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Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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January 15 2009

What Are Tabata Sprints?

By Mark Sisson
126 Comments

As you probably already know, we’re big on sprinting around here for a number of reasons. First of all, sprints most closely emulate the type of activity Grok would have performed. You know – slowly stalking and hunting an animal for hours at a time (the constant, steady movement I prescribe) only to erupt with an intense burst of speed for the final kill (the sprint). Then he’d have to lug the thing back to camp (deadlifts, squats, and other high-intensity weight bearing training). Sprints are great because they are exactly the type of movement that man has been making for hundreds of thousands of years. Why mess with a good thing?

Second, modern science has confirmed that Grok’s mode of exercise is actually the most efficient and effective. The chronic cardio crowd still has plenty of sway (as evidenced by the post-New-Year’s-eve legions of overweight joggers shambling down the streets with pained looks on their faces), but it’s getting difficult to ignore facts. We now know that high-intensity interval sprinting (think Grok stalking and then pouncing, stalking then pouncing) is far more effective at burning fat and maintaining – or even building – lean muscle mass than the moderate jog-ten-miles-a-day training espoused by so many “experts.” And for that, we have one Dr. Izumi Tabata to thank. Actually, I’d like to thank Grok, first and foremost, but Dr. Tabata helped legitimize this particular brand of exercise to a population otherwise skeptical and addicted to chronic cardio.

Tabata’s findings from a 1996 study on moderate and high-intensity interval training helped legitimize a movement – away from chronic cardio and toward high-intensity workouts. He showed that high-intensity intermittent training actually improves both anaerobic (intensity and muscle building) and aerobic (slower, oxygen consuming) body systems, while aerobic exercise only improves aerobic systems. Of course, these findings would come as no surprise to anyone who’s ever done burpees to exhaustion, or followed a CrossFit WOD, or run beach sprints (wink). Many fitness buffs undoubtedly suspected that killing yourself in short bursts of speed was doing something right, but until Tabata’s research, there wasn’t much vocal opposition in the fitness community to the idea that low and slow was the way to go (apologies for that rhyme).

Tabata’s study even spawned a specific training method: the Tabata. Quite simple and effective, a Tabata session consists of twenty seconds of maximum output, followed by ten seconds of rest, repeated eight times without pause for a total of four minutes. Any exercise will work (running, cycling, burpees, jump rope, squats, etc.) Doing Tabata sprints is perhaps the most rewarding – and physically taxing – way to spend those four minutes.

Run as far and as fast as you can for those twenty seconds. Some like running in straight lines to see how far down or how many times around the track they can make it in four minutes. I like to run back and forth, because it gives me the opportunity to map my progress as I go. On the return trip, I try to make it back to the previous starting position. Keep this up, and you’ll be eternally motivated to defeat your best sprints. When I find myself making it back to the starting position each time, I know I’m not going as hard as I can, so I push myself. Be sure to keep track of your time and go hard.

You can technically perform Tabata sprints anywhere: up a hill (for extra kick), on a track, wearing a weight vest (for Primal pros), in the snow (but wear shoes, please), on a trail (watch out for roots and rocks), even on a treadmill (and since you’re timing yourself, this might actually work fairly well – keep in mind, though, that you’ll be flailing and sweating like a madman, so don’t do this in a crowded early-evening gym), but I prefer doing it on the beach. That way, you have the option of running in dry sand (with the bonus – or punishment, some would say – of more give and harder work) or the slightly forgiving wet sand. Whichever you choose, your joints will thank you for not pounding them on hard concrete, and, well, you’re on the beach (isn’t that enough? Sorry, inlanders). There’s also the added bonus (again, some might say punishment) of getting an extra workout from traversing the uneven and varied surfaces on the beach (dunes, dips, inclines, sand castles… kidding).

The best thing about Tabata sprints, in my honest opinion? They only take four minutes to complete. Four minutes. There’s simply no excuse (save injury) not to try them, so drop what you’re doing and get out there and sprint!

I’ll close this post with a video so you know what’s in store for you:

Further Reading:

Did Grok Really Eat that Much Meat?

Would Grok Chow the Cheese Plate?

Didn’t Grok Eat Raw Meat?

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126 thoughts on “What Are Tabata Sprints?”

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  1. Tabata sprints. I like it. Lets also be grateful that the man’s name is Tabata. Who would want to do a Wojciechoski Sprint?

    1. Hey Mark-
      Thanks for this.
      I’m 57, in fair shape, active. Have suffered with chronic depression, off and on, my whole life. Tried a lot of things, some help some, no cures.
      Did some sprints this morning, and I feel better than I have in years. Its un-effing-believable. I’m a convert.

      Thank you so much for this and all the good info you are putting out there.

      Joe

  2. I loved in the first section of the video when the gal just laid down in the middle of the field. I totally know what she feels like!

  3. Ahhh Tabata sprints. There’s nothing like that rewarding feeling of yearning to vomit out your ears when you’re done.

  4. Tabata sprints are probably the best bang for your buck. Period. I like finding the steepest trail and doing them on that or putting the treadmill at 12% grade. These pop up on the CFE site all the time along with other devilishly difficult interval schemes. Check ’em out at http://www.crossfitendurance.com

  5. Sprinting has revolutionized my health and training regimine. I have always absolutely hated jogging (this coming for a competititve 1600, 3000 and 5k runner as a kid). I love sprinting though… it is quick, fun, and SO effective! Thank you Mark.. oh and Mr. Tabata and Grok.

    The SoG

  6. Awesome. Tabata’s are my favorite way to get in a quick workout. Try using the same timing (:20 work, :10 rest) for bodyweight stuff too. Increases your max reps, testosterone boost, qucik strength session… If it’s too hard to make it through a push-up or squat cycle, combine them going back to back for 8 minutes instead of 4. You’ll be amazed at how hard this is!

  7. I don’t like the miniscule length of Tabatas. While I don’t like my workouts o last too long, anything less than 10 minutes does not feel like a good workout. Don’t worry, I always keep my workouts under an hour.

    1. With all do respect, JE, it doesn’t sound like you’ve ever done Tabata’s lol. The is no workout in the world which leaves you feeling more exhausted and physically fulfilled than a Tabata workout.

    2. Spoken like someone who has never ever done a Tabata. If you do it right, you want to puke your guts out come the 7th interval. They are anything but easy. Try them, you’ll see.

      1. Actually have vomited to tabatas twice. Once from sprinting (up to 1050 m in the 4 mins) and once, much to my surprise, in pushups tabatas (but after an hour cross fit type class)

  8. I LOVE the Tabata protocol! I use it for a lot of work outs. My favorite is hitting a tire with a sledge hammer to the Tabata.

    The best piece of equipment I could recommend for Tabata workouts is the GymBoss timer. Just google it. It’s cheap and multifunctional!

  9. I have been doing these for years..even before MDA. It is a great work-out. I often do them on the concept 2 indoor rower.

    Yeah, it is only a 4 minute work-out, but when you do it at full intensity you will be cooked. I have tried to do some exercise after the Tabata and it just is not worth it due to the fatigue.

    Also, be careful of blood pressure drops in the hours that follow the tabata. I have to be careful when going from sitting to standing after the Tabata.

  10. Wow, this is something I would like to try. It’s an interesting concept.

    I was wondering how feasible/healthy is primal consuming only fish (varied types) and shrimp for meat with eggs, dairy and whey powder for main protein sources?

  11. I typically do Sprint 8 on the elliptical, which is 30 seconds all out sprint followed by 1.5 minutes active rest, repeat 8 times, plus warm-up, cool-down makes for an intense 20min cardio workout. I’m not lucky enough to live near a beach, and the nearby park is creepy after nightfall, so I’m forced to do these at the university gym (I’ve actually seen one other person doing something similar, yay!). Since I switched to this from the mundane 45min steady-state cardio, I’ve noticed my body becoming less flabby all-around (Primal diet also helped). I’m looking forward to trying Tabata sprints, especially for those occasions when even 20 minutes on the elliptical seems like too long. Thanks for another informative post!

  12. I recently picked up an app called “Interval Timer” for the iPhone. Works perfectly for tabata routines. I think it was cheap, too – about 99 cents or so.

  13. O.U.C.H. – makes my heart hurt just watching the video clip. Thanks though, so that I know what to expect and don’t think I’m doing it wrong. We’re takin’ this one to the park this weekend, gotta put the hubby through his paces. I’ll bet his hockey game improves.

  14. Mark,
    in terms of fat burning, how does one reconcile Tabata with the rhetoric behind MAF, Phil Maffetone’s approach to getting faster by going slower? Does that ’96 study say you burn more fat by going anaerobic?

    Best is probably a little aerobic and a little Tabata, no?

    Thanks!

  15. I really worry about anyone who says they “love” Tabata sprints.

    Sure, the results are great but 4 minutes of Tabata just might be the worst 4 minutes of your life.

    Just seeing the word “Tabata” in print makes me uneasy.

    I can honestly say I would rather take a punch in the face than do a 4-minute Tabata sprint cycle.

    All that said, if I was going into battle and I had to choose my comrades… I would choose anyone who’s done Tabata sprints as my foot soldiers.

    People who willingly subject themselves to this sort of insanity would be excellent soldiers.

    (People who’ve completed a 20-rep breathing squat program would be my generals).

    1. Actually, there’s a movement within Army and Marine circles to promote more “sustained low-intensity punctuated by extreme high-intensity” workouts, a la Primal, since that is exactly what soldiers actually experience in combat environments — Hours of foot patrol (or vehicle patrol), punctuated by the need to sprint from cover to cover or clear buildings, all while wearing 50-80 pounds of gear.

      I wish I had known about Primal and Crossfit when I was an active duty Infantry soldier a few years ago!! I wouldn’t have done the boring “do some situps and pushups and then run 6 miles” PT routine every morning that most Army platoons fall into.

  16. Interesting. The endurance group started out 10 % better in terms of VO2 max than the interval group. They nearly closed the gap by the end of six weeks (Figure 2) but with only seven subjects in each group I wouldn’t make any conclusions from that.

    mcshow: protein synthesis requires a lot of food energy. Assembling one gram of muscle protein will burn one gram of fat (~9 kcal), so high-load activities can burn a lot more energy afterwards than you would calculate from the amount of work done. That said, lactic acid production has nothing to do with protein synthesis. Personally, I take much longer breaks between sprints than the people in the video.

    P.S. a lot of coeliacs are also intolerant of casein, the primary protein (80 %) in milk. Casein has a lot of structural similarities to gluten. It’s not just lactose that’s a problem.

  17. A mean set of 8 rounds of Tabata sprints followed by Tabata pull-ups. Hell on earth!

    Elite sprinters take 10-20 minute breaks between all out sprints.

    Robert – pigs have structural similarities to man, that doesn’t mean that people are a problem, nor are pigs. Everyone is different in what they can or can’t handle.

  18. I like to do tabata sprints two times week. I do three complete sets of 8, with a 3 minute break in between sets. Lasts 20 minutes overall..

    Such an intense workout. How does everyone else structure there interval training?

  19. Zen Fritta:
    Robert – pigs have structural similarities to man, that doesn’t mean that people are a problem, nor are pigs. Everyone is different in what they can or can’t handle.

    Huh? Where did I mention pigs?

  20. Zen Fritta:

    It occurs to you that you may be remarking on my point that gluten and casein protein are structurally similar. Fortunately, there is research on this subject. See:


    G. Kristjansson et al., “Mucosal reactivity to cow’s milk protein in coeliac disease.”

    Kristjansson gave coeliacs casein and lactalbumin enemas and measured their inflammation response. 10 of 20 coeliacs had a statistically significant reaction and only 3 of 20 had no reaction. If you have access to read the paper take a look at Figure 2 and you’ll see that only about half of the controls had no reaction to casein.

    One of fifteen controls had a statistically significant inflammation response. In fact only about half of the controls had no measured adverse reaction to the cow’s milk protein enema.

    The same author also showed a correlation between corn gluten intolerance and coeliac disease.

  21. How would you structure a weekly sprint workout if you want to do both Tabata sprints and on other occasions regular sprints with full recovery between reps? Alternate weeks or do cycles of several weeks Tabata followed by several weeks of regular? Does it matter or should I just mix it up?

    Also, I like the idea of Tabata Burpees for travel workouts. No equipment needed. Can do it just about anywhere including a hotel room.

  22. Tabata burpees are killer, maybe even harder than an actual sprint. For me, the key to doing Tabata burpees is to leave out the pushup portion, which just slows down how fast you’re moving the much larger leg muscles. The key, instead, is to jump back and forth with your legs as quickly as possible — I aim for 12 burpees per 20-seconds, for a total of 96 burpees in 2:40 (the amount of time you spend “sprinting” in the Tabata workout).

  23. Hey Mark. I’ve been doing a similar exercise this month called bodyweight soccer sprints. It’s similar to this but involves bodyweight exercises too and generally takes me around 20 to 30 minutes to complete. I’ve got to agree with Dr Tabata though. This type of training is seriously intense and I did notice the same kind of muscle soreness that I get from a good lifting session. They seem to be building muscle even. I’ve only been doing them for a couple of weeks so time will tell.

  24. I need to find time (excuse here) to get some of these in addition to my normal weight workout. The problem is my legs are usually fried after squats and deadlifts, so I need to do them on another day. And find a location where I can sprint. Maybe I can try the some intervals other than sprints.

    SoG: Spies Like Us…Love it.

    Joe

  25. I think Tabata’s are a very poor choice, and this video only helps to show why: After one of two all-out sprints, you are too gases to achieve anything close to beneficial maximal output for the remaining sprints. Why this isn’t crystal clear obvious to everyone is puzzling to me. Other studies I’ve seen on intervals get it right, such as the study showing a 10-12 second all-out maximal output effort, followed by 2-4 mins of rest, then repeat 3-4 more times. Done. A total of 40-50 seconds maximum output. But, the key is that the rest is long enough to allow you to TRULY ACHIEVE a maximal, high-wattage (power measurement) effort. On a bike, for example, I maintain 800+ watts for 10 seconds, and by that time my thighs are so filled with lactic acid it’s impossible to continue. Not to mention I’m gasping for air.

    Running for 30 seconds doesn’t push us to our true limit. Duration is the enemy of intensity. At true maximal wattage, we can only go at most 10-12 seconds. And then we need at least 2 mins to recover, otherwise our next sprint will be less than truly maximal, and therefore less that fully beneficial.

    With the super short rest periods of Tabata’s, it comes off looking more like a fast run than real sprints. I would never recommend this training technique.

    1. Here’s my thoughts. You’re right that by the 3rd or 4th interval, you’re just going to be spent and not be able to max out the next sprint. But I think it’s all a question of adaptation. You cannot just start doing 8 intervals from the get go; your body and lungs are not used to it. But both can adapt in time. Check out this link: http://www.tabataprotocol.com/ . The author explains how you need to start slowly, like doing 2 intervals your first time and slowly building up, as your body and lungs adapt.

      Not gonna comment on whether the Tabata 20 on, 10 off routine is better than other interval routine timing, I just have no way of knowing. But I am certain about the body and lungs needing to adapt by becoming stronger over time.

      That said, with respect to sprinting (which is pretty effing tough to do for 20 seconds), you need to simply start slowly and gradually build up to 8 intervals. I mean, personally, I would start off doing 2 intervals for 3x week for 2 weeks before I added a third interval and not add a fourth until I’m able to go still go full speed on the third.

    2. Other studies I’ve seen on intervals get it right, such as the study showing a 10-12 second all-out maximal output effort, followed by 2-4 mins of rest, then repeat 3-4 more times. Done

      what studies? I think your right about this, if u think about it, it’s just common sense

    3. As i would never take advice from someone who clearly didnt read the results of the study.

  26. Scott – The point of Tabata sprints is to accomplish exactly what you seem to be against. The first couple sprints put you in oxygen deprivation. The next 6 or 7 keep you there. This form of high intensity training is great for anaerobic body systems, as the article explains.

    Also, Tabata sprints don’t have to be the only type of HIIT you do. You list some great examples of other versions of sprints one can do. It’s good to mix it up from time to time.

  27. Scott – What P. Singh said. If you’re interested in how and why Tabata intervals work, check out this link to the Abstract from the original study: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/sites/entrez

    The bottom line is you can’t argue with the results he got in training the anaerobic and aerobic systems. 28% increase in anaerobic and 14% in aerobic capacities in 6 weeks, exercising 5 times a week among trained olympic athletes (speed skaters)!!!

  28. P. Singh, and what exactly is the benefit of oxygen deprivation?

    And, why not just run as hard as you can for several minutes? What is the exact purpose of those 10-second rests? These rests are too short to be of any benefit, because by the third and fourth so-called sprint, the person is running at a significantly reduced pace. Again, it comes off like a fast-as-you-can-go run for a few minutes, slowing down significant quite soon after starting.

  29. Scott –

    As Pete said, read the study or contact Dr. Tabata.

    Maybe there is no huge difference between the 10 sec. rest version and running as hard as you can for a few minutes. But I’d be inclined to say that running as hard as you can for a few minutes is great for you, too. Apparently the tabata protocol shows that there is some benefit to the breaks. But I agree, toward the middle of either version I’m pretty much spent. I’m not sure though that this means it isn’t doing any good.

  30. Pete, that link doesn’t work — on Pubmed you need to reference the study’s reference #.

    And honestly, those results do not sound particularly impressive. Most athletes train in such a way that they are leaving a room for improvement on the table. Most over-train, for example, and most do not train with enough intensity–instead opting for duration, which strengthens the slow-twitch fibers versus the more desirable fast-twitch.

    The problem with the Tabata method — until I see supporting data that change’s my guess — is that it is in the muddy middle between a truly intense form of training, and a duration mode of training.

  31. “There’s simply no excuse (save injury) not to try them”

    Or pregnancy. Pregnant women shouldn’t raise their heartbeat above 140, for any period of time. And, I imagine that such a hard-and-fast approach will push some heartrates higher, particularly those who have never done such sprints before.

    So, preggo women, stick with endurance! Besides, we need ome endurance training for the extreme labor hours anyway…

  32. Scott —

    Tabata himself has reportedly said that “the rate of increase in VO2max is one of the highest ever reported in exercise science.” Do you have evidence of greater VO2max gains from some other regimen that was followed for 6 weeks?

    As for doing sprints with greater rest intervals, I’m sure that this would be better if the goal was overall sprinting speed. But it wouldn’t be as good for taxing your anaerobic and aerobic systems simultaneously: Tabata himself found that in a second study that compared the 20-on-10-off system with a group that did 30 second sprints with 2 minutes rest. See here.

    Why does the Tabata system work? No one can literally sprint at top speed for four minutes straight. The ten-second rest periods are to give you just enough of a breather that you can run the next segment as fast as possible (granted, it won’t be as fast as if you rested for 3 minutes, but it WILL be faster than if you tried to run for 4 minutes straight . . . that’s the point). So by the end of 4 minutes, you’ve spent the majority of the time running as fast as you can (under the circumstances) with very little rest. As for whether it taxes your anaerobic and aerobic systems as Tabata found, if you’ve done it right, then you’ll be out of breath for the next 10-15 minutes, just trying to gasp for more oxygen.

    Give it a shot, and see what you think.

  33. Yeah, doing these with pushups are great too!

    sometimes I get a client who says they dont have time to workout … I use this method

    -r-

  34. (giggle!) The Wojciechoski Sprint would probably have us twisting our bodies in figures of 8 while doing cartwheels at the same time!!

  35. Does doing interval training on a stationary bike help? I’m only asking because it is a non – weight bearing exercise. Of course I dont mean to replace actual sprints with the bike. Its just that I have one lying around the house so I plan to use it…I did some this morning and it did jack up my heart rate a lot.

  36. Scott is right and his concerns are valid. The idea of Tabata sprints is to perform sprints (or skipping or whatever) at near maximum intensity followed by brief periods of rest. However, at only 10 seconds, the recovery periods are too short to allow you to recover enough to do the following sprints as fast. This means that the first few sprints you do will be at or near your max speeds, but the middle and final sprints will be much slower.

    Despite this, I think they are still a great tool for increasing anaerobic capacity. Since it is only 4 minutes, they are good for getting good results within a short time frame, and a great alternative for days when I don’t have much time to work out. However, I’ll still use regular High Intensity Interval Training (with longer recovery periods).

  37. I am so very happy with the tabata method. My times for distance/endruance are down by 1/2 a minute (after adding tabata)

    I also am a bit of a techie and made some of my mp3s into tabata interval tracks by using audacity and adding the tones at the proper intervals.

    I love that tabata makes me KNOW that I worked so hard that I want to throw up. Very Very Motivating.

    Tiff

    1. I’m very interested in modifying my mp3’s to accommodate Tabata training… can you provide more information on how to do it? 🙂 It would definitely make it easier to time the intervals!!! 🙂 If willing to share some tips, my email is wylandfn1992@gmail.com

      Thanks!
      RG

  38. It seems like a modern version of Fartlex training, which involves random alternates of fast and slow paces in a run.

  39. Tiffany,

    I’ve always found trying to time my intervals a little annoying so programming your mp3s into Tabatha intervals is a great idea. How do you do it?

  40. I’m stoked to try this. Just got new trail running shoes and a watch. Six pack abs here I come!

  41. I did 6 X 20 second sprints on the way to work today – just parked the bike and did them on a local trail then continued on my way to work. I felt completely cooked all day – like I had done the 3-hour Sunday morning hammer-fest with the local cyclists before work! Only this workout took less than 4 minutes.
    Great workout .

  42. You can find a Tabata Timer for your iPhone or iPod Touch at http://www.katr.com/iphone.php#tabata. It has visual as well as auditory cues so that you can watch or listen for your activity and rest periods. If you are listening to music on your device, the sound cues will overlay your music.

  43. Maybe this is old, but with the website I can’t tell. It occurs to me that these (tabata) are nothing but “wind sprints” or “train tracks” that we all did in high school football, soccer, and hockey! What is old is new again, we reinvented the wheel. I guess the lesson here is that if you want to be in shape, you need to suck it up and be ready to puke, like it used to be in two a days!

    1. I am a college rugby player. I agree that these don’t sound any more beneficial than “sprint the straights, jog the corners” or “sprint for as long as possible and then jog until you get your breath back and then repeat for a certain amount of time.” In fact, when I read that Tabata sprints are beneficial with 8 minutes of training, I get real skeptical. I need 80 minutes of sprint endurance for rugby. Am I really going to see an improved capacity to perform 80 minutes of sprints from an eight minute sprint workout?

      1. If you are a rugby player train for rugby. Most of these guys on here are just average Joes that do not need to specifically train for any sport. They train just for overall health and look.

      2. Short answer : Yes.

        Longer answer : Your endurance in rugby depends on a ) your physical capacity, b) your capacity for recovery, c) your efficiency in movement.

        You can train physical capacity easily with Tabata sprints. With more intense training, doing HIIT up to 20 minutes and similar work capacity trainig will help recovery.

        The only thing short sessions dont train that well is your efficiency in running. THis usually makes of breaks endurance athletes, of which you are NOT one of. So I would argue that short High Intensity Training will actually be very beneficial for you. That is because you have far more than enough aerobic trainig during your normal technical workouts in rugby.

  44. True, this are a more structured version of wind sprints…hated those too. I did Tabata sprints last night for the first time and “loved” it. I’ll keep doing it, probably rotating Tabata runs, rowing, and cycling. I’m trying to keep it low impact as possible, so rowing and cycling helps. Pros seem to be a quick, intense, efficient workout. Cons are risk of injury, high impact, possibly death by heart attack 🙂

  45. love ac/dc but that music was painful to have to listen to during the vid.

    am very intrigued. i think i might have to try this.

  46. Hi, Mark. I have a question (know this is old, but I JUST discovered your site: it’s great!)– Back when I was bodybuilding in the late 90s, the idea of sprinting similar to this had just “come into fashion,” and I did it with some success at the time. Being a Mike Mentzer devotee (short duration, high intensity training), this is really appealing to me, as I get back into shape. My question is: I used to do 30second/30second sprints. How effective do you think they were/are vs the tabata? Also, how much warmup/cooldown should I do (only used to do 2min each)? I’m finding multiple sources on the internet with multiple answers. Appreciate the advice.

  47. Started tabata this morning. I thought my heart was gonna explode! Any thoughts on easing into this? Maybe the old 30:30 sprints I used to do? Haven’t been doing cardio. I’m a trucker, and I’ve lost 90 lbs in last year but have plateaued (sp?) in last 3 months. I’ve been doing resistance training, using TNT cables and isometrics 4x weekly. Thanks for any advice!

  48. You do a disservice to the protocol. The research was done at 170 VO2max. Doing 20/10 is fine but it isn’t Tabata unless you are well over 100% VO2max.

  49. If I remember the original study, it compared shorter and longer duration sprints – something like 6 seconds and 20 seconds, and the rise in HGH was measured and found to be superior in the longer sprints. However, I have never seen any studies pushing that even further – say one all-out sprint of as long as possible (perhaps 40 seconds to a minute). Has anyone come across any relevant research on that?

    1. I’ve never seen actual documentation of it. However, as I think I’ve stated, the ONLY time I’ve ever been ripped up in my life, and I started bodybuilding at 16, was in my early 20s, and I did 30:30’s. I gained some 16 pounds of muscle in 6 weeks on a 1250 calorie diet at the time. So, my personal anecdotal evidence would seem to confirm what you’re saying. But that’s speculative.

      1. “I gained some 16 pounds of muscle in 6 weeks on a 1250 calorie diet at the time.”

        I’m sorry, but I just don’t believe you. I honestly don’t think that’s possible. 1250 calories / day is not enough to maintain an exercising adult, let alone put on any weight. Fat can’t be converted into muscle, muscle’s got to be produced from food, so even if you were burning through your body fat to sustain you energetically I’m pretty sure you’d be so far into keto there’s no way you could continue to put on muscle without serious amounts of anabolic steroids.

        All this is, of course, moot, if you’re a 4ft tall woman on roids. In which case I apologise for my insensitivity.

  50. This stuff kills you! In a good way. I do it with a jump rope as it’s too cold outside right now here in Dutchieland, but it still takes a couple of minutes to get your breath back afterwards!

  51. So, I tried Tabata Sprints for the first time yesterday – good lord, the pain!

    I feel like I performed very well, as I was doing the back-and-forth approach to gauge my performance on running back to where I started

    But afterward I felt like my eardrums wanted to burst, and that my teeth were being pulled out of my gums.

    My jaw felt sore, and I could’t take full, deep, breathes until about 10 minutes after I was done.

    I’m ok now, but just curious if this sort of sensation is normal.

    I’ve been doing Primal for a good 5-6 months now, and love it, but I’ve hit a plateau with my physique.

    I’m in good shape, but I want to be more cut up, so I’m thinking of upping my sprints to 2-3 times a week – so this felt like the optimal way to do it.

    I’ve also no incorporated the heavy lifting into my lifestyle yet – but I do spent a lot of time training Muay Thai and conditioning for that. Which is whyI find it hard to find more time.

    Perhaps my not lifting heavy weights it contributing to this plateau as well?

    Any advice would be greatly appreciated!

    Thanks!

  52. It is also noteworthy that Tabata compared 30s 200% VO2 max intervals (IE2) with 2 min rest with ‘Tabata’ 20/10 170% VO2 max intervals(IE1).

    http://static.scribd.com/docs/i5jot8izlddl8.pdf

    Money quote:
    ” … neither the anaerobic nor aerobic systems seemed to be fully stressed during IE2. Therefore, for the purpose of improving both the anaerobic and aerobic energy releasing systems, IE1 seems superior to IE2.”

    My personal experience, as a 45 yr old currently reforming fatty who switched from 4X jogging/wk to 2X sprints:

    -Tabata is really just an ideal at this point. 20 seconds full intensity, sheesh, I do around 100m back and forth and sprint for perhaps 5s on each one.

    -more of a fartlek, running walking sprinting, depending on how it feels. I end up more sore and yet more invigorated. Instead of a distance goal, I try to focus on keeping up the oxygen debt and going 100% out on the sprints.

    -Starting to hate dogs. Many dog owners don’t seem to realize or care how dangerous and distracting it is to have a mutt nipping at my heels when I’m trying to sprint at top speed. I’ve had plenty of dogs and know they love to chase things but I don’t appreciate a workout damaged by a dog chasing me.

    -I ran 200m and 400m in high school and consider myself more of a natural sprinter than distance runner. But I’d decided those days were long gone. Now I look forward to doing sprints as opposed to hitting some distance/week.

  53. Just tried Tabata intervals last week. Wow.

    I’m in pretty good shape, having bicycled pretty regularly for the last 10 years or so, and having run the stairs in my workplace (18 floors x 5 times) once or twice a week for the last couple of years. But this is something else.

    Tabatas are amazing. So much effort, for such a short time. I do one set of eight, followed by a set of 8 bicycle crunches. I feel great the rest of the day! I don’t know if the routine is going to help my bike riding, but who cares — this is so clearly a great workout.

  54. I wanted to start doing some Tabata sprints, but I thought it’d be hard to count 20 seconds while I was running as hard as I could.

    So now there’s an app for that:

    http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/tabata-sprinter/id368426933?mt=8

    It plays a panther noise to tell you to start running (hopefully telling your instincts that you need some extra adrenaline for a bit); then, it plays a whistle to tell you it’s time to rest.

    You can configure how many sets, and how long the sprint & rest durations are.

    Try it out and let me know if you like it!

  55. I dont think anybody is going to beat the Kenyan runners doing Tabata workouts. Or Michael Phelps.

  56. Here is some great advice for you guys trying to lean up or get “cut.” You do it with your DIET! These sprints are great for your overall health, but do very little for fat loss. Exercise in general does very little to nothing for fat loss. Think of exercise as a way to a healthier and more athletic look.

    Fat loss boils down to one thing. Calories in and calories burned. Don’t believe me? There are plenty of real life examples of bed ridden people who have lost many pounds and cannot even move! Now let’s do the math. 3500 cals = 1 pound of fat. These sprints will burn maybe 300-500 cals. If you hit the max 500 cals, you will have to do them 7 days a week to just burn off 1 pound of fat. It’s much easier to lower your per day calories 250-500 a day. That would be roughly 1 less serving of rice or potatoes a day! Our ulture just simply eats too much. I am “leaning” down and avg 1500 cals a day. My energy is fine and my strength is fine all the while I am still putting on muscle. Educate yourself on how many calories you are shoving down the ole pie hole everyday. Soon you will have a very good idea range of how many calories you are consuming a day without much thought to it. If you want no bull$hit advice on leaning down and looking good take a look at Adonis Lifestyle on Facebook.

    1. So if I eat 2500 calories a day to maintain my weight (no weight ganed over a long period of time) and then continue to eat 2500 calories a day but start doing workouts that burn 500 calories I won’t lose weight?

      Such nonsense.

    2. Feeding the troll here, I guess…

      Clearly you haven’t read any of the rest of this website, which contends that in fact there is more to weight loss (and far more importantly, being healthy) than calories in vs. calories out. Yes, you can lose weight that way- it’s called starvation (in its most literal definition) and it’s not pleasant. I’m inclined to agree that cal in vs cal out is a vast over-simplification; thermic effects and the incredibly complex homeostatic workings of the body can render that logic completely inaccurate. For example, coal has many, many calories in it, but you couldn’t live off it and would probably starve trying to do so.

      Tabatas are, it has been empirically shown, an excellent way of increasing CV fitness and endurance. That’s what this blog post is for- nothing more, nothing less.

  57. I’ve been doing Tabatas for over a year and now I start every workout with 10-12 minutes of Tabatas either on a row machine, Precor AMT, or gym cycle. I reaching the big 4-0 so those give me a good quick low-impact cardio start-up, then I do weights and end with about 20 minutes of low-intensity cardio. I lost 30 lbs last year, and have kept it off. Diet of course is key, but if you also want good cardio, strength, flexibility (yoga once a week), diet alone won’t get you there. As someone said earlier, Tabatas or any type of HIIT gives the best bang for the buck, especially if you hate long-distance running like me and don’t have tons of time to spend working out. Diet wise the best plan I’ve seen is “Eat to Live” by Dr. Joel Fuhrman. So that’s what has worked for me, and still works.

  58. I have had great success with Tabatas! I really appreciate the increased explosiveness they have given me when sprinting.

  59. I’ve been eating (mostly) primally for the last 6 months. I’ve recently introduced Intermittent Fasting and occasional bodyweight exercises. I would like to introduce sprinting as well, and Tabata sprints look quite efficient (which I need with my schedule). Would you recommend a day of rest between these or could they be done daily?

    1. I am by no means an expert, but I think most advocates of high intensity interval training (HIIT) regimes like Tabatas suggest no more than twice a week. You need to allow your body to recover between training sessions.

  60. I’m looking for a Tabata workout that can be done indoors…something like squats, like Mark says on Primal Blueprint Fitness e-book (p.71 for detail’s sake).

    …so I basically do the full-squats as fast as I can for 20 seconds, rest for 10 seconds, repeat 8 times? Kind of worried that doing fast-forward-motion squats wouldn’t be so joint-friendly…?
    Any idea how to do proper ‘in-door’ Tabata routines?

    Thanks Groks:)

    P.S. I avoid traditional running because of feet problems (over-pronation, apparently)…honestly I think those insoles prescribed by the foot doctors only made my life worse.

    I’d love to do pool-sprints/pool workouts to reduce strain on joints, but no pool near me…or beach for that matter :/

  61. Hi Mark,
    Does sprinting make your thighs bulk up?
    I have a lot of fat on my outer thighs (I’m 5’6 and 120 lbs) and despite exercising twice a week am unable to get rid of it. Do you recommend sprinting?

  62. The rate that Tabatas increases aerobic fitness was one of the highest to be reported. Just 4 minutes per session produces amazing results

  63. Nitpick:

    You say Grog would’ve exercised in the Tabata way, and also that Tabatas burn more fat than long cardio.

    Wouldn’t Grog have wanted body fat? I know he’s just a rhetorical device, but still, it seemed like a disconnect in the argument.

    (Full disclosure: I love me some Tabata sprints, even though I’m not a sufficient sample size to know if they’re better for fat loss).

  64. I wrote a new Android app for timing your Tabata sprints, called Tabata Sprinter.

    https://market.android.com/details?id=com.vikinghammer.tabata

    It costs 99 cents, and lets you specify the length of the sprint/rest intervals, as well as the number of sprints. It plays sounds to tell you when to start and stop.

    And it lets you sign up for a web service that stores each sprint when you finish it: it records the sprint/rest duration, the number of sprints, and the time at which you finished.

    I hope you like it!

  65. I have never heard of this method prior to reading this but I have incorporated interval training into my workouts, typically doing 1 minute as hard as possible on the treadmill followed by 1 minute at around an 11 minute pace.

  66. Just started doing this. Pushing myself just to the brink of failure. Not pushing past it though. However I’m having troubles with them due to the fact that a little while after doing them I get a headache and feel like vomiting.(much like basic military training where you force run and throwup). Any advice Mark?

  67. I found an app in the iTunes app store called “Tabata Timer”, which has a very clean interface for timing your Tabata intervals. As I write this, they’re giving it away for free. I used it for my sprint workout today and found it really helpful. If anyone wants to check it out it’s located here:

    http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/tabata-timer/id391275156?mt=8

    p.s. I’m not the developer of this app, I just wanted to share with everyone, haha

    1. Just did some tabata last night. First time, got 5 full out sprints before, what i can only imagine death to feel like, type pain consumed me.

      I’d consider myself very fit, and this is a tough workout.

      It’s gonna be tabata tuesdays from here on out with 2 HIITs scattered b/t the week and 2 longer steady staters for my cardio progression.

  68. I LOVE these! I usually do a couple of cycles on a stationary bike, uphill & downhill 🙂 shortest, most effective workout ever! Got to try this in the park…

  69. I have been doing Tabata Sprints one day a week and the “Big 5 Workout” from Body By Science once a week for about four months now. I’m 43 and am in the best shape I have been in since I was 30.

  70. I did this for the first time today, except not with straight line sprints. I did it in my house with a combo of knees to the chest jumps (after 3 sets, I couldn’t jump anymore), and then just running in place with high knees. The key is to go FULL intensity on whatever exercise you choose. I was dead by the end, and Im pretty sure my heart rate was up for like 10 mins even after I finished. It’s now 30 mins after I finished and I still feel my body hasn’t quite settled down, so it totally makes sense these burn as much as running for 20 mins.

    I’m definitely incorporating these in 2 days a week going forward. Will also be nice to cut down on my gym time during the week.

  71. Do these on the eliptical with the level turned to max. I can make just over five minutes before my legs say “enough of this madness!”

    Now I know what people mean when they say you can build muscle on an eliptical.

  72. Hi
    I Was looking for the Video and I think the high intensity part is to slow, in my opinion this training is really good when the running part is high and not like showing on the video, it looks like it’s a normal running, any way i use to do it on the treadmill but 1 minute running high intensity and 30 seconds walking.

  73. A friend of mine who is in his sixties and very fit invented this fitness routine: every day he runs up and down the stairs 20 times at maximum manageable speed, which takes about 4-5 minutes, obviously depending on your stairs, your fitness level etc.

    I’m not sure whether he started this before this research was publicised in the media here (in the UK) or since, but I think it has a similar benefit.

    I don’t do it as religiously as he does, every single day (he has increased the runs from 20 by now as well), but when I have done it, I felt completely ‘spent’ afterwards but also very alive and invigorated, like after a proper workout.

    This could be adapted with short breaks to fit the Tabata rules more closely. Stairs are a great and handy way to tire yourself out without having to leave the house!

  74. can you do tabata sprints with a skipping rope (in case it is raining outside and you cannot go for actual sprints)

  75. I love the concept of a Tabata workout, but is 4 min of exercise enough?

    I am a FT working mom of 4 kids living a mostly primal lifestyle. Since my twins were born 2 years ago, I have been suffering from chronic sleep deprivation. I’m lucky to get 6 hours of sleep each night. As such, my stress is high, my cortisol levels are high and needless to say, I struggle with my weight. I love working out, but time has always been my hurdle and I struggle with what is better for my body, the extra hour or sleep, or getting up to work out (really the only time of day I could).

    But – that is with the mentality of I need to work out for at least an hour to make it meaningful. If 4 min of Tabata training will kick my body into gear, then its worth it. I’d love to hear your thoughts (and readers) on how to balance sleep deprivation and work outs and some recommendations for work out routines that could be the most effective for me.

    Thanks!

  76. Shannon,

    Just do it! At 4 minutes, what do you have to lose! I do high intensity intervals a couple of times a week (on a spin bike I bought used from a fitness equipment store) and definitely notice the difference. The recovery times between sprints get shorter, and your legs don’t feel nearly as rubbery after you have been doing it a while. I saw a longitudinal study of 27 other studies with varying types of intervals, and the results were all over the map. That is, they were consistent, but varied a lot from protocol to protocol. Examples included 30 seconds on and 1 minute off, or 20 seconds on and 20 seconds off. You get the idea. In all cases, oxygen uptake was improved insulin sensitivity increased, blood pressure was reduced and resting pulses were slower. So do Tabata if you want, but the real key is intervals. Hard as you can, followed by a short rest. My interval workout takes about 15 minutes. 30 seconds as hard as I can, and then rest until my heartbeat slows a bit, usually about 45-60 seconds. Ten times. I do that 1x-2x per week. Plus weights 15 minutes, hard, 1x-2x per week. For weight control, there’s nothing better than intermittent fasting. I skip at least one meal a day 5-6 days a week. I weigh myself in the am, and adjust my eating accordingly.

  77. I read somewhere that Tabata was the ‘greatest fat burning workout ever’. I had my doubts, but decided to try it. I started looking for Tabata-style workouts and came across a great audio workout on iTunes. It has a personal trainer pushing you through an entire Tabata routine, along with driving Tabata music, and start/stop cues. It doesn’t require any equipment but it seriously kicks my butt every time: http://bit.ly/TabataCoach_iTunes

  78. This is a great workout, and certainly has all the benefits mentioned, but it’s miss-named. Sprinting for the entire duration of the workout is impossible (only top level athletes can sprint for a full 20 seconds after full recovery). The correct name would be Tabata Runs.

    Btw, I now see the name Tabata show up in various globo gym classes and done for 12, 18 or 20 minutes. By definition this cannot be true.

  79. Tabatas are amazing. For my clients and people newer to fitness I like to start them off slow with a lower intensity exercise like body weight squats or even jumping jacks just to get them used to the style of training.
    From there we can progress to push-ups, burpees and then into sprints. This type of workout can always be customized and altered for any age or fitness level which makes it a great go to

  80. I’m just starting the Blueprint, but I have a question…. I have about 45lbs to lose. I used to be a triathlete, up until 8yrs ago when an accident destroyed my right knee. I have had a total of three (3) knee replacements in order to help me walk again and correctly so running and “sprinting” are out of the question.

    I am however, still riding my bike and swim on a daily basis. So, as far as the running and “sprinting” thing would riding instead of running be okay? And if I do sprint intervals on my bike would it accomplish the same thing?

    Thanks 🙂
    BarbiAnne

  81. I have a few questions on sprinting. It’s really one question: am I doing it right?

    At least one day every week, and generally only one day a week, I sprint. However, my interval training generally comes in two forms.

    1) When the weather is nice, I sprint up the big hill at work. It may be 75 yards, give or take. Then I walk back down the hill. I repeat this 8 times. I’ve never timed each interval but it takes roughly 24 minutes to complete the workout. I estimate I am sprinting for 20 seconds or less and walking for 2-3 minutes.

    2) When the weather is bad, I spring up the stairs of my building. I start at the bottom and sprint up one flight, then walk back down. Then I sprint up two flights and walk back down. I continue working my way up to 5 flights then back down one at a time. My total is 15 flights and I often add a few at the end if I have any energy left. This whole workout probably lasts 20-25 minutes.

    My question is that I’m sprinting for the same amount as Tabata (or more when I sprint the stairs) but I’m resting way longer. Is this as effective? Should I stay strictly Tabata? I mean I feel like I’m achieving the same benefit but didn’t see anyone in the comments discuss it.

    Side note: I participate in a weight-lifting class twice a week that often incorporates tabata weight-lifting at least one day a week. However, that class lasts 45 minutes and the tabata encompasses multiple muscle groups with breaks in between.

    Thanks for your advice.

  82. Tabata may have refined it, but the Swedes came up with “fartlek” (speed play) back in 1937 to help their cross-county team who was always getting beat by the Finns. Fartlek is a kind of interval training in which you jog then sprint all out then jog, maybe do some intermediate running then sprint all out again and so forth.

  83. Tabata training is very excellent, but that doesn’t mean that humans were not specifically evolved for endurance running. Strength training is also very good, but humans are not evolved for strength. Why do you think you have to train strength so much to maintain it? Muscles will not hypertrophy in a human in any way without hard, heavy resistance training, i.e. the body won’t do it unless absolutely forced. But the ability to run distance is something fairly natural that all humans have. Even the fastest humans in the world who would be lousy endurance athletes are still stellar endurance athletes in comparison to most non-human animals.

    If humans were actually evolved for sprinting, we’d be able to run up to speeds of around 30 mph with ease, maybe 40, and maintain it for twice as long as the average person can. We’d have no need for having so many slow-twitch muscle fibers, so many sweat glands, and such short body hair.

    1. This is a terrible comment. Endurance running, just like strength training, has to be TRAINED. Most humans who have sat on the couch for a year can’t just get up and crank out 3+ miles, especially not at reasonable times.

      Endurance running (what I would actually consider ~7+ miles) has to be trained, just like strength training.

      The heart is a muscle… albeit very good at adapting, but still a muscle… it has to be trained like all the other muscles.

      1. Endurance running does not have to be trained in humans except in terms of the cardiovascular system. Otherwise, all humans possess a natural level of distance running ability that no other animal has. No other animal has the level of slow-twitch muscle fibers, sweat glands, along with short body hair, that humans have. The only thing that has to be trained is the cardiovascular system and that is only for humans that do not live in the manner in which we were evolved to, which meant regular distance running. Any animal, no matter how evolved they are too do a particular activity, can see it atrophy if they just sit around doing nothing.

        The human body has a fantastic natural ability to develop distance running to very high levels that no other animal has. The human body cannot however develop the ability to sprint to anything approaching what other animals can easily do. This is also likely why humans can get fat so easily. We see the same problem with horse breeds that are designed for distance movement. They are thin and must be run constantly and not overfed or they get fat easily.

        Some animals are naturally muscular. Their bodies would have to be put into a form of shock training in order to get them to lose their muscle and slim down. For example, gorillas are extremely muscular. They “look” like they do working out all day, but yet really all they do all day is lay around eating leaves and lay around not eating leaves. Their workout consists of the odd one-arm pullup into a tree. They are not a distance runner. Chimpanzees are similar.

        1. Strength training does not have to be trained in humans except in terms of the muscular system. 😉

          Endurance running still needs to be trained, you said so yourself.

          Humans vary in how ‘naturally muscular’ we are. I’ve met quite a few people who are naturally muscular and very easily put it on when they want and who absolutely suck at endurance running and would have an extremely difficult time running 20+ miles.

          Point still stands that endurance running doesn’t come natural and has to be trained. If it came natural, as in your gorilla example, we could do it even by ‘laying around eating leaves all day’ and we cannot.

          What you’re trying to say is that we have a predisposition for endurance running… and even that is arguable.

        2. Strength training has to be trained in that humans do not have a natural predisposition for strength. Our bodies are very weak and fragile in comparison to other animals. To the extent that we can build strength, it is only really impressive by human standards. The difference between endurance running and strength training is that all humans, even if lazy, have the anatomy for what is by the animal kingdom, world-class endurance running capability. But no human has by animal kingdom standards either world-class strength or sprinting capability. We instead are incredibly sub-par.

          You are right that there are naturally muscular people, but those people are still excellent endurance runners by the standards of the animal kingdom. They just would be lousy by the standards of humans.

          Within the human population, yes some people are excellent for endurance while some better for raw strength and explosive movements, having more fast-twitch muscle fibers. But by animal kingdom standards, even Usain Bolt is still a world-class endurance runner. Gorillas can lay around and eat leaves all day and still be very muscular because that is the lifestyle they were evolved for. Humans were not evolved to lay around however, we were evolved to run constantly. Yes, the cardiovascular system will lose efficiency big-time in a lazy person, but they very much possess the ability to build it up.

  84. Jogging is ridiculous. It cooks the body and joint problems down the road. I’ve seen it with many enthusiasts. Sprinting for as fast as you can actually freak you out. I did it for the first time and didn’t realize how fast with balance I had, nearly wiped out. Doing it 2 or 3 times a week will actually build muscle instead of chicken legs from jogging. I would do a good 15 minute sprint workout, taking a minute or 90 sec break in between. The first time I did it, the next day my legs ached like I did a squat workout.