Introduction To Tabata Training

So you wake up, anticipating an early morning trip to the gym to get your morning cardio in. Since you find yourself amongst the vast majority of normal human beings on this planet, you aren’t looking forward to the 45 minute cardio session you have planned.  If only there was some alternative form of cardio that only took a small portion of your time while getting the same results as lengthy cardio sessions.  I’m here to tell you that that cardio does exist, and they’re called tabatas.


Tabata is named after the man who developed the program, a Japanese professor who was searching for an alternate method to cardio that would have the same effectiveness.  It was developed in 1996, but was not globally recognized for some time after.  In 2015, the Tabata system became licensed in the United States and United Kingdom, and has been used by others all over the world to achieve results while avoiding extensive and lengthy cardio sessions.

The method itself is a 4 minute cardio routine consisting of cycles of 20 second active bursts and 10 second rests.  These are repeated 8 times to reach the 4 minute period.  The 20 second bursts are meant to be high intensity at maximum effort, with the 10 seconds in between to catch your breath before starting up once again.

Professor Tabata’s studies greatly emphasise the high intensity in order to have the 4 minutes of cardio be truly as effective as typical long cardio sessions.  The key is going all-out in the exercise and holding nothing back.  His studies showed that 20-second bursts were the optimal time, again at highest intensity possible, for consuming the maximum amount of oxygen that the human body is able to use for energy.

Tabata’s studies show both short term and long term results for those willing to commit to the parameters of this intense workout.  Each session burns the same amount of calories as an hour-long jog.  Long term results were tested by having individuals use the Tabata method four times per week and added in an additional day of normal “recovery” cardio.  These results were compared to individuals who performed five days of traditional cardio.  Those doing tabatas had far greater aerobic and anaerobic capacity at the conclusion of the testing.

Apps have been developed to make tabatas easier than ever.  They will keep track of time much like a stopwatch, but also alert you when it is time to switch from your period of intensity to your period of rest, and back again.  This means that you can focus more on the workout at hand instead of having to constantly check your phone or stopwatch to get your timing right.  Search your app store for “Tabata Timer,” and you should see a few different options for these helpful apps.

Now there are a few important guidelines for maximizing your tabata experience.  First, warm up.  I recommend a nice 10 minute warm up of dynamic stretching to get the muscles moving a bit.  The reason for this is that you will be performing at maximum intensity through the duration of the exercise, which puts you at a higher risk of pulling a muscle.

Second, breathe. Really focus on taking deep, measured breaths during the 10-second rest periods. This will help your transition back into periods of intensity.  Each rest period will seem faster than the last, so take advantage of the time you have.

Finally, don’t hold back.  You will get tired and your speed may drop throughout the exercise, but your intensity should not. Go as hard as you physically can, because that is the only way to ensure that you get the cardiovascular results you want.



Through stretching, cardio, and cool down periods, normal sessions of jogging or biking will take at least 45 minutes when done correctly.  You can get that same benefit in less than a 20 minute period (10 min warmup, 4 min tabata, 5 min cooldown).  So, if you have 20 minutes to spare, which I know you do, try out tabatas. If you’re like me and are not a cardio fan, spending minimal time for maximum results is the way to go.


photo credit: Erwin.van.Leeuwen The CrossFit Games 2017 @ Sixforty CrossFit Wildhearts in Rotterdam via photopin (license)


photo credit: Pricenfees Fitness Model Gym Workout Exercise – Must link to via photopin (license)

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Nathan has been a certified personal trainer through ACSM for 9 years and holds a Bachelor’s degree in Exercise Science. Together with his friend and fellow trainer Austin Petrie they run an online training company called Elev8 OPT

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