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Tabata Training Spikes Heart Rate and Burns Calories

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This is a guest post by Jennifer Bayliss, MSEd, ATC, CSCS, Manager of Fitness for

High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is back in the spotlight. It is an excellent way to maximize a workout when you are short on time. HIIT is a form of cardiovascular exercise in which high-intensity exercise repetitions of maximal, or near maximal effort, are followed by moderate-intensity recovery periods, usually at about 50-60% intensity. Each session ideally lasts 15-20 minutes.

Long aerobic workouts have generally received all of the glory for being the best way to reduce body fat. However, fatty acid utilization doesn’t usually occur until after at least 30 minutes of training. HIIT has actually been shown to burn calories and fat more effectively and improve body composition at a faster rate than this traditional train of thought. HIIT increases resting metabolic rate, significantly lowers insulin resistance and causes skeletal muscle adaptation that result in enhanced skeletal muscle fat oxidation and improved glucose tolerance (Boutcher, 2011)

Tabata Training is the name of a particular type of HIIT workout that provides even more health benefits than traditional cardiovascular exercise. Tabata Training is one of the most effective training methods when it comes to burning fat and improving both anaerobic and aerobic fitness. This style of workout can take anywhere from 4-20 minutes.

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Tabata Training was discovered in 1996 by Izumi Tabata, a Japanese scientist, and his colleagues in a physiology lab in Japan. He and his fellow scientists began a comparison study of moderate intensity training to high-intensity intermittent exercise training.


The Research

The study that Dr. Tabata performed consisted of two training experiments using a mechanically braked cycle ergometer. The subject pool consisted of young male students who were majoring in physical education, and were involved with various athletic and recreational teams. One subject pool was put through a moderate-intensity workout for six weeks, working out five days a week for a one hour session. Moderate-intensity was defined as 70% of maximal oxygen uptake. The second pool of athletes was subjected to a high-intensity workout for six weeks as well, five days a week for four minutes. They performed 20 seconds of intense training at 170% maximal oxygen uptake followed by 10 seconds rest.

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The Results

The first group experienced an increase in their aerobic fitness, without a significant increase in their anaerobic fitness. The second group that had performed high-intensity intermittent exercise showed a greater increase in aerobic fitness than the first group had and their anaerobic fitness increased by 28%.

In conclusion, the study showed that moderate-intensity aerobic training improves maximal aerobic power but does not change anaerobic capacity and that adequate high-intensity intermittent training may improve both aneraobic and aerobic energy systems significantly. This is most likely through imposing intensive stimuli on both systems. (Tabata, 1996)


The Advantages

Tabata Training is one of the most effective and shortest duration workouts available. It fires up the body’s metabolism during the workout and shows a significant increase in EPOC (Exercise-Post Oxygen Consumption). This means that you will continue burning calories after your workout is over. It also demonstrates the same effects of any HIIT program: increases resting metabolic rate, significantly lowers insulin resistance and causes skeletal muscle adaptation, which results in enhanced skeletal muscle fat oxidation and improved glucose tolerance. If you use Tabata Training, you will improve both your aerobic system and your anaerobic energy systems at the same time.


The Disadvantages

Because of the high-intensity required, it could be dangerous to perform this exercise if you have any medical history or predisposition to heart disease. If you know that you have high blood pressure or have experienced a stroke or a heart attack, you should consult with your physician before attempting.

Another concern is the safety of performing the exercise itself. With any type of exercise, there is the potential for injury.

Considering that the advantages outweigh the disadvantages, it is a pretty good choice for someone looking to lose weight and increase lean muscle.

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Program Design

Any exercise can be incorporated into Tabata Training. The actual Tabata technique is a 4 minute workout that includes 8 intervals which last 20 seconds each. Each interval is followed by a 10 second recovery period. You can add multiple cycles in to get up to 20 minutes of exercise in. Make sure to warm up and cool down and to stretch after your workout. A timer or a stop watch is needed. When designing your program consider your goals. Are you looking to lose weight? Do you want to gain muscle size? Do you want to improve your endurance? Asking yourself these questions will help you choose your exercises and put together your program. You can do only cardio for the 8 intervals, only resistance training, or a combination of cardio and resistance training. If you are looking to lose weight, add some cardio intervals to your program. If you are looking to gain muscle mass, add more body weight exercises or increase your weights.


Getting Started

The first step is to choose the exercises you wish to include in your Tabata Training session. Then gather the equipment you will need. You don’t want to be walking around collecting during your workout. These are a fast paced, intense four minutes. Next, decide which exercise will be performed at each interval. You can either do the same exercise throughout the four minutes, or you can incorporate multiple exercises for a total body workout. Make sure the exercises aren’t too hard or too easy. The exercises should be hard enough that your breathing increases and you sweat during the interval, yet easy enough that you can last the entire session. Here are two sample sessions:

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Squat Jumps

4 Minute Workout:
  • Alternating Forward Lunges (Intervals 1,5)
  • Push-Ups (Intervals 2,6)
  • Pull-Ups (Intervals 3,7)
  • Squat Jumps (Intervals 4,8)


20 Minute Workout:
  • Alternating Forward Lunges (8 Intervals)
  • Push-Ups (8 Intervals)
  • Pull-Ups (8 Intervals)
  • Pike Crunches (8 Intervals)
  • Squat Jumps (8 Intervals)


The equipment you should have on hand for this particular workout is a set of dumbbells, an exercise mat, and a pull-up bar. Choose a weight that will enable you to successfully get through all eight intervals at maximal effort.

If you feel fatigued, or feel that you cannot go all out for one of the intervals, you can rest for that interval and then continue at the next. You can also opt to go at a more moderate-intensity (70%) for that one interval. If you find that this is happening often, you need to reconsider your exercise choices as you are putting together a program that is too difficult for your fitness level.


Final Thoughts

If you are looking to improve your body composition, tone your muscles, and improve your cardiovascular fitness, Tabata Training, is definitely worth a try. It is an excellent way to get a total body workout in short period of time. You can use it exclusively or use it as a supplement to your current exercise routine. I would recommend keeping a journal to note the exercises you are doing on a particular day, the weights used, and how the workout felt. By keeping a journal, you can monitor your fitness gains, and ensure that you are not repeating the same exercise or overtraining a particular body part.

As this type of exercise, Tabata or other HIIT program, is extremely taxing on your muscles, you should not do on consecutive days until you feel that your body is ready. While trying to improve body composition, remember that nutrition plays a major role as well. Lean proteins, fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats are important to a balanced diet.

This is a guest post by Jennifer Bayliss, MSEd, ATC, CSCS, Manager of Fitness for

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Works Cited

Tabata, I, Nishimura, K, Kouzake, M, et al. (1996). “Effects of Moderate-Intensity Endurance and High-Intensity Intermittent Training on Anaerobic Capacity and VO2max”. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise 28(10): 1327-1330. doi: 10.1097/00005768-199610000-00018.

Boutcher, Stephen. (2011). “High-Intensity Intermittent Exercise and Fat Loss”. Journal of Obesity. 2011: 868305. doi: 10.1155/2011/868305.


Bryan DiSanto

Founder & Editor-in-Chief at Lean It UP
ELLO ELLO I'm Bryan DiSanto. I'm the Founder & Editor-in-Chief of Lean It UP, a CPT/CSN/Fitness Coach, Chef trained at Le Cordon Bleu – Paris, NYU graduate, ex-fat kid, and all-around fitness junkie.

I also contribute to Men's Health Magazine.

When I'm not working on my abs (or somebody else’s), whipping up avocado roses and avocado toast, or running a Tough Mudder, I'm probably yelling at a Carolina Panthers game somewhere.

Come be friends with me on Instagram (@BRYDISANTO) & Snapchat (BRYDISANTO).
Bryan DiSanto
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