August 23, 2017In TrainingBy Sean Lerwill7 Minutes

I was recently asked if I knew of any website with a list of good Tabata Training workouts. My answer was no, but I can list a few exercises I use for Tabata Training, i.e. exercises I use for the Tabata Protocol of 20seconds work, 10 seconds rest for 8 rounds.

Definition of Tabata Training

It’s worth making sure we are singing off the same song sheet so to speak. A lot of confusion has developed in the fitness industry over what Tabata, HIIT and interval training actually are. As always with the fitness industry, the people selling (the magazines and chain gyms largely) start using the wrong language/definitions to advertise their products as that’s what the lay person has started to call them. Like the term “tone” or “bootcamp”, rather than re-educate, people use the mis-term to ensure they attract paying customers.

seanlerwill pass the prmc running run military fitness trainingAnyway, Tabata Training is a style of interval training or HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) designed by Izumi Tabata a sports scientist from Japan. Working with high level athletes, Tabata wanted an interval protocol that elicited the best of aerobic and anaerobic advances. After a series of experiments, he resulted in the Tabata Protocol.

The Tabata Protocol

The Tabata protocol is:

  • 20seconds work
  • 10 seconds rest

x 8 rounds.

This is set. You can’t “do Tabata for 5 rounds” or “do Tabata for 30seconds work, 30seconds rest”, both would be different interval sessions. The Tabata protocol is set at 20seconds on, 10seconds off for 8 rotations.

seanlerwill royal marines commando PTI green beret white vest training people in a field to ensure a positive mindsetTabata also only works if you are truly working hard for the 20seconds. You should be working pretty much to full capacity for each 20second burst. There’s no point saving yourself for the latter stages, it’s not designed that way. Equally, Tabata was initially designed around one piece of kit, for example an exercise bike, treadmill or ergo rower. Or, pushing a car (see cover image) or rolling a log up a hill with your feet (see image of me dishing out the love to the left). The idea being that all 8 rounds are done on the same piece of kit, working flat out for each 10second round and either moving slowly for the 10second rest or resting completely.

True Tabata Training

People have started to change the 20second work, for example, 20seconds press-ups, 10seconds rest, 20seconds sit-ups, 10seconds rest, 20seconds squats, 10seconds rest etc. To me, that isn’t Tabata Training. That’s circuit training using a 20second work time. True Tabata requires theย  collective muscle fatigue that occurs from the same exercise being utilised for each 20second round.

sean commando ergo rowing tabata trainingWhen it comes to very high intensity movements like punching, kneeing or kicking all out or plyometric style movements like burpees or jump squats, I understand that the real muscle being tested is the heart (and CV system) therefore changing the exercise, for example from 20seconds punching to 20seconds knees, to 20seconds jump squats, to 20 seconds punches etc, just keeps the heart and CV system working and being tested by the Tabata Protocol. Sure, this works for that aim, but my understanding is that by the book, this is not what Izumi Tabata designed and experimented on. Not to say it doesn’t work, of course.

Examples of Tabata Training Workouts

To reiterate. Tabata Training is: 20seconds work, 10seconds rest (slow version of 20second movement i.e. slow cycling or nothing at all. Not another exercises) repeated 8 times without rest. No more, no less!

  1. Press-ups
  2. Wide arm press-ups
  3. Close Arm press-ups
  4. Plank/weighted plank
  5. Mountain climbers
  6. Squats
  7. Squat jumps
  8. Box jumps
  9. Inverted row
  10. Cycle sprints
  11. Treadmill sprints
  12. Ergo rower sprints
  13. Swimming sprints
  14. Outdoor sprints around a pitch or athletic track
  15. Punches
  16. Kicks (single leg or alternate)
  17. Knees (single or alternate)
  18. Burpees
  19. Kettlebell swings
  20. Push press
  21. Biceps curls
  22. Triceps dips
  23. Chin-ups
  24. Dips
  25. Stand-up/sit-down
  26. Crunches
  27. Leg raises
  28. Hanging leg raises
  29. Hanging knee raises
  30. Leg ext
  31. Leg curl
  32. Calf raise
  33. Tyre flips
  34. Battle rope exercises
  35. Med ball slams
  36. Walking lunges
  37. Split squats
  38. High knee sprints
  39. Squat thrusts
  40. Single arm DB snatch

The list above is by no means exhaustive. It’s also in no particular order. The point is that with Tabata’s protocol you can (almost) choose any exercise and utilise the 20seconds work, 10seconds rest for 8rounds. The caveat is that you work as hard as you can and you keep going for 8rounds. This will obviously affect the choice of exercise. Press-ups is hard. Chin-ups is really tough (not many people can complete it). If you usually squat 80kg, then trying Tabata with 75kg will be too hard. Trying 40kg will be tough but maybe possible.

It’s about choosing sensible exercises and working hard. I prefer CV style exercises for Tabata Training myself, such as running, cycling or rowing. I find fight drills like pad or bag work good if you work fully for 20seconds. If utilising Tabata for muscle growth (which is apparently what one Hollywood trainer had Henry Caville do for Superman), then ensure a sensible weight selection and try to move from one muscle group to another to allow the previous to rest. For example, Tabata bench press, then Tabata Squats, then Tabata planks, then Tabata bent over row, then Tabata TRX hamstring curls etc. This does work, but there are other more effective programmes to gain muscle/lower bodyfat in my opinion.