What is HIIT and Tabata? A Guide to High Intensity Interval Training

What is a HIIT workout?

You probably hear the terms HIIT workout and Tabata workout thrown around like everyone should know what’s being discussed. Well, just in case you’re “asking for a friend,” we thought we’d demystify these terms once and for all.

If you’re still slogging through hour-long steady state cardio sessions, trying to make it through random boot-camp-style classes, or skipping cardio altogether because it’s just too much of a hassle, then boy, do we have good news for you!

You can literally get your sweat on in four minutes flat just by using a HIIT workout called Tabata!

What is a HIIT workout?

Let’s start with a HIIT workout. What do the letters stand for? HIIT stands for “high intensity interval training.” This type of exercise is a relatively short workout when compared to your old school, more mainstream steady-state aerobic workouts that can last an hour or more.

With a HIIT workout, after a five-minute warmup, you’ll aim for a burst of high-intensity effort which usually lasts anywhere from 15 – 30 seconds or so, followed by a less intense segment of exercise for anywhere from 30 seconds to two minutes. Typically, you’ll continue this rotation between all-out effort and active rest for up to 20 minutes. Most HIIT workouts can be completed within a half hour, including both warm-up and cool-down.

Why does HIIT work so well?

Why Does HIIT Work So Well? Here are the Health Benefits of HIIT

  • It’s efficient—anyone can fit this workout into his/her schedule. Because HIIT workouts last only between 4 and 30 minutes, including warm-up and cool down phases, you can easily get in multiple cardio sessions a week.
  • It’s effective—studies show that this type of cardiovascular exercise is a great way to get fantastic results and improve your cardio capacity.
  • It has “afterburn”—yes, afterburn means that because you did this intense type of workout, you’ll be burning extra calories long after your workout is complete. What’s this afterburn effect called? It’s known as “EPOC,” which stands for “excess post-exercise oxygen consumption.” Since your body’s using extra oxygen, you’re also burning extra calories for up to 16 hours after your workout.
  • Helps improve health markers—according to scientific studies, using high intensity interval training as little as three times as week can help you regulate your blood sugar levels, lower your blood pressure, and reduce stress.
  • Burn more fat—these same studies show that, in spite of a 45% lower training volume overall when compared to people doing regular steady state cardio training, those doing HIIT workouts burned just as much, or more, fat than their counterparts.
  • Convenient—not only can you do this type of workout in the privacy and comfort of your own home, it’s super easy to fit this type of quick workout into your schedule.
  • Maintain muscle—yes, instead of doing endless cardio sessions and burning off body fat and muscle, with HIIT, you can focus on shedding the body fat while maintaining your hard-earned muscle.
  • Get conditioned—after one of these HIIT sessions, you’ll understand just how in shape you’ll be with regular training.

What is a tabata workout?

What is a Tabata Workout? And, Is Tabata the Same as HIIT?

Now that you’re schooled on the ins and outs of a HIIT workout, it’s time to move on to a very specific kind of HIIT workout called Tabata.

Tabata is a special form of HIIT developed two decades ago by Dr. Izumi Tabata and his team at the National Institute of Fitness and Sports in Tokyo. Initially designed to help the speed-skating team there, this workout was found to assist in developing endurance for athletes in every sport.

To do a Tabata workout, you begin with a warmup (maybe a five-minute walk or a light jog). Next, you’ll be doing eight sets of exercise consisting of 20 seconds of all-out effort, followed by ten seconds of rest. At the completion of all eight sets, you’re done!

Because this workout was so effective, the program was reworked to make it useful for exercise enthusiasts across the board. You can now find Tabata-style workouts just about anywhere. In fact, if your local gym or boot camp class isn’t offering them, you can download an app right to your phone. It’s super convenient, and nobody’s going to believe any excuses about “not having time.” If you don’t have an extra four minutes to get fit, then you’re just not trying.

A Beginner's Tabata Workout Routine

How Can I Find a HIIT or Tabata Workout That’s Right for Me?

Metabolic Age Quiz

There are many workouts you can do, and almost anywhere you look for cardiovascular exercise ideas, you’re going to come across HIIT workouts.

To make life even easier for you now that we live in the age of technology, there are even fitness apps for your phone you can use to help you structure your workout. Check out these free apps you can download for easy access to a Tabata workout anywhere:

A Beginner’s Tabata Workout Routine

Now it’s your turn to try out a HIIT workout! Here’s a quick and “easy” one you can do. Always remember to gently warm up your muscles for at least five minutes before beginning the full workout.

  • 5-Minute Warm Up

  • Cycling—while a spin bike is ideal, you can use a bicycle outside if you have space for sprints, or use a cycle at home or in the gym. Pedal as fast as you can for 20 seconds and then rest for 10 seconds. In other words, keep pedaling, but just go slowly until you catch your breath. As soon as those ten seconds are up, immediately go right back into the next 20-second round of all-out effort. Repeat 8 times, and you’re done with your very first Tabata workout!

Of course, if you’re not into cycling, feel free to replace that exercise with really anything else that will challenge you. You could jump rope, run in place, sprint, do jumping jacks, swing a kettlebell, or any number of activities that resonate with you.


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  • Winding KM, Munch GW, Iepsen UW, Van Hall G, Pedersen BK, Mortensen SP. The effect on glycaemic control of low-volume high-intensity interval training versus endurance training in individuals with type 2 diabetes. Diabetes Obes Metab. 2017 Dec 22. doi: 10.1111/dom.13198. [Epub ahead of print]
  • de Souza JF, Dáttilo M, De Mello MT, Tufik S, Antunes HK. High-intensity interval training attenuates insulin resistance induced by sleep deprivation in healthy males. Frontiers in Physiology. 2017;8:992.
  • Izadi MR, Afousi AG, Fard MA, Bigi MA. High-intensity interval training lowers blood pressure and improves apelin and NOx plasma levels in older treated hypertensive individuals. Journal of Physiology and Biochemistry. 2017 Dec 6:1-9.