Workout Wednesday: Tabata Cardio

High Knees
Who doesn't love getting their butt kicked by a ball of iron?
Who doesn’t love getting their butt kicked by a ball of iron?

If you were to do an informal survey of my friends and family, they would undoubtedly tell you that my favorite way to workout is kettlebells. Honestly, if I hadn’t had several people suggest bells to me, I might still hate exercise. I do a kettlebell workout on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and while it’s an incredible workout, it’s not as much cardio as I should be doing, so I’ve decided to add in some additional, short workouts on my “off” days. That’s where tabata comes in.

Tabata is a highly customizable, 4-minute long High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) workout. Yeah, you read that right, four minutes. You can link together multiple variations to create a 20-minute long workout if you so choose. Here’s a brief history of tabata workouts from

Tabata training was discovered by Japanese scientist Dr. Izumi Tabata and a team of researchers from the National Institute of Fitness and Sports in Tokyo.Tabata and his team conducted research on two groups of athletes: one group trained at a moderate intensity level while the other group trained at a high intensity level. The moderate intensity group worked out five days a week for a total of six weeks; each workout lasted one hour. The high intensity group worked out four days a week for six weeks; each workout lasted four minutes and 20 seconds (with 10 seconds of rest in between each set).

The results; group one had increased their aerobic system (cardiovascular), but showed little or no results for their anaerobic system (muscle). Group two showed much more increase in their aerobic system than group one, and increased their anaerobic system by 28 percent.

In conclusion, high intensity interval training has more impact on both the aerobic and anaerobic systems.

In short, a tabata workout has three requirements:

  • Do the activity as hard as you possibly can for 20 seconds
  • Rest for 10 seconds
  • Repeat for a total of 8 times

Sound easy? Try it. I was introduced to tabata a couple of years ago by a blogger on SparkPeople: she kept talking about this strange form of exercise I had never heard of before. I was intrigued by the length of the workout – how could I not do a workout that was only 4 minutes long and highly adaptable to what I could or couldn’t do? With boredom being my biggest blockade to working out, the variability of tabata was appealing. I started simply, with jumping jacks and high knees.

Jumping Jacks
Jumping Jacks
High Knees
High Knees

At 100 pounds overweight, this workout WIPED ME OUT! I had trouble catching my breath, my throat burned, I was sweating and thirsty after just four minutes. I couldn’t believe how tired I was. Admittedly, I did tabata for a few weeks, then quit. I honestly can’t remember why. But when considering cardio workouts to supplement my strength training, I decided to try again. So yesterday I did the same workout before breakfast. Not quite as difficult as before, but still challenging! Still breathing hard and thirsty, and definitely got my heart rate up. I only did four minutes, but I think I’m going to add on additional exercises over the next few weeks to lengthen the workout, and I’m going to try to do it 3 days a week.

If you’re interested in tabata, there are a ton of resources on the web, but there are a few good examples at Muscle and Fitness and a great list of links at Pop Sugar.

Have you tried or are you interested in trying tabata? Let me know in the comments!

2 Comments on “Workout Wednesday: Tabata Cardio

  1. I’ve done Tabata classes and really liked them. I was totally wiped but because the duration was short at 20 seconds in my head it made it easier to tackle than the traditional circuit class with fewer reps but longer times. I will say that as the class went on it got increasingly hard but after I really felt like I accomplished something.

    Liked by 1 person

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