Tabata. It’s fun to say (“tuh-baa-tuh”) and even more fun to do (in our opinion, anyway). It’s the perfect workout for people who want to see results without spending hours at the gym.

But what exactly is a Tabata workout? What are the benefits? And how is it done?

We’ve got the answers to all your Tabata-related questions below, plus a sample workout for you to try at home.

What Is a Tabata Workout?

A Tabata workout is a formulaic style of interval training where you do 20 seconds of work and ten seconds of rest for eight rounds. Tabata is technically considered cardiovascular exercise but with a focus on strength training. These workouts can be done using just your bodyweight or equipment like dumbbells.

The term “Tabata” comes from Dr. Izumi Tabata, a professor at Ritsumeikan University in Japan and former National Institutes of Health researcher. He was hired by the Japanese speed skating team to analyze the efficacy of the team’s training program. The program consisted of rotations between short bursts of high intensity and short rest periods—which is actually the 20-10-8 Tabata protocol we know today. Simply put, Dr. Izumi Tabata didn’t invent the protocol; rather, he proved how effective it was at improving aerobic and anaerobic capacity and fitness levels.

What Is the Difference Between Tabata and High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)?

HIIT is a training format that alternates between short periods of intense output followed by a brief period of recovery in between. 

Tabata is technically a type of HIIT workout; the idea of pushing hard during the work period of the session is the same in both Tabata and HIIT, it’s just the format that’s different. The difference between Tabata and HIIT is that HIIT can be in any format while Tabata is structured and prescribed.

HIIT workouts can take any form, meaning they can be any combination of reps, sets, and rest. Tabata on the other hand follows a strict design of 20 seconds on, ten seconds off, for eight rounds.

Benefits of Tabata

  • Efficient: The 20-10-8 structure of Tabata allows you to get in a lot of work in a very short amount of time. 
  • Burns fat and calories: Due to Tabata’s high-intensity output in a short amount of time, there’s a higher chance to induce EPOC (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption) than with less intense styles of circuit training. This is a process by which your body continues to burn more calories after you’re done with your workout.
  • Increases endurance: With Tabata training, you increase both your cardiorespiratory endurance and your muscular endurance.
  • Effective removal of metabolic waste: Tabata also trains the body to effectively remove metabolic waste from your muscles between work intervals.

What Is a Tabata Workout Good For?

Tabata workouts are good for burning calories, building strength, increasing endurance, and removing metabolic waste. They’re perfect for busy individuals who are short on time but still want to get their heart rate up with an effective workout and invest in their physical health. 

Is Tabata Good For Weight Loss?

Tabata is great for weight loss. If your goal is to lose weight, it’s best to include a combination of cardio and strength training into your workout routine. Since Tabata is technically cardio with a focus on strength training, it’s an incredibly powerful tool to help you reach your weight loss and fitness goals.

Is Tabata Good For Beginners?

Tabata can be good for beginners if the right exercises are selected. For beginners starting out with Tabata, we recommend modifying certain movements to exclude jumping or plyometrics. For example, if a Tabata workout calls for jumping jacks, beginners could do a step jack as a modification. If the workout calls for a high knee run, beginners could do a march as a modification.

Even if you aren't a beginner but live in an apartment or condo, you can do a Tabata workout with similar modifications.

Who Should Avoid Tabata Workouts?

Anyone who’s been advised by a doctor to avoid high-intensity exercise due to health conditions or pregnancy should avoid doing Tabata workouts. It’s best to always consult with your doctor before starting a new exercise program—especially one that’s high intensity in nature like Tabata.

How to Structure Your Own Tabata Workout

To structure your own Tabata workout, you’ll follow the 20-10-8 structure of the Tabata protocol; however, there are many options to break down the eight sets. While true Tabata is one exercise performed eight times, you could cycle through four different exercises twice or do eight completely different exercises for each Tabata set. 

The nice thing about the Tabata protocol is that even though it follows a structured formula, there is still room for creativity to choose and insert your own exercises within the format.

Given that Tabata workouts are limited to four minutes and eight sets of work, you could create a total-body workout that includes a mixture of legs, arms, back, chest, and core. Alternatively, you could create different Tabata workout plans that focus on different parts of the body for each workout. For example, one workout could be lower body, the next could be upper body, another could be core, and so on. 

It’s also common to do multiple rounds of Tabata at the same time, each focusing on a different exercise. For example, doing one Tabata workout doing burpees for 8 rounds, followed by another workout doing push ups for 8 rounds etc.

You can structure your Tabata training to consist of bodyweight exercises only, weighted exercises only, or a combination of both.

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Here’s a template to structure your own Tabata workouts. Choose from the exercises below and plug them into the template to create a full Tabata workout:

1)

  • 20 seconds: [insert exercise of your choice]
  • 10 seconds: Rest

2)

  • 20 seconds: [insert exercise of your choice]
  • 10 seconds: Rest

3)

  • 20 seconds: [insert exercise of your choice]
  • 10 seconds: Rest

4) 

  • 20 seconds: [insert exercise of your choice]
  • 10 seconds: Rest

5)

  • 20 seconds: [insert exercise of your choice]
  • 10 seconds: Rest

6)

  • 20 seconds: [insert exercise of your choice]
  • 10 seconds: Rest

7)

  • 20 seconds: [insert exercise of your choice]
  • 10 seconds: Rest

8)

  • 20 seconds: [insert exercise of your choice]
  • 10 seconds: Rest

Be sure to set aside some time for a proper warm-up before your Tabata workout and a cool down with some stretching afterward.

Pro tip: Regardless of the time remaining in a work set, never continue with a movement if you can’t execute it with proper form. Instead, opt to finish the set with a modified version of the exercise or simply cut it short and give your body the time it needs to recover.

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Exercises to Choose From For Your Tabata Workout

Some exercises to choose from as part of your Tabata workout include:

  • Squat jumps
  • Lunges
  • Push-ups
  • Burpees
  • Skaters
  • Sit-ups
  • Bicycle crunches
  • Mountain climbers
  • Sprints
  • Bent over rows
  • Overhead press
  • Chest press
  • Bicep curl
  • Deadlifts

What is an Example of a Tabata Workout?

An example of a Tabata workout is performing squat jumps, push-ups, lunges, and mountain climbers for 20 seconds each in a circuit where you do each exercise twice and take ten seconds of rest between each exercise. We’ve included a detailed sample Tabata workout below.

Sample Tabata Workout

Here is a four-minute Tabata workout you can do at home with no equipment needed (although we do recommend a yoga mat for the groundwork).

  • 20 seconds: Jump squats 
  • 10 seconds: Rest
  • 20 seconds: Push-ups
  • 10 seconds: Rest
  • 20 seconds: Lunges
  • 10 seconds: Rest
  • 20 seconds: Mountain climbers
  • 10 seconds: Rest
  • 20 seconds: Jump squats
  • 10 seconds: Rest
  • 20 seconds: Push-ups
  • 10 seconds: Rest
  • 20 seconds: Lunges
  • 10 seconds: Rest
  • 20 seconds: Mountain climbers
  • 10 seconds: Rest

How to do each exercise

Jump squats
  1. From a standing position, start with your feet wide and chest up.
  2. Bend your knees, hinge at your hips, and push your hips back. Maintain a straight back while bringing your hands close together in front of your chest with bent elbows.
  3. Once your thighs are parallel to the ground (or as close as possible based on your mobility), use your arms to propel your jump by swinging them down by your side as you explode up.
  4. Land softly with your knees bent and continue into another squat in one fluid motion.

Modification: To modify your squat jump, perform a hop instead of a jump or remove the jump completely.

Push ups
  1. Start in a plank position with your hands and feet on the ground, core engaged, and gaze to the floor.
  2. Bend your elbows and slowly lower your entire body to the ground in one slow and controlled movement.
  3. Once your elbows reach a 90 degree angle, push yourself back up to your starting plank position.

Modification: To modify your push up, simply drop your knees to the floor to reduce the load.

Lunges
  1. Start standing with your feet hip-width apart and your hands on your hips.
  2. Step one foot forward and plant it firmly on the ground as you bend at both knees and lower your body towards the floor. Maintain a straight back, proud shoulders, and gaze forward. The heel of your back foot will lift as you perform this movement. 
  3. Aim to have your back knee tap the ground and front knee bent at 90 degrees. (Be sure that your front knee doesn’t go forward past your big toe.)
  4. Straighten your legs as you push off your front foot to return to the starting position.
  5. Repeat this movement on the other leg and alternate side as during your tabata workout.

Modification: To modify your lunges, start in a staggered stance so you don’t have to step forward and can keep your feet in the same position as you move up and down.

Mountain climbers
  1. Start in a plank position on your hands.
  2. Bring your right knee toward your right elbow while maintaining a flat back and tight core.
  3. Return your foot back to your starting plank position and perform the same motion on the other side.
  4. Alternate between sides as you go through your tabata workout.

Modification: To modify your mountain climber, drop your knees to the floor to reduce the load.

Want more Tabata workouts? lululemon Studio has thousands of Tabata-inspired Cardio + Strength classes for you to choose from. Follow along with a certified instructor who’s there to make sure you’re getting the most out of your Tabata training session.

Try Our Tabata Training Workouts

lululemon Studio offers Tabata-inspired HIIT workouts that are perfect for any fitness level. Choose from beginner to advanced classes ranging from five to 60 minutes. Join classes live or on-demand to become a Tabata pro and reach your fitness goals.

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