Your Guide to the Official Tabata Body Workout
So what exactly is the Tabata Protocol? It’s a scientifically tested four-minute timed-intensity training protocol. It consists of eight sets of 20 seconds of supramaximal work -- what we call overdrive -- followed by 10 seconds of rest and recovery. In other words, you will be taken to your absolute limit for 20 seconds, then rest for 10 seconds. Repeat eight times for a total of only four minutes to get you fitter faster.
The biggest misconception about Tabata training is that to do a Tabata workout you need to do multiple sets of the four-minute protocol. To achieve maximal results, you only need to do one four-minute Tabata protocol in your entire 20-minute workout -- just as in Dr. Tabata’s original study. If you start doing multiple Tabatas in a workout, it’s no longer an official Tabata workout.
In that one four-minute session you need to push through your metabolic barriers and focus on doing it once and doing it right, which means pushing yourself to the limit. The basic principle of Tabata is that the human body is intended to perform powerful, explosive and dynamic movements at high levels of intensity as part of the movement experience. Most individuals have no idea of their movement potential.
Most individuals have no idea of their movement potential.
PJ Stahl, Creator of the Tabata Body Program
The Five Modules of the Tabata Body Workout
The Tabata Body program is a 20-minute workout that uses full-body exercises -- which I specifically selected and created and that are endorsed by Professor Tabata, the creator of the Tabata Protocol -- that raise your heart rate to intensities equivalent to Professor Tabata’s original lab studies. This creates changes in both your aerobic and anaerobic systems and is the key to getting you in the best shape of your life.
Participating in a Tabata Body class can improve your metabolic function, post-workout calorie expenditure (through EPOC), VO2 max and stroke volume. It also increases energy production, muscular endurance and muscle tone and definition. And additional health benefits include improved bone density and joint strength as well as lower risk of heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes through fat loss and weight management.
Each Tabata Body Workout has five different modules: 1. Warm-Up: This module has dynamic movements designed to increase your heart rate, core temperature and flexibility and start warming up the movement patterns your body will need for the workout to come.
Conditioning/Cardio: This module focuses on strength, cardio, stability, plyometrics, corrective and postural exercises that will improve your fitness and help you achieve results more quickly. The goal of this section is to improve and strengthen movement patterns and cardiovascular conditioning while increasing the heart rate to physically prepare you for the Tabata module.
Tabata: Professor Tabata’s 20/10 formula of 20 seconds “on” maximum-intensity training and 10 seconds “off” for recovery is repeated eight times for a total of four minutes. This is where we can elicit anaerobic and aerobic changes along with excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC) that will give you a caloric afterburn to boost your metabolism.
Core: Core strength is essential in every part of the program because the exercises are complex. The purpose of the core module is to strengthen your core when your body is at its highest level of fatigue in order improve muscular endurance and stability.
Cool-Down: Here, you focus on flexibility exercises that will increase joint range of motion and muscular length to help speed recovery. The purpose of this section is to improve overall mobility so that all the movement patterns you’ll utilize in your Tabata training will also advance.
For a sample workout (including exercise demos for all the moves), check out the link in the Resources at the bottom of this article!
Three Tips for Your Best Tabata Workout
Push to Your Max: It’s extremely important that you work to your maximal capacity. Each exercise throughout the program needs to be challenging, and you don’t want to hold back. During the Tabata module, you must push into your “overdrive zone.” Overdrive is when you push yourself to a level of work that is the hardest you can possibly perform. Imagine it like this: When you feel like you can’t do any more and your body wants to stop, you perform one more rep than you think is possible. That’s what it takes to do a true Tabata.
Work at Your Own Level: Tabata is designed for everyone. Start off the workout strong and work at your own intensity level. There are also modifications for all exercises. The best option during the workout is to modify the movements and keep moving rather than taking a rest. Results come when you break through barriers, so keep pushing and keep moving.
Consistency Is Key: The more you do Tabata workouts, the more familiar you will become with the exercises. Your body will also start adapting to higher levels of fitness, which will allow you to increase your workout intensity. Increasing your intensity gives you better results faster.
A 20-Minute Metabolism-Boosting Official Tabata Body Workout
Warm-Up (45 seconds each) Reverse Lunges Plank with Alternate Elbow to Instep Reverse Lunges with Knee Hug Plank with Alternate Elbow to Instep
Cardio (30 seconds each) Lateral Bound Jog/Hit the Deck 3 Vertical Jumps, 3 Air Squats Jog/Hit the Deck Repeat
Rest (90 seconds)
Tabata (20 seconds on, 10 seconds off) Angled Running Man with Windmill Arms Flying Sumo Plank Repeat for 4 rounds
Rest (30 seconds)
Core (30 seconds each) 3 Reach Crunch Hand Plank with Alternating Arm/Leg Raise Repeat for 4 rounds
Cool-Down (45 seconds/side for 90 seconds) Seated Toe-Touch Stretch Seated Rocking Shoulder Stretch Repeat
For exercise demos, check out the link below in Resources.
- Tabata I, Nishimura K, Kouzaki M, et al. "Effects of moderate-intensity endurance and high-intensity intermittent training on anaerobic capacity and VO2max." Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1996 Oct;28(10):1327-30.
- Trapp EG, Chisholm DJ, Freund J, et al. The effects of high-intensity intermittent exercise training on fat loss and fasting insulin levels of young women. Int J Obes (Lond). 2008 Apr;32(4):684-91.
PJ Stahl, MA, CSCS, is the creator of the TABATA™ Transformation System, TABATA BODY program director and a TABATA™ master trainer. He utilizes his 14+ years of experience in the fitness industry, education in kinesiology and national certifications to provide a wide range of services to his clients including elite coaching, motivational speaking, fitness consulting and educational seminars. You can take a TABATA™ class with PJ at Lock Box LA.