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Tabata Protocol

What is Tabata?

Tabata is a quick and intense four-minute workout developed by researcher Izumi Tabata. “To break it down simply, Tabata is 20 seconds of maximum intensity effort followed by 10 seconds of rest,” says Lindsey Clayton, a trainer at Barry’s Bootcamp and co-founder of Brave Body Project. “You repeat this sequence of 20 seconds on and 10 seconds off for a total of eight rounds.”

Tabata’s team of Japanese researchers thoroughly investigated the effects of HIIT-style training on anaerobic and aerobic energy systems. Simply put: Aerobic exercise is light activity that’s sustainable over long periods of time (think jogging), while anaerobic activity is typically intense bursts for shorter periods of time (think sprinting). Their findings, published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, found that this interval formula (called Tabata protocol) elicited significant improvements in both aerobic and anaerobic power over a six-week period. (Related: What’s the Difference Between HIIT and Tabata?)

What sets Tabata apart from traditional HIIT training is the 20:10 work/rest ratio and overall intensity, says Rondel King, M.S., exercise physiologist at NYU Langone’s Sports Performance Center. “You’re really looking for the work periods to be done at maximal levels,” he says. If you’re not going all-out, it shouldn’t be considered Tabata.

Can Tabata be done with weights?

Good news: The answer is totally up to you. Tabata workouts can involve weights or consist of bodyweight movements only. Similarly, Tabata can be an intense cardio workout or more focused on strength training. “For Tabata routines to be more cardio driven, focus on things like high knees, jumping jacks, and punches,” suggests Clayton, who stresses the efficiency of this particular type of workout since it can be done virtually anywhere, with minimal or no equipment. A strength-based Tabata routine could include a mix of triceps dips, push-ups, and plank dips. (Need some guidance? This fat-burning Tabata workout can replace cardio, while this four-minute workout builds muscle.)

Can Tabata be done every day?

The original Tabata protocol was conducted four times per week over a six-week period with high-level athletes, notes King. If you’re hooked on the thrill of Tabata training, it would be smart to consult with a personal trainer about your individual goals and the best way to implement these workouts into your routine for optimal results. Since, you know, not everyone is an elite athlete. (Speaking of personal trainers, here are five legitimate reasons to hire one.)

Since it’s so easy to mix up Tabata-style routines, you could easily select different exercises to create Tabata workouts that target different muscle groups. Which means, yes, you can do Tabata workouts every day.

King offers a word of warning to those looking to use Tabata to replace cardio as a whole. “I would use caution when doing this [original] protocol and stick to two to four times per week and supplement with steady state cardio three to five days a week,” he says. But at the end of the day, “it really depends on the training age of the individual and how quickly they recover from exercise.”

Here, Clayton offers one of her favorite Tabata-format workouts, perfect to get your heart rate up and the sweat started quickly. Do each move in order, and complete the prescribed number of sets before moving on to the next exercise.

1. Squat jumps (20 on 10 off, 2 sets)

2. Push-ups (20 on 10 off, 2 sets)

3. Uppercuts (20 on 10 off, 2 sets)

4. Mountain climbers (20 on 10 off, 2 sets)