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What’s the Difference Between Tabata and HIIT? A Peloton Instructor Explains

And why you'll want to add it to your workout routine.

By Kells McPhillipsFebruary 29, 2024

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You may think that not much can happen in four minutes—but clearly, no one told that to Japanese scientist Dr. Izumi Tabata, who invented a signature workout (aka Tabata workouts) that can be done that quickly. Tabata workouts leave you breathless and sweaty in less time than it takes to brew a pot of coffee or check out at the grocery store. So, if you’ve never tried this particular flavor of HIIT, you may want to pocket it for one of those days when a workout seems out of the question. 

If you’re curious about the fastest, fiercest form of HIIT, keep scrolling for Peloton instructor Ally Love’s breakdown on Tabata, its benefits, and why you may want to give it a shot next time you’re short on time—but in for a challenging workout. 

What is Tabata?

The “Tabata protocol” was invented by Dr. Izumi Tabata and has now been adapted for various sports and fitness modalities to challenge both the aerobic system (which requires oxygen) and the anaerobic fitness system (which uses energy stored in the muscles instead of oxygen). 

“Tabata is a two-to-one effort to recovery ratio,” explains Ally. Tabata workouts ask you to give all-out efforts for short intervals (and even shorter rests) to improve your cardiovascular fitness and muscular endurance

The most challenging part about Tabata workouts is the short rest. These 10-second breathers won’t allow you the same amount of recovery as, say, a nice two-minute break in between max efforts. Instead, you have to jump right back into an all-out effort.

How to Do Tabata Workouts

Tabata-style workouts can be completed on the floor with just your body weight—or on the Peloton Bike, Peloton Tread, Peloton Row, or anywhere else you do cardio. You can also do Tabata workouts with exercises that require weights or other resistance equipment. 

Traditional Tabata workouts comprise eight intervals of 20 seconds of effort followed by 10 seconds of rest. This Tabata “set” takes four minutes total and can be an entire workout if you’re short on time. However, you may choose to take a two to three-minute rest, then repeat the entire Tabata two to four more times for a seriously intense workout. 

What Are the Benefits of Tabata? 

As you’ve probably gathered by now, Tabata workouts accomplish a lot in just four minutes. Ahead, Ally breaks down some of the benefits that keep her coming back for more (and why you’ll love this workout style, too). 

Tabata Improves Both Aerobic and Anaerobic Fitness

The human body has two major energy systems: the aerobic system (which is powered by oxygen) and the anaerobic fitness system (which uses energy stored in the muscles rather than oxygen). Most types of workouts only work one system or another. For example, going for a nice bike ride along the beach would be considered aerobic fitness, whereas cycling intervals would be considered anaerobic. 

With Tabata, you get the best of both worlds. Research indicates that these fast and furious HIIT workouts improve the anaerobic and aerobic systems at once, and may even increase your overall VO2 max (or the amount of oxygen you use during exercise). These adaptations will make you a better overall athlete. And, with time, cardiovascular efforts will begin to feel easier. 

Tabata Increases Muscular Endurance

Muscular endurance refers to a muscle’s ability to sustain a repetitive effort over a period of time. (For example, if you run often, your quad muscles become stronger and more suited to run in the future.) Tabata may improve muscular endurance because it involves working the same muscle groups at high intensities. 

Tabata Offers Maximum Efficiency

Tabata workouts place you in heart rate zone 4 or 5 (80 to 90 percent of your max heart rate or 90 to 100 percent of your max heart rate). Maintaining this heart rate in short bursts may promote the growth of lean muscle mass, improve your metabolism, and boost cardiovascular fitness

Tabata Workouts Are Time Efficient 

“Tabata workouts are short in duration, so no longer than 30 minutes,” says Ally. “Your body cannot sustain that amount of energy and effort beyond 30 minutes, and the 30 minutes includes the warmup and the recovery,” she says. The Peloton App is home to many snappy Tabata workouts that can get you that workout mood boost you’re looking for in no time at all. 

How Often Should You Do Tabata Workouts?

A little bit of Tabata goes a long way, according to Ally. “You should be doing Tabata no more than three times a week unless you are specifically training for something and your trainer says to do it more,” she says. She also recommends giving yourself a bare minimum of 24 hours to recover in between Tabata workouts. 

Not resting enough in between Tabata sessions may increase your chances of working out on tired, sore muscles—a mistake that can result in injury. Remember: There’s a time to go hard and there’s time to give yourself a break so you can return to your next workout reenergized. 

Do You Need Equipment for Tabata Workouts?

Good news: Tabata workouts require zero special equipment. Bodyweight Tabatas are perfect for when you don’t have any props on hand but still want to squeeze a sweat into your day. 

Of course, you can swap in exercises that work for you depending on what muscle groups you want to work on that day. For example, maybe you want to program a Tabata core circuit that includes hollow holds, crunches, planks, or an arm workout that includes tricep dips, push-ups, and side planks. As long as you maintain that pattern of 20 seconds on, 10 seconds off, you’re doing a Tabata workout. 

What Are the Differences Between Tabata and HIIT

Simply put, Tabata workouts are one form of high-intensity interval training or HIIT. Any workout that alternates between periods of high intensity and periods of rest technically falls under the HIIT umbrella. AMRAP—or “as many reps as possible” workouts are another example of a type of workout that has its own benefits but still remains under the general HIIT category. 

Example Tabata Workout

Tabata workouts can look very different depending on what equipment you want to use, or what areas of the body you want to focus on that day. Below are just a few examples of what Tabata workouts may look like, including bodyweight only Tabata workouts, and one that you can do on a treadmill. 

Tabata 1

  • Warmup

  • 20 seconds of squat jumps

  • 10 seconds of rest

    • Repeat 8 times 

  • Cooldown

Tabata 2

  • Warmup

  • 20 seconds of lunge jumps

  • 10 seconds of rest

    • Repeat 8 times 

  • Cooldown

Tabata 3

  • Warmup

  • 20 seconds of push-ups

  • 10 seconds of rest

    • Repeat 8 times 

  • Cooldown

Treadmill Tabata Example 

  • Warmup 

  • 20-second sprint, 10 seconds walking and recovering 

    • Repeat eight times

  • Rest for three minutes, then complete the Tabata workout up to four more times. 

  • Cooldown and stretch 

More Example Tabata Workouts

Ready to give Tabata a shot for yourself? You can tap the Peloton app for Tabata classes whether you want to hop on the Bike, the Tread, or just the floor. 

Lower Body Tabata Workout (No Equipment) 

Warmup 

Tabata 1

  • 20 seconds jump squats, 10 seconds recovery 

  • Repeat eight times

Tabata 2

  • 20 seconds alternating jump lunges, 10 seconds recovery

  • Repeat eight times

Tabata 3

  • 20 seconds froggers, 10 seconds recovery

  • Repeat eight times

Cooldown

Bike Tabata Workout

Warmup

  • 20 seconds fast pedaling, 10 seconds rest

  • Repeat eight times

Cooldown



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