Tabata Training for Beginners

 Tabata Training for Beginners Photo by Wanderlinse

Are you ready to take your HIIT to a new level?

Then it’s time to try tabata training.

Tabata training, or tabata intervals, came out of a 1996 study by Izumi Tabata. The study compared short ultra high intensity interval training vs. long steady state cardio (you know, the “fat burning zone” intensity on your favorite cardio machine). The study found that the tabata group, performing just 8 cycles of 20 seconds of work followed by 10 seconds of rest, had similar VO2max improvements to the group performing longer steady state workouts. But the tabata group was the only group to show improved anaerobic capacity, meaning you can push a little farther and little faster when running, cycling or any other fitness activity. It also means you can get highly effective fat burning workout in very little time.

When I introduce clients to Tabata training I like to alter the original protocol by doing only 6 rounds and warm up with a short core workout before. This is, of course, after our usual dynamic stretching before any workout. Before you attempt this core/tabata workout I suggest you do the same, warming up with things like jumping jacks, arms circles and knee lifts.

You’ll only need an interval timer  or stopwatch for this workout. That’s the other great thing about tabata training – the best exercises require nothing but your body.

Start with two sets of the following core exercises:

  • Alternating Leg Lifts
    Lay face up with hands to the sides or under your tailbone. Start with legs in an L position – one leg parallel to the ground, one leg perpendicular – the switch for 10 reps on each side.
  • Supermans
    Lay face down with arms reaching forward and overhead. Squeeze glutes and low back to “take off” lifting hands and feet up in the air. Release with control and repeat for 10 reps.
  • Windshield Wipers
    Lay face up with knees bent and lifted above hips. Your arms should be out to side, making a T with the upper body. Your feet should be level with knees. Rotate through the middle, leaning the knees off to on to one side. Twist as far as you can without the opposite shoulder coming of the ground. Return to center and twist to the opposite side. Repeat for 10 reps on each side.

Now you’ll need your interval timer or stop watch. Set it for 6 rounds of 20 second of work and 10 seconds of rest. You’ll do each exercise for all 6 rounds before moving to the next exercise. Rest for up to a minute or two between each exercise if needed.

  • Reverse Lunges
    When lunging go as low as you can, bringing your knee to the ground if possible. Also the longer the step you take the more the emphasis shifts to the glutes. Alternate legs and make sure you keep your forward knee over your ankle.
  • Push Ups
    Push ups may seem simple enough but, if you keep good form, your chest and arms will be screaming by round 4. Drop to your knees for a modified push up if you’re at a beginner to intermediate fitness level.
  • Squat Thrusts
    “Burpees” work your body from head to toe. Be sure not to cheat on form for the sake of speed or volume. Protect your low back by making sure your abs are tucked in, pulling your belly button back towards your spine.
  • Table Lifts
    Take the table pose from yoga and add motion. Drop your glutes to the ground just long enough to tap them on the ground, then lift back up by squeezing your glutes and pressing the heals of your hands into the ground. This is also one of my favorite exercises for shaping shoulders and arms.

First time with Tabata style training? Let me know how it goes. If you’re already a Tabata fan, what’s your favorite exercise for intervals?

  • Tamara Grand

    I love Tabata training and do it regularly with my classes and clients. This is a fantastic circuit for beginners; I often struggle with finding exercises that they can do and that will get their heart rate elevated high enough in 20 s, to benefit from the protocol. Sharing!

  • Tamara Grand

    P.S. I often take two movements and alternate them within a single, 4-minute Tabata. Favourite combos include burpees/speed skaters, box jumps/running man and split lunge jumps/two-foot lateral jumps

  • Pamela Hernandez

    Thanks Tamara! I take that as very high compliment!

  • carla birnberg


  • Itz Linz

    i love tabata training! prevents boredom like a charm!

  • Audrey @ In Shape Cupcake

    Tabata training is one of my favorites!
    I love doing burpees alternating with a core exercise like a plank or bicycle crunches! and repeat till 4 minutes is up

  • Pamela Hernandez

    Love burpees for Tabata!

  • Pamela Hernandez

    And great if you’re in a hurry!

  • Pamela Hernandez

    Oh…. love to hate. :)

  • Sarah Kerner

    I love tabata training, but I’m having to give it a rest currently while I rehab. Hopefully I’ll be back at it soon — I love the results in such a short time!

  • Pamela Hernandez

    You will, but yes rehab first!

  • Elena Sonnino

    I keep hearing about Tabata training but have never tried– definitely intrigued.

  • Pamela Hernandez

    Now’s your chance!

  • Suzanne Digre

    Super resource, thanks Pamela. Clients really love to hate Tabatas because they do deliver a hardcore sweat.

  • Toni Church

    I love Tabata training, I use a GymBoss for the interval timer and it works great! Can’t wait to try your workout!

  • Pamela Hernandez

    Hope you like it!

  • Pamela Hernandez

    I have a couple of really love it. I say “Welcome to the dark side”. :)

  • Shira Miller

    Tabata training rocks! I’ve experienced it most recently in a cardio reformer class in Pilates where we did Tabata traning drills using the jump-board. Such a fun way of getting fit!

  • Jennifer Speer

    I love some of these moves for doing a quick lunch workout in the office. :)

  • Pamela Hernandez

    That does sound fun!

  • Pamela Hernandez

    That’s the love in the love/hate with tabata training. It is quick.

  • NanaWendy

    I’m almost 60 and just starting this kind of exercise, any pointers ?

  • Pamela Hernandez

    Starting exercise or starting intervals? If you’re new to exercise, don’t start here. Build a base of strength first. If you’re new to Tabata remember it’s all relative. Your intense effort may be different than someone else’s. Ease into it.

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