Tabata training – what is it?

Tabata training is a specific type of HIIT training (What is HIIT?), the timing of which is 20 seconds work and 10 seconds rest. Although named after Dr. Izumi Tabata who researched it in 1996, it was actually a method used by Irisawa Koichi, a Japanese Olympic Speed Skating coach, when trying to get the best results in the shortest time.

Tabata timing is often used in commercial HIIT classes but it is rarely true Tabata training, more “Tabata inspired”. I’m not saying what is being taught is wrong but if it was a “true” Tabata workout then there would be NO WAY that anyone would be able to carry it on for 45 minutes or an hour. That is because Tabata is actually only a 4-minute workout… Yes! That’s right – just 4-minutes! This fact alone should give you an indication of how intense the “work” portion of this training should be, it should literally be EVERYTHING you’ve got, 100% effort (as opposed to the usual 75%-85% effort in traditional HIIT workouts), the 10-second rest between exercises is REQUIRED!


20 seconds work – all out!
10 seconds rest
Repeat 7 more times… Simple!

Of course, there are ways of manipulating this style of training and performing it as a normal HIIT session by choosing multiple exercises and performing them with Tabata timing, for example, completing each exercise (total 4-minutes) with a 1-minute rest before moving onto the next move.

Personally, my favourite moves for this type of workout are burpees, squat jumps, mountain climbers, squat thrusts and speed skaters (after all the protocol was developed by working with speed skaters). I’d avoid moves such as kettlebell swings and walk-outs, as performing these moves at high intensity could lead to poor form and have the potential to cause more harm than good.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Always consult your doctor before trying out any new exercise regime and always ensure you warm-up before your workout and cool down afterwards.