What is Tabata Workout & How it Works

by John Staughton (BASc, BFA) last updated -

There are plenty of health fads, diet crazes, and exercise strategies on the market, but the Tabata Workout has many proven benefits, including rapid muscle tissue development, endurance improvement, aerobic and anaerobic effects, time-saving aspects, and fast results.

What is Tabata Workout?

The search for the most efficient, safest, and most effective workout strategies is happening all over the globe, as improving our physical bodies is a species-wide interest. A man named Dr. Izumi Tabata and his team of researchers developed the Tabata Workout to maximize performance results in a minimal amount of time. The Tabata Workout regimen is based on the concept of high-intensity interval training, which is far from a unique idea. [1]

The benefits of high-intensity, short-duration workouts have long been praised, but Tabata’s unique design was composed of incredibly short durations – 20 seconds of high-intensity exercise, followed by 10 seconds of rest. In the study that first drew attention to the Tabata Method, this “20-seconds on, 10-seconds off” pattern was repeated 8 times, meaning that the entire workout would only take 4 minutes.

The breakthrough research that Tabata and his team conducted clearly showed that a short, high-intensity workout was more beneficial than an hour-long moderate-intensity workout. The benefits were seen across fat burning, muscle growth, endurance, respiration rates, and basal metabolic rates. Since then, the Tabata method has been growing in popularity all over the world.

You can use a Tabata strategy in many different ways, and with different exercises. Resistance and aerobic training are both very customizable to a Tabata workout method. In fact, high-intensity interval training was originally developed for runners, sprinting short distances and then resting briefly. That same philosophy underlies everything this workout regime is all about. [2]

From push-ups and weight training to crunches and sprints, the high-intensity nature of this workout strategy will deliver incredible results.

Health Benefits of the Tabata Workout

Let’s take a closer look into some of the benefits of the Tabata Workout.

Burns Fat

When our bodies undergo a high-intensity workout or experience, our basal metabolic rate (also known as BMR) skyrockets in order to function at that level. Our BMR is what determines the rate at which fat in the body is burnt. By increasing our BMR, the workouts, short as they may be, are highly efficient and effective in terms of burning fat. [3]

Three young women exercising in a gym or a room

Exercising is important to keep your body active and healthy. Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Furthermore, following a high-intensity workout, our metabolic rate remains high, meaning that our body can continue burning fat for hours after the workout is complete. By training the body to handle high-intensity demands, we can start to make our body work faster and better!

Improves Muscle Growth

When we do any exercise to increase muscle, the basic idea is always the same; your exertion causes small tears in the tissue, microscopic in size, that need to be repaired. Muscle tissue cells will, therefore, grow to close those tiny gaps, thus adding muscle tissue and manifesting in muscle “growth”.

With a high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workout like the Tabata method, this tissue growth and repair happens at a much faster pace, due to the significant amount of effort and strain on those muscle groups. This shift will also cause a better lean mass to fat ratio in the body, as you are burning fat and building muscle simultaneously.

Increases Aerobic Capacity

When we strenuously exercise, we intake oxygen to fuel us and keep us going. The maximum amount of oxygen uptake that our body can handle is called our aerobic capacity. This capacity increases over time as we exercise, based on the demands we put on our body and the natural increase in capacity our body responds with.

The Tabata method has been directly linked to an improvement in aerobic capacity (nearly 14% in Tabata’s study), which means that those individuals have boosted their endurance and oxygenation levels. Moderate-intensity workouts can also improve aerobic capacity, but it does so much slower than the Tabata method. [4]

Boosts Anaerobic Capacity

On the other side of that coin is anaerobic capacity, which is the amount of energy that the body can produce without having a steady oxygen supply. Anaerobic capacity dictates how many carbohydrates you will burn for fuel to exert your body. The Tabata method improved the original participant’s anaerobic capacity by nearly 28% during the study period. Moderate-intensity workouts do not typically result in increased anaerobic capacity. [5]

Saves Time

By only requiring four minutes of exertion (at the very minimum) for a complete workout, many people are much more motivated to stay regular with the regimen and not slack off. For those who are particularly eager, doing a 20-minute session consisting of 5 Tabata workouts on different parts of the body is a highly efficient way of getting in shape fast. What may have taken 5 individual workouts can now be accomplished in a single 20-minute workout. Saving time in today’s hectic modern world is important for most people – yet another selling point of Tabata! [6]

Faster Results

Instant gratification and fast results are two things that define our culture in recent years, so the efficiency with which Tabata gives measurable and visible results is incredible. It is a highly focused workout that rapidly burns away fat and develops muscle at the same time. This results in a number of changes in appearance, ability, and endurance, which is encouraging and inspiring to others! [7]

High-intensity Training

Many people think that they can jump into a Tabata workout schedule without any problems, but the truth is, this sort of high-intensity training should be worked up to. You can find a range of “Beginner Tabata Workout” plans and schedules online or from a fitness trainer who works with Tabata. It is strongly recommended that you take it slow; your body will have to grow accustomed to the more intense demands you’re putting on it, but you also want to ensure that you don’t get injured! [8]

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About the Author

John Staughton is a traveling writer, editor, publisher and photographer with English and Integrative Biology degrees from the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana (USA). He co-founded the literary journal, Sheriff Nottingham, and now serves as the Content Director for Stain’d Arts, a non-profit based in Denver, Colorado. On a perpetual journey towards the idea of home, he uses words to educate, inspire, uplift and evolve.

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