata, dean of Ritsumeikan University (Kyoto, Japón), Tabata affirms that trainer Irisawa Koichi had the original idea. Tabata formed part of the group of trainers in charge of the Japanese speed skating team and Koichi, who was the team’s head coach, asked Tabata to analyze the effectiveness of a training routine that he had developed for the mentioned speed skaters.

In 1996, Tabata published a paper with the results of the protocol in the research journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise (MSSE). Precisely, Tabata method is supported by this investigation which demonstrated that maximum oxygen consumption improved and that both aerobic and anaerobic capacity increased (Boutcher, 2011; Tabata et al., 1996).

Tabata method is a version of HIIT and one round only takes 4 minutes to complete. It consists of 20 seconds of work done at maximum effort followed by 10 seconds of rest. You repeat this cycle eight times and voilà, you have finished the workout. You see, you only need 4 minutes to get very good results regarding both your figure and your health. Another advantage of Tabata is that you can perform it from the comfort of your own home and with little or no equipment at all.

Tabata: The Keys To Succeed

  • If you have a sedentary lifestyle or just have started to do exercise with more regularity, do the protocol with a little less intensity. For instance, you may want to complete your first rounds while cycling or swimming instead of sprinting.


    Photo Credit: Mike Carbonaro

  • As a beginner, perform only one session of 4 minutes. Later, when you get familiar with the routine and feel stronger, you may want to do two or three rounds of 4 minutes. Personally, I don’t like doing more tan 16 minutes since the benefits of long Tabata sessions are not very well documented yet.
  • Intensity is the key, not duration. The aim is performing the exercises at maximum intensity during a short period of time.
  • Do the protocol 2-3 times per week.

Tabata Routines

Before anything else, let me give a piece of advice: in order to control properly exercise and rest time during your Tabata sessions, you can download to your mobile phone one of the many free applications which are available. I use “HIIT interval training timer” for android.

For Beginners

Start riding your bike (it can be a stationary bicycle or the one that you are already using to get about in the city or in the countryside). Set the timer and, when it makes the beeping sound with which the 20 seconds start, pedal as if you were being chased by a predator and your life depended on that 😀 When you hear the 10 seconds’ beep, rest and pedal at slow pace. Repeat this sequence 8 times until you have completed your first 4 minutes. If you feel good, you have done it correctly. You may even want to do another round; it depends on your physical conditions and on how you feel after the first session. Anyway, remember, in interval training, less is more. What matters is intensity, not quantity, so don’t try to complete one hour with Tabata rounds. Don’t feel guilty for finishing in 4 minutes! 😉

For The Ones Ready To Give It Their All

I leave below 8 exercises that you can include in your rounds of Tabata as you wish. For instance, you could perform all of them in one session and, therefore, you wouldn’t be repeating any; or, perhaps, you feel more like choosing 4 and do them a pair of times in order to complete your session. There are exercises marked in red; they are more demanding. Before doing a routine, try all them to check which are the ones you feel more comfortable with.

  • Jumping jack. Begins with arms to sides, feet together and knees slightly bent. From this position, jump while separating legs and raising arms to sides. Then you just jump back to the original position. Do it for 20 seconds; rest 10.jumping-jack
  • squatsSquats. Standing with your head facing forward and your spine in proper alignment (chest out and shoulders back), place your feet shoulder-width apart with the toes pointing slightly outwards. In order to keep your balance, extend your arms in front of you. Initiate the movement by inhaling; as if you were to sit down on a chair, begin to bend your knees, slightly sending hips backward and bending forward a bit your upper body. Make sure that you keep looking straight ahead and that your back is straight while you descend. In order to prevent injuries, stop going down when your thighs are parallel to the floor (or you can do as Fernando in the pic; he stopped the movement a little bit sooner because it was challenging for his thighs). Now breathe out and use the muscles of your glutes and those or the rear part of your legs in order to ascend to the starting position. Do as many squats as you can for 20 seconds; rest for 10 seconds before the next exercise.
  • Push-ups. Do as many as you can during 20 seconds followed by a rest of 10. If they are very challenging for you, do them with your knees on the floor.push-ups
  • Plank. Start by getting into a pushup position on the floor. Then bend your elbows 90 degrees (your elbows must be placed just beneath your shoulders). Now your weight is resting on your forearms. Your body must form a straight line from your head to your heels. Hold this position with the aid of the muscles of your core and your glutes for 20 seconds (don’t bend!); rest for 10 seconds.plank
  • Jump Squats. After performing the regular squat that has been explained above, engage your core and jump straight up as high as you can; when you land, immediately lower your body back into the regular squat position and you will have completed one repetition. Do them for 20 seconds followed by a rest of 10.jumping-squats
  • glute-bridgeGlute Bridge (Butt Lift). Lie on your back and adopt a bent-knee position with the hands by your side and your feet flat on the floor. Place your feet hip-width apart and start raising your hips while pushing with your heels and contracting your abdominal muscles. Pause in the up position, then go back to the starting position (but don’t let your glutes touch the floor). Repeat the movement as many times as you can for 20 seconds. Rest for 10 seconds.
  • triceps-bench-dipsTriceps Bench Dips. Hold on to a bench or a chair on its edge with the hands separated at shoulder width; extend the legs out in front of you; slide your glutes off the bent and straighten your arms (not completely though! Keep your elbows bent a bit in order to work triceps and prevent injuries) at the waist and perpendicular to your torso. This will be your starting position. Now, slowly start bending your elbows, lowering your body as you inhale and maintaining the bench perpendicular to your body. Continue lowering toward the floor until your upper arm and forearm form a 90 degree angle. Keep the elbows as close as possible throughout the movement so as the effort is made by the triceps and your shoulder joints are not overloaded; also, remember to keep your back close to the bench and please, don’t raise your shoulders at any time!. Use the muscles of your triceps to return to the starting position. Inhale when going down; exhale when going up. Do as many reps as you can for 20 seconds. Rest 10.
  • Burpees. Start in a standing position with your head facing forward and your feet hip width apart. Now lower your body into a squat position and place your hands on the floor in front of you. Keep your spine neutral and feel how the tension is being born by the muscles of your legs. Kick both feet back, landing on the balls of your feet, and now you will be in push-up position (position number three of the below figure). If you feel strong, do a push-up (using the muscles of your chest and triceps); if not, skip this step and do the one that follows: jump your feet back in toward the hands and stand up to jump into the air. These movements are performed quickly but, remember, in order to prevent potential injuries, concentrate on putting the strain in the muscles of your chest, legs (especially in the quadriceps) and in triceps. Repeat the sequence as many times as you can for 20 seconds; then have a 10 seconds rest.


    Photo Credit: U.S. Embassy Tokyo

I hope you have enjoyed the post and that now you are so thrilled with the idea of gaining so many benefits in so little time that you start… today! 😉 And what about you? Did you already know the protocol? Are you willing to give it a try? Please, let me know your insights! Leave below your comments 🙂



Boutcher, S. H. (2011). High-Intensity Intermittent Exercise and Fat Loss. Journal of Obesity, 10. doi: 10.1155/2011/868305

Tabata, I., Nishimura, K., Kouzaki, M., Hirai, Y., Ogita, F., Miyachi, M., & Yamamoto, K. (1996). Effects of moderate-intensity endurance and high-intensity intermittent training on anaerobic capacity and VO(2max). Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise 28 (10), 1327–1330. doi: 10.1097/00005768-199610000-00018

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