Tabata 101: Legit Workout Style or Just a Training Fad?

Monica Mizzi
Written By: Monica Mizzi
April 4th, 2019
Updated: June 13th, 2020
Categories: Articles Training
5.7K Reads
Tabata 101: Legit Workout Style or Just a Training Fad?
What is Tabata training? And is it a fad? Learn how this unique training method can help you get in quicker & effective workouts to help you reach your goals!

Another day, another trend. That’s probably the easiest way to summarize the rate at which trends come and go in the fitness world.

While there are some trends we’d happily say goodbye to (we’re looking at you, diet teas!), there are others that we may first mistake as a mere trend that in fact have genuine value for our health and wellbeing.

So, how does Tabata shape up?

According to Google Trends1, interest in Tabata has grown since 2004, although it has continued to fall in and out of fashion over the past fifteen or so years.

Seeing as it is a trend that has proven itself to have enduring appeal, Tabata clearly isn’t just a fad - at least not to its fans!

Proponents rave about the muscle strengthening opportunities it provides, amongst other fitness benefits it offers.

To get to the bottom of whether there is real value in practicing Tabata, or whether it’s better to skip, let’s take a look into this unique form of fitness.

First Things First: What is Tabata?

Chances are you’re quite familiar with HIIT, high-intensity interval training. Tabata can best be described as a form of HIIT that is focused on getting the most out of timed work and rest periods. One of the main drawcards is how flexible it is - you can apply the principles to a number of different forms of workouts.

Related: Short on Time? Try This Tabata Workout for Fat Loss

What exactly are the principles of Tabata, then?

The basic structure is 8 periods of 20 seconds of intense work and then 10 seconds of rest2. This totals 4 minutes per workout block. Given the neat package of time Tabata workout blocks offer, you can choose to sequence blocks to a length of your choosing.

For example, if one day you have around 30 minutes to play with, you can choose to perform 8 blocks for a total of 32 minutes. Whereas on a day you have a particularly tight schedule, you can squeeze in 3 blocks for a total of 12 minutes.

Tabata Squat

How Effective is Tabata as a Muscle Builder?

As you may have gathered, “Tabata time” is “short but far from sweet because you go all-out during those work periods.” In other words, the essence of Tabata is quality over quantity.

Why, though? While many workouts don’t have scientific grounding behind them, Tabata was actually developed by Dr. Izumi Tabata, a Japanese scientist from the National Institute of Fitness and Sports in Tokyo. Dr. Tabata conducted a studythat looked at the impact of moderate intensity training compared to high-intensity training.

It was discovered that moderate intensity training that improves the maximal aerobic power does not change anaerobic capacity. Conversely, high-intensity intermittent training was found to have the potential to “improve both anaerobic and aerobic energy supplying systems significantly, probably through imposing intensive stimuli on both systems.” And it wasn’t just by a sheer margin, a 28% increase in anaerobic capacity was recorded!

Besides Dr. Tabata’s groundbreaking research, there have been numerous other scientific studies conducted to evaluate the efficacy of Tabata. The consensus is that it is favorable both as a muscle builder and calorie burner.

Related: The Best HIIT Routines for Cardio Equipment

For example, a study published in the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine4 found that a twenty-minute Tabata session that involved multiple rounds of body-weight and plyometric exercises met the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) guidelines for improving cardiorespiratory endurance. The study also noted that multiple rounds of Tabata were necessary in order to see the most caloric expenditure.

The reason why Tabata works effectively as a muscle builder specifically is that it keeps your muscles under constant stress, allowing your muscles to speedily tear down and prep for a rebuild. As the rest period is so short, your muscles have no choice but to remain in breakdown mode - rather than recovery mode. Of course, you won’t even realize all of these biological processes are happening as you’re taking your 10 second rest!

And that’s why Tabata is so fantastic - it’s ridiculously simple! Don’t get us wrong, though, as this doesn’t mean it’s easy. In fact, you’ll most certainly feel the burn, but you’ll be motivated to get through each block given their relative shortness compared to other workouts. Plus, when you know you’re training for results that have science on their side, it makes your workouts that much sweeter.

Tabata Row

That being said, like any form of workout, Tabata has its detractors, who point out that it’s just another tried and tested workout that’s dressed like a trendy new one. Some trainers5,6 strongly argue that Tabata is basically impossible for anyone but elite athletes to sustain and that doing it will simply lead most people to become overly fatigued, and at worst, injured.

Tabata, as we mentioned above, is indeed challenging. But as its legion of supporters will attest to, it is by no means impossible. If you find it too intense or tiring, you can just build up the intensity of your workout as you gain the strength and confidence to do more laborious ones. Injuries are never welcome, so if your body is telling you Tabata is not for you, listen.

Whether you choose to give Tabata a go is ultimately up to you. It’s always helpful to read both sides of the debate, so you can make informed decisions about the best workout for your fitness needs. If you do want to give it a go, keep reading on to the next section.

So, How Do I Start Tabata Training?

The most effective workouts require a solid strategy and execution plan, and Tabata is no different.

Picking the right exercises to include in your Tabata workouts is the key to maximizing your gains. By the same token, selecting unsuitable exercises will reduce the efficacy of your Tabata workouts. Given the high-intensity nature of Tabata workouts, you should avoid any overly complex exercises as they will make your workout too challenging to complete.

Needless to say, your aim should be to give each exercise your all and to last the course of your workout. So if you’re struggling to keep up, you’ll likely end up scrapping your Tabata plans entirely after a few sessions. That’s why for best results, simple, full-body exercises that have minimal loading are recommended.

If you’re after a comprehensive workout to dip your toes into the world of Tabata - and reap the rewards of it - you can’t go past this 8 Minute Squat & Push-Up Tabata Workout For Fat Loss.

Whether you’ve been curious for a while about Tabata, or you’re looking to add something fresh to your workout routine, Tabata just might be for you. And as they say, the only way to find out is to try it!