Five minutes is not that long, just about enough time to make a cup of tea and probably not drink it! Yet, it’s possible in those 300sec to do a workout that will have a massive metabolic affect. One that will blast calories, drastically improve your CV fitness and your strength! We’re talking Tabata Training.

Tabata training is a form of High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT).

It was developed by the Japanese physiologist/coach, Dr Izumi Tabata who discovered that very short super-maximal intervals in terms of heart rate and V02max (the measure of maximal oxygen uptake) boosted all markers of endurance performance, for example, lactate threshold (the point at which your body switches from producing energy aerobically to anaerobically), V02max, race pace and endurance economy (the ability to complete an endurance activity at a fast, but relatively comfortable pace).


And as indicated the benefits are just as powerful for fitness trainers.

But be warned Tabata training is not for the feint-hearted and is ‘red-line training’. It should only be performed by the suitably well-conditioned. The Tabata method involves performing 8 – 10 sets of 20 seconds very high intensity intervals separated with 10 second recovery periods giving a total training time of 4 – 5 minutes.

The caveat of the Tabata method is that all the intervals have to be done at 100% intensity – an absolute flat out effort.

You have to strive to perform as much work in each 20 second interval as possible and try to maintain that work rate for the 8 – 10 sets. The old adage that you can train long and easy, or short and hard has never been truer than when describing Tabata Training!

As with any type of exercise, Tabata Training should be preceded by an appropriate warm up of 5 – 10 minutes and followed by a cool down of similar duration. All in all the session could take as little as 15 minutes…perfect for anyone who is short on time but still wants great results from their training.

All this and fat loss too?

Traditionalists may scoff at the idea of workouts which promise “fat loss in 5 minutes”, but Tabata Training can deliver where many slow steady workouts fail. This is due to a phenomenon called Excessive Post-exercise Oxygen Consumption or EPOC which is sometimes called Oxygen Debt…

When performing Tabata Training or other HIIT workouts, a large amount of lactic acid is produced.

This build up has to be cleared on cessation of the exercise and in very simple terms the aerobic system is responsible for the removal of lactic acid from the blood.

The aerobic system goes into over drive for an extended period after exercise has stopped in an effort to “flush out” the lactic acid.

This means that the metabolism (the rate at which we burn energy) remains elevated for a number of hours after we have packed up our exercise kit and gone home.

It’s not uncommon to feel warmer than usual, have an elevated resting heart rate and increased breathing rate for a number of hours after a tough Tabata workout – all indicators of elevated metabolism and therefore increased calorie burning at rest.

The primary fuel of the aerobic system is fat so we end up burning elevated amounts of fat after exercise essentially getting two workouts for the price of one!

As you can see – Tabata Training is not only time efficient while you are doing it but keeps on delivering in the hours after exercise too. What exercises should you use?

The most important thing to consider when choosing exercises to use with the Tabata Training method is that there is minimal set up (you only have 10 seconds between sets remember) and that technically, you can perform the exercise under stress when severely fatigued.

Multi-joint exercises are best as they stress multiple muscle groups simultaneously and put the greatest demand on the cardio-respiratory system – thus giving the most “bang for your buck”.

In many cases all you need is a clock with a second hand and you are all set for a Tabata Method workout. If you become a real Tabata aficionado it may be worth buying an interval timer which can be programmed specifically for your workouts thus leaving your mind free to concentrate on your workout.

6 Great Tabata Training Exercises

These exercises have been selected for their ability to meet Tabata Training requirements – they will give you that big bang for your buck, target large muscles and numerous muscles and can be done easily – although not when it comes to the workout!

1) Prisoner Squats – A classic exercise – prisoner squats are a great “entry level” Tabata exercise due to their ease of performance, lack of any required equipment and the fact that you can easily keep an eye on the clock whist pumping out the reps.

Keep your hands clasped behind your head (no pulling on the neck) and keep the chest elevated. Make sure your heels stay down and feel free to walk on the spot between sets to try and keep the lactic acid at bay. To increase the demands of this exercise consider wearing a weighted vest.

2) Burpees – you can’t beat the burpee exercise for total body conditioning! Modify them to meet your individual fitness needs by removing the press up or jump portion as necessary.

3) Skipping – if you are a proficient skipper, this low-tech exercise offers a new twist to traditional rope work. The best skipping styles for Tabata Training are knee-up sprints and double unders (two turns of the rope per jump). Ensure you wear good shockabsorbing shoes and use a sprung surface to minimise the risk of lower limb injuries.

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4) Sprinting – this could be performed on a running track, a grassy playing field, a beach or even on a stretch of deserted road. Sprint for 20 seconds, walk for 10 seconds, repeat for 8 – 10 sets. Simple but highly effective!

5) Thrusters – a total body exercise which rivals even the mighty burpee! Thrusters can be performed with a barbell, a pair of dumbbells, a medicine ball or even a sand bag.

From a deep “front squat” stand up and using the momentum from your legs, simultaneously press the load overhead before reversing the movement and returning to the starting position. Try to set a brisk rhythm and stick to it.

6) Rowing ergometer – a rowing machine with a programmable timer is an excellent choice for Tabata Method training. Aim to maintain the distance covered from one set to the next or take an average from the 8 – 10 sets completed and try to beat it whenever the workout is repeated. Make sure your rowing technique is sound to avoid any potential lower back injuries.

To wrap up: Tabata Training offers any fitness enthusiast an extremely versatile and effective addition to their exercise armoury which, whilst challenging to perform, it offers a wide range of benefits when used on a regular basis.

Don’t let the short work out length deceive you – training the Tabata way will get the job done in record breaking time.

WatchFit Experts change lives!

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Pollyanna Hale Health and Lifestyle coaches
Lost 13 Kg in Total
Mel, 32y Location: London, United Kingdom Working with Pollyanna changed everything. I lost 13kg, got toned and have more energy than ever! Get same results!


Chriz Zaremba Fitness Consultant
Lost 45 Kg in Total
Chris, 50y Location: London, United Kingdom Lost 45kg after the age of 50 and now competes and wins physique competitions and runs marathons Check our weight loss plans