Improving health with Tabata workouts

A 4mn workout shows greater improvements in fitness than 1 hour jogging.


We all should target 90 minutes of exercise every week.

What happens when life commitments get in the way? Kids, work or emergencies can make us postpone or cancel a workout.

If you often lack the time, you can still get the training benefit with only 4 minutes of exercise.

A “Tabata” workout involves repetitions of extreme intensity intervals followed by a short rest. Tabata Izumi, a speed skating coach at the Japanese National Institute for Health and Nutrition, researched the training technique in 1996. He measured a significant improvement in explosive strength as well as long term endurance. The improvements were higher than similar subjects who ran an hour daily, 5 days/week !

It’s not just running and fitness improvements. If you are sedentary, following this workout for a few months will improve significantly your health condition. Research shows dramatic reduction of body fat, significant reduction of body insulin, signification reduction of leptin, lower blood pressure, reduced blood lactate, for far less training time.

This means a Tabata workout will improve your feeling of well-being.

The original protocol is the following:

  1. Run for 30 seconds at your maximum heart rate. For most of us, this means an all-out race, running as fast as possible. For athletes who know their V02max, it is running at 170% vo2max.
  2. Rest for 10 seconds
  3. Repeat 7 or 8 times step 1 and 2

The first 3 repetitions should be ok. However you should find the next repetitions impossibly hard. If you feel ok after the session, you didn’t push hard enough! Instead, you should be out of breath, with significant sweating, elevated temperature, and burning muscles.

If you are looking to integrate Tabata workouts, here are a few points that helped me:

  • I find doing this high interval intensity training 4 days a week for 6 weeks is a good plan to see improvements. You could for example do it just after work: you just need an area where you can run uninterrupted for 30 seconds. Ideally, add a 30 minutes jogging session at the end of the week to see the benefits.
  • Make sure you warm up before this workout.
  • If you do not have the space, you can do a series of 10 squats, 10 burpees and 10 pushups in 30 seconds followed by 10 seconds rest. This is feasible in a hotel room. Make sure you do everything in less than 30 seconds.
  • If you are sedentary and cannot run for 30 seconds, an alternative is 60 repetitions of 8 seconds running all out with 12 seconds rest. This however will take 20 minutes instead of 4 minutes.


  • I. Tabata, K. Nishimura, M. Kouzaki, Y. Hirai, F. Ogita, M. Miyachi, K. Yamamoto, Effects of moderate-intensity endurance and high-intensity intermittent training on anaerobic capacity and VO2max., Med Sci Sports Exerc, volume 28, issue 10, pages 1327-30, Oct 1996
  • Helgerud, K. Høydal, E. Wang, T. Karlsen, P. Berg, M. Bjerkaas, T. Simonsen, C. Helgesen, N. Hjorth, Aerobic high-intensity intervals improve VO2max more than moderate training., Med Sci Sports Exerc, volume 39, issue 4, pages 665-71, Apr 2007
  • EG. Trapp, DJ. Chisholm, J. Freund, SH. Boutcher, The effects of high-intensity intermittent exercise training on fat loss and fasting insulin levels of young women., Int J Obes (Lond), volume 32, issue 4, pages 684-91, Apr 2008
  • Conrad P. Earnest, Arnt Erik Tjønna, Ingeborg Megaard Leinan, Anette Thoresen Bartnes, Bjørn M. Jenssen, Martin J. Gibala, Richard A. Winett, Ulrik Wisløff, Low- and High-Volume of Intensive Endurance Training Significantly Improves Maximal Oxygen Uptake after 10-Weeks of Training in Healthy Men, PLoS ONE, volume 8, issue 5, 2013, pages e65382

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