What is Tabata?

Tabata is a workout style that is categorized under HIIT (high intensity interval training).  In a nutshell, one set of tabata is 4 minutes.  It consists of 20 seconds of work, with 10 seconds rest.  There are 8 rounds of this, to equal 4 minutes total.  The point of tabata is to count your reps/distance and try to end on the same number that you started.  Many people do tabata incorrectly.  They start out really fast and hard and crash in the middle or towards the end.  You should still start out pretty hard (around 85-90%).  The torture is trying to maintain what you do in the 1st set through the final 8th set.

For example: Tabata squats.  You would do squats for 20″ counting your reps.  Let’s say you get 14.  After only 10 seconds resting, you’d go again for 20″ trying to hit 14 reps.  This is repeated for 8 rounds.  Your “score” is your lowest number.

However, this is not exactly how Tabata originally came about.  It has a much more scientific and sports based development.  Dr. Izumi Tabata worked as a training coach for the Japanese speed skating team (I swear!  This is a true fact, even with my speedskating bias 🙂 ) in the 1990’s.  At the time, the head coach had developed a training technique where the athletes would exercise in short bursts of high-intensity, and he was asked to analyze the effectiveness of this training regime.


In an interview, Tabata stated, “Originally I thought this type of training was just for speed skaters or other highly motivated athletes because it is very painful and tiring. However, I found that there were groups of people interested in building muscle and therefore doing short high-intensity exercises that trained their muscle, but not those exercises that improved their aerobic training. When this regime came along, they began to realize they could train both at the same time. Moreover, this exercise takes just a few minutes.”

While the original research was on much more competitive, fit, specialized athletes, the way we incorporate Tabata into our workouts today is still very beneficial.  Most people doing these workouts in bootcamps or CrossFit gyms are not specialized athletes but can now appreciate the beneficial suffering that comes with the experience of Tabata.

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