Working out using the Tabata Method

13 Feb

I have always been a believer in the benefits of Interval Training having found in the past that it proved to be a better way for me personally to improve my fitness over the shortest possible time. In recent years I modified that belief to embrace to concept of High Intensity Interval Training, and in the last few months I’ve become quite interested in the Tabata Method of HIIT in particular.

The Tabata method is named after Professor Izumi Tabata who along with his colleagues released a study in 1996 that involved olympic speed skaters who trained intensively for 4 minutes, 4 times per week, with an extra day of the more traditional “steady state” training. Tabata called this the IE1 protocol, and his research found that the the athletes who trained in this way were training so efficiently that they were getting the same results as compared to the control group who were doing all of their training in the more traditional manner.

So what’s the catch? Surely you can’t get a good workout in only 4 minutes? Well, it turns out that you can, but you have to really increase the intensity of your workout. So much so that instead of working to the 90% of VO2 Max that is expected during a hard workout, the Tabata method calls for 8 x 20 second intervals at 170% of VO2 Max. So you basically push as hard and as fast as you possibly can for the entire 20 second period… basically to the point where most people would be breathing so hard that they would want to vomit, and then you do it again 7 more times with an ever so generous 10 second “rest” in between sets!!!

That’s a seriously intense workout, no matter what exercises you choose to do. I have a few problems with the Tabata method however:

  • The study was done using olympic athletes, and not everyone can claim to be anywhere near as physically capable as a well trained athlete in peak condition.
  • It’s impossible to know if you are working at an intensity that is anywhere near the 170% mark of your own personal VO2 Max.
  • Not all exercises are created equal, and some movements and exercises can be dangerous if rushed.
  • Strain injuries are likely if the participant is not sufficiently warmed-up prior to a Tabata session.
  • The intensity required has the potential to induce respiratory and cardiac difficulties in people who are susceptible to such conditions.

Even with the problems, I think that the Tabata method is a complimentary training method when used as a part of a wider training regimen. It is great for anaerobic training which gives your fast-twitch muscle fibres a targeted workout, and which are the muscles involved in explosive speed and strength that consume large amounts of oxygen in a very short space of time. Another benefit of Tabata training is that it can increase your VO2 max, providing you with a greater capacity for oxygen uptake, allowing you to use your aerobic metabolism for longer.

Tabata is no replacement for aerobic exercise however, as the slow-twitch muscles are the ones which are made for slow and/or repetitive activity over a sustained period of time, so you will still need some form of aerobic exercise in order to build the stamina needed for activities which require endurance over strength.

Today’s Workout

For today, I decided to stick with the Tabata workouts. I chose 8 exercises which I could do safely either very quickly, or which I could do slowly yet loaded such that it would require greater effort even though I would end up doing only a few reps in the time available. I’ve also added a hip-flexor stretch and a thoracic mobility exercise to my warm-up routine to increase the overall safety of the workouts that I do. Oh yeah, and because I’m getting addicted to working out, I did this lot twice!!


  • TVA Vacuum
  • Yoga Diaphragmatic Breathing
  • Joint Circles
  • Hip-Flexor Stretch
  • Thoracic Mobility Exercise
  • 100 Star Jumps

Tabata Sequence:

  1. Mountain Climbers
  2. Plank to Push-up
  3. Skater Jumps
  4. Push-up Jacks
  5. Tricep Dips
  6. Bicycle Crunch
  7. Hammer Curls (10kg Dumbells)
  8. Plank


I did the first 6 exercises as hard and as fast as I could push myself, and by the end of the Bicycle Crunches I was feeling ready to quit. I pushed on however, but executed the Hammer Curls using a standard 1 second up and 4 seconds down pattern, because I’d rather lift weights with perfect form than rush it and injure myself. I chose 10kg weights because with the extra weight training I’ve been sneaking in lately, I felt yesterday that 7kg dumbells were starting to feel lighter than I imagined they would. So today I ended up lifting dumbell weights at a record weight for me. The plank seemed kind of a lame finisher when I wrote it down, but by the end of each sequence, I was glad to have that little breather. It wasn’t all easy though, because at least 5 of the exercises I did heavily engaged my core, and the lifts and dips didn’t let my core relax much either, so at the end of the plank my belly was starting to beg for mercy, especially at the end of the second sequence.

Working to the higher intensity was tougher than I imagined, and a couple of hours later and I was still sucking down water like a whale. It’s been about 4 hours now, and I have a lovely comfortable ache in all of my muscles which tells me that I had a pretty good workout, so I’m really pleased with how the workout was balanced, and how well I committed myself to it.


5 Responses to “Working out using the Tabata Method”

  1. Jenny 20 February 2013 at 11:10 #

    Tabata is intense and an incredible workout. I participated in a boot camp type workout before Christmas and it was all Tabata themed. Here’s a link to my first day of Tabata.. 🙂

    • Sean Robins 20 February 2013 at 12:12 #

      I agree. HIIT can give you an incredible workout if you push yourself to the limit for the entire workout. I too like Tabata/HIIT segments as part of a larger workout. They are particularly good as a finisher, to really wipe you out after the previous 30-40 minutes of the more traditional boot-camp styled workouts, but when used by themselves, you really need to do 3-4 sets to get the best benefit from them. I like to space mine out, with a little weight training and light cardio in between, just to keep some variety in my workouts.

      Thanks for commenting! 🙂


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