Tabata Intervals- High Intensity Interval Training At Its Best

Author: S. Bledsoe, M.D.

In 1996, Dr. Izumi Tabata published a study in the Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports & Exercise that demonstrated that significant aerobic and anaerobic gains could be made with a specific prescription of high-intensity interval training.  This manuscript was barely noticed at the time of publication but has since revolutionized modern exercise techniques.


In his research, he improved the anaerobic capacity of the subjects by 28% and their aerobic capacity by 14% with 4 minutes of training.  Do I have your attention?  Here are the principle components of the Tabata.


1)   Brief but thorough warm-up.

2)   20 seconds of extremely intense intervals

3)   10 seconds of rest

4)   Repeat 7 more times for a total of 8 rounds


The Crossfit method of Tabata’s that I have used is particularly brutal.  Choose 4 different appropriate exercises.  Go through all 8 rounds with one single exercise.  Rest for 1 minute.  Proceed to the second exercise.  Repeat until all 4 exercises have been completed.  This will take you a total of 20 minutes with 32 total rounds of intervals.


Some people change up exercises after each 10-second rest.  Find something you enjoy.  There are a lot of “right” ways to do Tabata intervals.  Here are some examples.





Let me warn you, Tabata Intervals are extremely challenging.  You cannot just put down the Cheetos, hop off the couch and dive into Tabata’s.  Make sure your physician has cleared you before beginning this, or any, exercise regiment.  You may want to ease into the training with fewer rounds and easier exercises.


In the original manuscript, Dr. Tabata used stationary bikes, but there is an assortment of exercises that can be used in Tabata style.  I have used all of the following (and other things) and find that all of them will result in an excruciatingly effective work-out.


–       Air Squats (a favorite of mine I do almost everytime)

–       Rowing

–       Sprints 

–       Push-ups

–       Sit-ups

–       Kettlebell Swings

–       V-Ups

–       Thrusters

–       Jumping Lunges

–       Deadlifts

–       Sumo Deadlift High-Pulls

–       Pull-ups

–       Toes-to-Bar

–       Box Jumps

–       Slam Balls

–       Push Press

–       Hanging Leg Raises

–       Wall Balls

–       Mountain Climbers

–       Burpees


There is no end to what exercises you can do as a Tabata.  Take any exercise and go as fast as you (safely) can for 20 seconds, rest for 10 seconds, and repeat for 8 rounds.  Notice a couple of things about the above exercises.  First, all of the exercises (with the possible exception of the core exercises), are multi-joint, large muscle group exercises.  Unless you are a professional bodybuilder, there is no role for single-joint/muscle exercises like bicep curls, tricep extensions or toe raises.   Second, they aren’t really complex movements like Clean & Jerks.  That’s important.  After your 3rd or 4th round, your form will suffer, and that’s when injuries occur.


You make time for things that are important to you.  If sleeping and eating are more important to you than exercise, you will always find excuses to be doing anything other than working out.  If exercise is important to you, nothing will keep you from it.  Tabata intervals are great, because they are incredibly efficient and remove the time excuse from the equation.   Everyone has 4 minutes a day…including you!

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