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6 Tabata Workout Tips for First-Timers

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Tabata will get you fit in a hurry! Credit: blakespot

Last week I shared my first-ever Tabata workout, which left me super sore and wanting more. I want to share the Tabata love, so I encourage you to try a version of this high-intensity workout if you’re up for a challenge. You can tailor it to be as long or as short as you’d like! Here are a few Tabata workout tips for first-timers!

Tabata Workout Tips for First-Timers

1. Know the formula. Tabata is 20 seconds of work followed by 10 seconds of rest for a total of eight rounds per move.

2. Work to your level. If you’re starting out, be prepared to take a break between moves — or even to skip a set here and there. I didn’t, and I paid for it in soreness!

3. There’s an app for that. The last thing you want is to have to worry about counting or timing anything, so have an app do it for you. There are several Tabata apps out there that will do the thinking for you.

4. Start small. I thought four moves wouldn’t feel like a workout. It did.

5. Be prepared to get hooked. I’m already planning my next Tabata workout. I’m thinking of throwing some planks in.

6. Warm up and cool down. Do some quick walking or a few jumping jacks to warm up. And because you focus so intensely on one move for four minutes, make sure to take the time to stretch out your shaky limbs afterwards.

Any of you tried Tabata? Were you surprised by how tough it is? —Erin 

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  1. Fiona says:

    I’m so excited to try the Tabata workout. It sounds perfect for me. I have 2 small kids and it seems that I don’t have time to do anything so a short but intense, simple workout that I can do right here at home whenever I have a few spare mins is perfect. Thanks so much for the tips!

  2. Tabata is pretty intense. My bf was doing it for a while and he definitely saw some results from it.

  3. AmyC says:

    Yes, my personal trainer introduced me to it, but now that I’m done training with him, I do cardio and cross training on my own. I have made about half a dozen palm-sized cards, each listing exercises ranging from crunches to squats to exercises involving the Bosu ball, weights and the TRX. I pick out some of these exercises, usually two at a go, and alternate between them for each 4-minute round. I use the Tabata app to keep time. I thought that without Eric, my “slave driver” there to egg me on, I might go easy on myself, but Tabata has become my digital slave driver! I ache (but in a good way) the next day!

  4. Nicole says:

    I sub a hot yoga bootcamp class a few times a month and have used Tabata training for the bulk of the class. My students love it, despite the looks on their faces throughout the class. It is a great way to strength train and push yourself. The 10 second rest in between each set makes it seem more manageable. Using functional movements, it is a great way to work up a sweat fast and the class always flies by. Definitely a favorite of mine!

  5. I recently started training with Tabata, too! You have to try Tabata Songs for timing intervals – it’s so much easier than any app or timer – the songs cue you in and out! http://motherscircle.net/tabata-songs/

  6. Melvina says:

    I LOVE tabata. It’s cool becuase you can do it anywhere. I am always thinking what exercises I’m going to incororate in my next tabata workout. Usualy I alternate between realy intensive fast moving exercise like burgees or running in place and a strengh exercise like planking or squats.

  7. scaryblondechick says:

    The Tabata interval is designed to increase both V02 max (the maximum capacity of your body to transport and use oxygen during exercise) and anaerobic capacity with the same workout. For that purpose, the work interval should be a compound movement – in other words, it should involve several joints at once; it shouldn’t be a static isometric (resistance) exercise like the plank, only because the Tabata protocol was intended for high-intensity work, and it’s very difficult to modify the intensity of static isometric exercise – it’s just probably not the best use of the protocol. Burpees, for instance, are ideal for Tabata work, as are squats or bicycle crunches. As an aside, the original study in which the Tabata interval was developed emphasized that lower body exercises are metabolically more efficient than upper body exercises – so the greatest gains in V02 max are to be derived from such exercises as cycling and squats.(1)

    That being said, the place to add planks to a Tabata interval is in the resting interval time of your pushups or mountain climbers. Was that what was intended? If so, great! And if you feel up to it, you might also try resting “in the hole” – at the bottom – during squatting intervals, remembering always not to hyperflex your knees, keeping them at a 90 degree angle or more. These little tweaks combine the high-intensity interval with a really butt-busting resistance interval, and they are not for the timid, but an experienced interval trainer may find in them the breakthrough they need.

    (1) http://journals.lww.com/acsm-msse/Abstract/1997/03000/Metabolic_efficiency_during_arm_and_leg_exercise.13.aspx

  8. Joel says:

    Quick question. I’ve done Tabata a bunch of times but it’s usually at the end of a weight training workout or I throw it in every so often just to get an extra kick in the butt. My question is, is Tabata designed to be one set type of deal? In other words, eight 20 second exercises with 10 second reps in between and that’s it (a four minute workout)? Or is it designed to add more 4-minute sets on top of that? Not sure if my questioning makes any sense. Basically, is Tabata designed to do just once (4 minutes) per session or more times per session?

  9. Ed says:

    The tabata protocol is:
    2 minutes of warm-up
    4 minutes of tabata
    8 moves x (20s high intensity + 10s low intensity)
    2 minutes of cool down

    It’s not 4 minutes of tabata per move. That sounds like an extended protocol and could be dangerous.

  10. Lorraine says:

    Tabata’s are excellent especially when your short of time. Tabata tracks has some good music to work out to – http://tabatatracks.com/

  11. hapworth says:

    Tabata was designed to be extremely difficult. 20s of high intensity means HIGH INTENSITY. It should be so difficult that you can’t even imagine doing it again for at least a week (and you shouldn’t be able to do it more than once a week). Some people say if you’re not on the verge of puking your guts out, you’re not doing Tabata ;).

    However, anyone can get into it. Nick Tumminello has a great article on T-Nation about it with a few examples of exercises you can integrate into a session. Towards the end, he shows a way to progress to doing a full Tabata eventually… giving you a way to work up to it. http://www.t-nation.com/free_online_article/sports_body_training_performance/six_new_tabata_workouts_for_fast_fat_loss … he details variants of the protocol that are easier (different rest and workout times) with the goal of eventually doing it the way as described.

    There are also two great articles by Dan John on the same site as well about it. Just search Tabata there.

    scaryblondechick makes a ton of great points… the VO2Max (hence the going literally as hard as you can… of course while staying safe. It’s not about being macho or anything!), the lower body work, etc. The original Tabata was done using a Stationary Bike (which is a great way to start. Dan John in one of the articles on that site talks about his first experience and how his body was like a little furnace hours later. And he’s a world famous powerlifter… someone you wouldn’t expect to be on a Stationary Bike!).

    On the flip side… @scaryblondechick … the belief that squatting below 90 is bad for your knees has been debunked numerous times. It’s actually healthier to squat past (and strengthens the musculature of the legs in a more balanced way and is in fact healthier for your knees!). However, your squat form needs to be good as it is. There have been more than a few articles about it but one can be found here: http://www.biomechfit.com/2012/02/09/3-squatting-myths-that-refuse-to-die . It’s also broken down in Convict Conditioning which is a great book in and of itself! I believe it’s also mentioned in The Four Hour Body too.


  12. I’ve heard people saying that they have achieved great results with this type of workout. Having read a bit more about Tabata I can see why. I think I may swap some runs with this during the winter to keep me out of the cold!

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