People are always looking for new and exciting workouts that can help them lose fat.
And one of the particularly big fitness trends that has taken hold in recent years is short and efficient workouts.
After all, we’re all busy, and most of us want to spend as little time in the gym as possible.
Realistically, there is often a limit to how short your workouts can be – as the over-hyped 7 minute workout demonstrates – but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t short workouts that can be brutally challenging and effective, depending on your fitness goals.
One such potential option are tabata workouts, which have been getting more and more popular lately.
Their main selling point is indeed a pretty good one…
They take just 4 minutes to do, and can supposedly burn as much fat as 60 minutes of regular cardio exercise!
In this article, I’m going to take a good look at this claim, and explore whether or not tabata workouts are all they’re cracked up to be.
Let’s get started.
What Are Tabata Workouts?
The tabata training protocol is named after its creator, Dr. Izumi Tabata, a Japanese doctor specializing in health sciences.
In 2016, Dr. Tabata published a seminal paper reviewing different training approaches, and comparing the effectiveness of traditional cardio with HIIT.
Specifically, the paper looked at how 4 minutes of very intense cardio – alternating between 20 seconds of maximum intensity and 10 seconds of rest – stacked up against 60 minutes of regular, moderately paced cardio.
Interestingly, the study concluded that the short, intense workouts were just as effective at improving aerobic endurance – and that they were actually MORE effective at improving anaerobic conditioning.
So, in many ways, it was the original tabata workout methodology that helped spark the high-intensity workout craze of today, even though many people are only hearing about it now.
What Do Tabata Workouts Look Like?
Since the tabata training protocol is more about intensity than anything else, the workouts themselves can be pretty flexible.
If you are doing tabata workouts as your main form of exercise, then I would recommend focusing on a variety of bodyweight exercises, since this will provide the most comprehensive benefits.
Here are some exercises that you can potentially incorporate into your tabata routines:
- Air Squats
- Mountain Climbers
- Box Jumps
- Jump Rope
However, if you also plan to do separate strength training workouts with free weights, then you may instead want to do your tabata workouts using regular cardio equipment – like an exercise bike, elliptical, or treadmill.
How Effective Are Tabata Workouts
Now this is the question that really matters, right?
Well, even though the principles of tabata and high intensity interval training are certainly sound, there is one problem with the tabata protocol specifically…
That is, traditional tabata workouts are simply far too short to have a major calorie burning impact.
No matter how hard you train, how brutally taxing and efficient your workouts are, there are only so many calories that you are going to burn in 4 minutes.
And since most people are doing tabata workouts to help them lose fat, rather than to build any significant degree of strength or muscle, it is essential that they burn a reasonable number of calories.
Unfortunately, studies have found that each tabata workout typically only burns around 17 calories per minute, which means that you realistically wouldn’t be burning more than 70 calories, give or take, in the entire 4 minute period!
To be fair, any high intensity workout, such as tabata training, will also increase EPOC, accounting for additional, post-exercise caloric expenditure – but even this is fairly minimum in the scheme of things.
The bottom line is that a 4 minute traditional tabata workout sequence isn’t going to be enough to help you shed pounds of fat, at least not without making some modifications.
How I Recommend Approaching Tabata Workouts
So far, we’ve seen that the biggest drawback of tabata workouts is simply that they aren’t long enough at just 4 minutes per session.
This, of course, begs the obvious question: why not just make them longer?
In a sense, this is a good idea, since on a per-minute basis tabata workouts do burn a lot of calories – but this brings up another problem…
Tabata workouts are hard!
And doing them for a longer period than 4 minutes, resting only 10 seconds for every 20 seconds of intense exercise, isn’t a viable option for most people.
You’ll most likely burn out too quickly, without having actually burned enough calories to make it all worth it.
So, before jumping into stacking multiple tabata sessions together in a row, I’d recommend starting out with more traditional HIIT cardio.
That is, doing 20-30 minute HIIT sessions, alternating between 1 minute of low/moderate intensity, and 30 seconds at maximum intensity.
This will be more manageable than doing multiple tabata workouts in a row, while still allowing you to go for long enough that you’ll burn a significant number of total calories.
Then, once you are more used to HIIT training in general, you can start experimenting by making the low intensity periods shorter, and the high intensity periods longer, until they resemble something more like a combo of 5-6 traditional tabata workouts.
More Information About Tabata Workouts
Before I sign off here, I wanted to give you some additional resources about tabata training, if you’d like to explore it further for yourself.
As I mentioned before, tabata workouts are very flexible, so there are literally 100s of potential tabata routines that you can follow or string together as a longer sequence.
On that note, if you’re interested in learning more, my recommendation would be to pick up the Tabata Workout Handbook, which you can order directly from Amazon here for $12.
This book features over 100 different tabata workout sequences, which should be plenty of variety to keep you busy for awhile.
Remember, as with anything else, tabata training doesn’t have to be all-or-nothing, so feel free to experiment and incorporate some elements of tabata into your existing workout plans.
What do you think of tabata workouts? Let us know in the comments below.