If you’re looking for a quick & intense workout, or the perfect metabolic finisher to end your workout, tabata training gets the job done.
Japanese scientist Dr. Izumi Tabata created the Tabata protocol, which is just 4-minutes of interval training that is proven to boost your conditioning and endurance.1 Best of all, these workouts are engaging, challenging, and intense. There’s no time to get bored or lose focus.
While the workout is short, of the 4-minutes, you’re pushing all-out for a total of 2:40 and completely resting for only 1:20, for a 2:1 work to rest ratio.
Why Do Tabata Training
Tabata training was originally developed to increase the performance ability of Olympic speed skaters. Within the study, the participants performed 4 days of tabata workouts and one day of steady state cardio. At the end of their 6-week training period, the participants experienced a 28% increase in their anaerobic capacity while also improving their VO2 max.2
Focusing on one exercise for the entire 4-minute tabata workout has been found to be the most effective at training both the aerobic and anaerobic energy pathways.
This method of training could be the perfect means to combine strict aerobic training (steady-state cardio) and anaerobic training (power lifting, HIIT, and plyometric training).
What To Expect From A Tabata Workout
The tabata workouts I have for you below require mental focus, as you’ll be pushing through lactic acid and oxygen deprivation while performing each repetition with perfect form.
Expect to be challenged. You won’t be seeing any mat or ab routines, or static exercises here. Get ready for plyometrics, sprint intervals, and full-body movements.
And prepare for intensity, because higher intensity exercises are the staple of tabata. This doesn’t mean you’ll be using your biggest lifts or wearing a weighted vest, but instead performing basic full-body exercises at a high speed as perfectly as possible. Therefore, coordination and power are two key elements in doing Tabata the right way.
Tabata Workout Instructions
There are two ways that I recommend you tackle a tabata workout:
1. Choose 1 exercise for all tabata intervals that’s appropriate for your level of fitness, or that’s specific to your overall fitness goals, and complete all 8 intervals.
For example, Olympic Speed Skaters would perform the speed skater exercise since it’s the most sport-specific and will help them develop power in their glutes while increasing their endurance.
With this approach, using the exercises I have for you below, you have 12 solid tabata workouts you could do.
2. Choose 2 or more exercises to create a challenging full-body circuit. For example, you could select 4 exercises (such as jump rope, skater hops, lunge jumps, and burpees) and complete 2 rounds. With this approach, you really have an endless number of effective workouts you can create.
1. Ergonomic Rowing (or Stationary Upright Bike)
Instructions: Sit tall with your feet securely strapped in the footholds, holding the handlebar with an overhand grip. Bend your knees and lean slightly forward, reaching toward the anchor point of the chain. Then, push through your legs as you pull your arms towards your chest, leaning slightly back as your legs straighten. Find a smooth rhythm between bending your knees and straightening your arms, and then pushing through your legs as you pull the handlebars.
2. Jump Rope
Instructions: Holding the ends of the jump rope in each hand, start tall with the jump rope behind you. With a tall chest and tight core, swing the jump rope overhead and then jump over with both feet it so it passes under you. Land on the balls of your feet with soft knees, so you cushion the impact. Find a smooth rhythm, swinging the rope overhead and jumping over it. Ideally, you’ll only take a single hop to clear the rope. If you’re newer to jump rope, you can use a double-hop.
3. Medicine Ball Rainbow Slam
Instructions: Select a medicine ball weight that’s challenging, but allows you to perform the exercise with perfect form. Stand with your feet wider than your shoulders, holding the medicine ball at your chest. Circle the ball to the right and up, and then slam the ball into the ground in front of your left foot, pivoting both feet and turning your hips to the left. Catch the ball, then circle it left and up, pivoting your feet and hips to face right as you slam the ball in front of the right foot. Keep catching, pivoting, and slamming the ball from side-to-side in a continuous rhythm.
4. Speed Skaters
Instructions: Start in an athletic stance, with feet wider than your hips, knees slightly bent, hips back, and chest tall. Cross your right leg behind your left, and then drive off of your left leg to hop laterally to the right. Land on your right leg, letting your left leg naturally cross behind. Keep hopping laterally from side-to-side, swinging your arms like a speed skater to help you.
5. TRX Squat Jump
Instructions: Stand tall, with elbows bent at your sides, holding the handles of the TRX in each hand. The TRX should be taught. Keeping tension in the TRX, squat down, and then drive through your legs as you pull with your arms to jump off the ground. Land softly, immediately returning to the squat position, and then jump up again. Find a continuous rhythm with your squat jump, making sure to track your knees over your 2nd toe as you squat down and keeping your spine long the entire time.
6. TRX Atomic Push Up
Instructions: In this exercise, your feet are going to be in the stirrups of the TRX. After you’ve placed your feet, plant your hands on the ground and find a strong plank position, arms fully extended. Your feet should be directly underneath the TRX anchor, elevated off the ground. Keeping your shoulders packed, pull your knees to your chest. Then extend your legs as you do a push-up. Knees-to-chest, then push up. Keep going in a continuous rhythm, never breaking form.
7. Squat Jumps
Start standing with your feet wider than your hips. Lower down into a squat, then push strongly through your feet to jump into the air. Land softly with bent knees, rolling toe-ball-heel down your feet. Immediately jump back up. Use your arms to help you get some serious height. Find a continuous rhythm, jumping and then landing softly.
As you fatigue in your squat jumps, you can add some lateral hops between jumps to let your muscles recover. Just keep moving! Remember, performing exercises with perfect form is key to avoiding injury.
8. Lunge Jumps
Instructions: Stand with your right foot forward, left foot back in a tall lunge position. Lower into a lunge, bending both knees to 90 degrees. Push strongly through your feet, jumping into the air and switching your feet before you land. Your left foot should now be forward, and the right one should be back. Land softly until a lunge position, and immediately jump back into the air to switch your feet. Use your arms to help you get height.
When your legs start to burn and the lunge jumps get challenging, mix in some walking lunges.
9. Kettlebell Swing
Instructions: Stand about two feet behind the kettlebell and find a strong athletic position – feet wider than your hips, knees tracking over toes, hips back and down, chest tall, and shoulders packed. Grab the horns of the bell with both hands and tip the bell on its side. Now hike the bell back between your legs, then push through your feet and drive your hips to swing the bell up to chest-height. Stand tall at the top, squeezing your glutes and core. Let the bell fall and then follow it with your hips, “catching” it in the back position and swinging the bell back up.
The kettlebell swing should come from the power of your hips, not by pulling with your arms. This is also a hinge movement, and not a squat. If you’re not familiar with the kettlebell swing, I highly recommend that you learn proper form and technique from a certified personal trainer or kettlebell instructor before incorporating this exercise into your workout plan.
10. Weighted Backwards Jump Rope
Instructions: Using a weighted jump rope, start with the rope in front of your body. Swing the rope overhead and behind you, and then jump over it. Continuously swing the rope from front-to-back, jumping over it as it passes under you. Keep your core tight the entire time, and land softly.
Instructions: Stand tall, then squat down to bring your hands to the floor. Jump your feet back into a plank position, lowering down into a push-up. Press out of the push-up, jump your feet to your hands, and then jump straight up into the air. Land softly in the squat position, and then repeat – jumping the feet back, performing a pushup, jumping forward, and then jumping up.
Make sure to track your knees over the middle of your foot whenever you squat. When you jump back to the plank position, land with soft joints but keep your shoulders packed and your core tight. This is an advanced move, so be mindful of your form, especially as you increase your speed.
Burpees are an exhausting full-body exercise. As the tabata sets get more challenging, add in some lateral hops between burpees so you keep moving while letting your body prepare for another perfectly executed burpee repetition.
12. TRX Single-Leg Burpees
Instructions: Start in a tabletop position and place your left foot in both TRX straps. Set your hands for a strong plank position with arms fully extended. Find plank with your right foot off of the ground. Step your right foot forward between your hands, then jump up into the air. Land softly on your right leg before bringing both hands back to the ground, extending the right leg back, and performing a push-up. Keep going! Right foot forward, jump up, land softly, hands down, leg back, and push-up.
Don’t expect to get too much air here! This move challenges your balance, coordination, core strength, and power. Be sure to execute each repetition with perfect form.
Tabata Training FAQ
Can I Do More Than One Exercise?
If you crave variety, you can perform tabatas with a different exercise on another day, or week (or for more advanced athletes, even within the same training session ).3
Alternatively, you can follow the second option of mixing up the exercises you use during the workout.
How Often Should I Do This Workout?
Tabata intervals can be done several times per week, ideally as a part of a comprehensive training plan. These intervals can be used as metabolic finishers at the end of your strength workout, or on non-strength training days.
Is Tabata Training Appropriate For Me?
The list of Tabata workout exercises is ordered from beginning to advanced. If none of these exercises seem appropriate for your level of fitness or comfort right now, then you’re not ready for Tabata training quite yet.
Instead, focus on building a solid foundation of strength using 4-week minimum (12-16 weeks is preferable) strength training program that utilizes compound movements like squats, deadlifts, presses and pulls.
Can I perform Tabata sprints?
Sprinting is not a good go-to Tabata choice. Why? Because the eccentric forces you exert when decelerating your body after a sprinting interval are high. Complete rest is a crucial element of Tabata intervals, and the high eccentric force on the hamstrings, hips, core, shoulders, arms and ankles during deceleration from an all-out sprint is clearly not rest.
Can I change the work to rest ratio?
The most common interval time you’ll see for tabatas is 20 seconds of work followed by 10 seconds of rest. But this isn’t your only option. The more important factor is the duration of work compared to rest – your work-set should be twice as long as your rest-set.
• 4 min Tabata: 20s work, 10s rest, 8 sets
• 6 min Tabata: 30s work, 15s rest, 8 sets
• 8 min Tabata: 40s work, 20s rest, 8 sets
If you want to do tabata training, I recommend you keep the 2:1 work/rest ratio, but you can play around with the duration.
Try out one of these exercises in a tabata interval workout, and let me know what you think! I guarantee you’ll get an awesome workout.
- Tabata I, Irisawa K, Kouzaki M, Nishimura K, Ogita F, Miyachi M. Metabolic profile of high intensity intermittent exercises. Med Sci Sports Exerc.1997;29(3):390-5. ↩
- Tabata I, Nishimura K, Kouzaki M, et al.Effects of moderate-intensity endurance and high-intensity intermittent training on anaerobic capacity and VO2max. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1996;28(10):1327-30. ↩
- Emberts T, Porcari J, Dobers-tein S, Steffen J, Foster C. Exercise intensity and energy expenditure of a tabata workout. J Sports Sci Med. 2013;12(3):612-3. ↩