Tabata Training for Major Calorie Burning

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High intensity interval training (HIIT) is all the rage these days, offering one of the most effective workouts for burning calories, losing weight and getting in shape. Those hard intervals (usually done for 10-60 seconds) take you to a new level of intensity, well out of your comfort zone where you're body can burn tons of calories.

The rest period that follows (sometimes the same length or longer than the intensity interval) allows you to recover so you can do it all again...and again...and again. Traditional HIIT workouts are tough, but if you're looking for a challenge that will push you to the absolute limit, look no further than Tabata training.

What Is Tabata?

A Tabata workout is, at its simplest, a 4-minute workout (not including a warm-up and a cool down) that includes 20 seconds of very high intensity or anaerobic training followed by 10 seconds of rest. You repeat this cycle 8 times for a total of 4 minutes for a very short, very intense workout.

The difference between Tabata training and other interval workouts is the sheer intensity. Because the rest intervals are shorter than the work sets, the intensity builds as oxygen debt rises, leaving you a wrung-out mess after just 4 minutes of exercise.

While originally created for athletes to enhance performance, Tabata training has hit the mainstream, offering the average exerciser exciting new workouts. Today's Tabata workouts aren't just 4 minutes, but up to an hour.

These workouts don't just involve a stationary bike, as used in the original study, but a variety of activities and exercises: Cardio, strength training, kettlebell, compound moves, or a mixture of all of them. Whether you follow a workout or you create your own (see below), there are some pros and cons to consider before trying Tabata training.

Pros and Cons

  • Short workouts

  • Improves performance

  • Challenging

  • Effective

  • Not for beginners

  • Intensely uncomfortable

  • Risk of injury

  • Monotonous


Here's a closer look at some of the benefits of Tabata.

  • Short workouts: Whether your workout is one Tabata or a series, each Tabata drill is a short workout, just 4 minutes long. The very short recovery segments (only 10 seconds) raise the intensity very high, allowing you to do more in less time
  • Improves performance: The speed skaters in the original study benefitted from the fact that Tabata improves both anaerobic and aerobic compacity (most cardio workouts only target one or the other). You'll also see that kind of improvement in your daily life and your other workouts as your body becomes more efficient at using oxygen
  • Challenging: The perfect pick-me-up for advanced exercisers looking for something new to try
  • Effective: Interval workouts have been proven to burn more calories and increase performance. Focusing on anaerobic interval training, like Tabata training, offers even more of those calorie-burning benefits


There are also some downsides to Tabata. Here's a closer look at what those are.

  • Not for beginners: Tabata training is best for advanced exercisers who are comfortable with high-intensity exercise. The intensity accumulates, peaking near the end. It's easy for the intensity to sneak up on you if you're not used to this type of training
  • Intensely uncomfortable: If you go all out during the high-intensity intervals (around Level 10 on a perceived exertion scale), the 4-minute cycle will feel like the longest, most uncomfortable 4 minutes of your life.
  • Risk of injury: There's always a greater risk of injury when you're doing high impact, high-intensity exercise. Minimize that risk by ensuring you're fit enough for this type of training (several months of regular exercise under your belt) and that you thoroughly warm up before the workout.
  • Monotonous: Four minutes of the same exercise, even with rests in between, can get monotonous and quickly fatigue your muscles, causing your form (and motivation) to suffer.

Getting Started

The beauty of Tabata training is that there are a number of options to try including videos such as Amy Dixon's Breathless Body, audio workouts such as Tabata Coach, offered by fitness DJ, Deekron, or you can make your own Tabata workouts using any activity you like, although some will work better than others:

  • Sprints outside
  • Stationary bike
  • Elliptical trainer
  • High-intensity cardio exercises such as jumping jacks, burpees, or squat jumps
  • High-intensity strength training exercises such as squats, pushups, or lunges

Keep in mind that doing the same exercise 8 times can cause fatigue, so you may find your intensity (and your form) lagging as you get to the end. One way to combat that (and to avoid monotony) is to mix and match exercises in the same Tabata cycle.

For example, try alternating a jumping jack with a squat jump or even doing 8 different exercises throughout the cycle. To make your workouts easier, consider using a timer. The Tabata Pro App is one of my favorite Tabata Timers ($2.99), allowing you to set the length of your work and rest intervals anyway you like.

Sample Tabata Cardio Workout

Below is just one example of a Tabata workout that includes 4 Tabata sets, each with two high-intensity exercises you'll alternate for the length of each set. Remember, this is an advanced workout, so modify the exercises to fit your fitness level and take longer rests if needed. Also incorporate a 10-minute cardio warm-up gradually increasing intensity/

Tabata Set 1

  • Burpees
  • Mountain Climbers
  • Alternate each exercise for 20 seconds, resting 10 seconds in between
  • Repeat for 8 cycles
  • Rest for 1 minute

Tabata Set 2

  • Long Jumps
  • Plyo-Jacks
  • Alternate each exercise for 20 seconds, resting 10 seconds in between
  • Repeat for 8 cycles
  • Rest for 1 minute

Tabata Set 3

  • Squat Jumps
  • Jogging - High Knees
  • Alternate each exercise for 20 seconds, resting 10 seconds in between
  • Repeat for 8 cycles
  • Rest for 1 minute

Tabata Set 4

  • Jump Kicks
  • Side to Side Jumping Lunges
  • Alternate each exercise for 20 seconds, resting 10 seconds in between
  • Repeat for 8 cycles
  • Rest for 1 minute

Cool down: 5 minutes Total Workout Time: 35 Minutes

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  • 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 Oct;28(10):1327-30.

  • Trapp EG, Chisholm DJ, Freund J, et al. The effects of high-intensity intermittent exercise training on fat loss and fasting insulin levels of young women. Int J Obes (Lond). 2008 Apr;32(4):684-91.

By Paige Waehner, CPT
Paige Waehner is a certified personal trainer, author of the "Guide to Become a Personal Trainer," and co-author of "The Buzz on Exercise & Fitness."