Tabata Interval Training: Sample Class

Tabata intervals (named for Japanese researcher Izumi Tabata) are a great example of structured intervals. Tabata training includes a 20-second high-intensity anaerobic work interval followed by a 10-second rest, repeated eight times in a row. In a creative twist on Tabata, this sample workout alternates moderate-intensity intervals with higher-intensity bouts of the same exercise. Three intensity options allow people of different fitness levels to start at different points, while still having a way to progress the pattern. For example, beginners may start at level 1 as their “moderate” intensity and progress to level 2 as their “high” intensity, while fitter participants may start at level 2 and progress to level 3. Students perform the exercises at a fast pace, doing as many repetitions as possible while maintaining proper body alignment and full range of motion. Participants rest briefly (10–20 seconds) between work intervals and repeat each work-rest cycle twice per exercise.

Structured Interval Details

FORMAT: An interval training workout structured as follows:

  • 30 seconds’ work at moderate intensity (level 1 or 2, depending on fitness level)
  • 10 seconds’ rest
  • 20 seconds’ work at high intensity (level 2 or 3)
  • 20 seconds’ rest

Repeat immediately with same exercises before continuing to the next interval.
TOTAL TIME: Each exercise takes 2 minutes 40 seconds. A 60-minute class incorporates 10–12 exercises. Balance upper-body, lower-body and cardio intervals for a complete workout.
EQUIPMENT: A resistance tube or other object for jumping over, and a step. Other equipment and exercises can easily be incorporated into this structure.
MUSIC: Play any high-energy music as background.

Warm-Up (10–12 minutes)

An extended warm-up is needed to prepare for a high-intensity interval workout. The warm-up not only helps prevent injury during vigorous exertion; it also allows participants to push themselves to a higher level. Use simple, athletic movements and gradually increase the intensity. Here are some ideas:

  • Start with 50 jumping jacks; engage transversus abdominis and keep shoulders depressed.
  • Progress to 25 mountain climbers, which are great for engaging core musculature.
  • Do 10 pairs of walking lunges to get blood flowing to large leg muscles.
  • Finally, perform high-knee jog, moving laterally to right (R) for five steps. Pause on step five with knee held high, chest open and abdominals engaged. Then do same pattern, moving left (L). Steps should be quick, powerful and athletic. Continue for approximately 1 minute.
  • Repeat entire warm-up sequence twice before beginning intervals.

Intervals (20–40 minutes)

The sample exercises listed below take approximately 20 minutes to complete, including transition time. Apply the structure to your own creative exercises to lengthen the workout time. See “Format” above for direction.

Sample Exercise 1: Lower Body/Cardio
Equipment. None.
Level 1. Perform side-to-side squats. Step L foot out to L, slightly wider than hip width. Perform full squat. During upward phase, bring L foot back in and place it on floor beside R foot. Repeat squat, stepping out to R side with R foot.
Level 2. Add hop between squats as you switch legs.
Level 3. Touch floor during squat, and add hop between squats as you switch legs.

Sample Exercise 2: Lower Body/Cardio
Equipment. Steps with two sets of risers (or one or three sets of risers, to adjust intensity).
Level 1. Do continuous repeater knees. With step on R side, place R foot on top and raise and lower body weight by flexing and extending through R ankle, knee and hip joints. Keep R heel pressed down onto board, and keep knee safely behind toes. Each time you lower yourself, gently tap floor behind you with L toe, keeping most of body weight on R leg.
Level 2. Add hop every other time you extend R leg, landing and lowering with control on same leg (hop, no hop, hop, no hop).
Level 3. Add hop on every leg extension.
Repeat this sequence on L leg.

Sample Exercise 3: Upper Body
Equipment. None.
Level 1. Do push-ups on knees.
Level 2. Do push-ups on toes. Between each push-up, perform a “jack” by jumping feet out and in.
Level 3: Do continuous push-ups on toes.

Sample Exercise 4: Upper Body
Equipment. Dumbbells and weighted bar (for advanced participants).
Level 1. Perform overhead press with moderate weights (8–12 pounds).
Level 2. Do overhead press with heavy weights (10–15 pounds).
Level 3. Do modified push-press with weighted bar (12–25 pounds). Weight should be too heavy for students to perform regular overhead press at this level of fatigue. Instead, use legs to assist in elevating weight. Arms work in stronger, eccentric phase to lower weight back to shoulder height. (To watch a video of this exercise, go to www.nsca-lift.org/videos/PushPress/defaultpushpress.shtml.)

Sample Exercise 5: Cardio
Equipment. Exercise tube or other low hurdle. Place tube in straight line on floor beside you.
Level 1. Do lateral single-leg leaps over tube.
Level 2. Perform two-footed lateral jump over tube, fast pace.
Level 3. Do lateral tuck-jumps or squat-jumps over tube.

Cool-Down and Core Work (5–8 minutes)

Instruct students to walk around the room and drink water as their heart rate gradually decreases. Transition them into core work by applying the class structure to their abdominal exercises. Choose exercises with three clear intensity levels, and maintain the interval structure throughout.

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Eve Fleck, MS

IDEA Author/Presenter
Eve Fleck, MS, holds a master's degree in exercise physiology and is the owner of Gym Without Walls,... more less
December 2011

© 2011 by IDEA Health & Fitness Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction without permission is strictly prohibited.

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Article Comments

Mike Kelly
On Dec 01, 2011
Hello Eve: Firstly, a well thought out exercise structure, from which many should get a great workout. Although if I may, the title of your article may be somewhat incorrect and you are not alone in this thinking. Ever since the Tabata concepts became available, people have been putting their own spin on this "strict" protocol. Specifically, the Tabata protocol requires the participant to be operating at 170% of VO2Max, which if done properly would not be possible when doing various strength techniques where coordination is required, for safety reasons. To reinforce this, the original protocol had athletes on stationary bikes, whereby a high degree of coordination was not really a pre-requisite. For this reason alone, your workout structures would not be defined as Tabata – perhaps, they should be simply called “High Intensity workout”, but not Tabata Intervals.
Christine Murphy
On Dec 02, 2011
I agree with the above comment, not to mention it is dangerous to use weights with this kind of high intensity workout and only 10 seconds of rest.
Malin Taylor
On Dec 04, 2011
Thanks to Eve for her article and Mike and Christine for their reply. It is so important for those of us who know how to properly implement Tabata, to do so. I have found it also important to educate / empower the students so they can continue safe fitness. Again - kudos to all.
No Name
On Dec 24, 2011
Thank you for your comments and I have to say that I completely agree with you. A 'strict' Tabata protocol would not be appropriate or possible to implement in a group fitness environment. It is a modified application that allows for a more tolerable intensity, allowing many people to experience and benefit from the idea behind this high intensity template. The Tabata name is used to give credit and respect to the original developer. Perhaps there is a way to use the name without diluting the concept, or a way to change the name without forgetting the origins.

When applying this structure in a group environment great care is taken to control form, alignment, and range of motion. The 170% intensity requirement is removed and participants are asked to work at the highest level they can tolerate without sacrificing their safety. This intensity level will be different for each participant and also will likely change within the four minutes as fatigue increases. This is the modification to the original structure that allows it to be applied in general fitness.

I thank you again for your comments and very much appreciate the feedback and discussion!
No Name
On Dec 24, 2011
That last comment was from me, Eve Fleck, the author of the article. I don't know why it didn't show my name!
Anonymous
On Jan 03, 2012
We have been holding Tabata classes at our gym for over a year. We alternate cardio with a weigh exercise and have 3 levels for everything we do.
Everyone loves this class and we do stress proper technique and safety. Over the year I have seen myself become more fit (overall) and our members too.
Michael Simpson
On Aug 19, 2013
I incorporated Tabata workouts into my regimen and have found them to be an extremely effective in terms of positive adaptive responses per unit time spent. Implementing this workout in toto, or facets of it, with my clients has be very well received, adds variety and decreases the intimidation factor that high intensity training poses to individuals who've only observed, or read about, it.
Michael Simpson
On Aug 19, 2013
I incorporated Tabata workouts into my regimen and have found them to be an extremely effective in terms of positive adaptive responses per unit time spent. Implementing this workout in toto, or facets of it, with my clients has be very well received, adds variety and decreases the intimidation factor that high intensity training poses to individuals who've only observed, or read about, it.
Michael Simpson
On Aug 19, 2013
I incorporated Tabata workouts into my regimen and have found them to be an extremely effective in terms of positive adaptive responses per unit time spent. Implementing this workout in toto, or facets of it, with my clients has be very well received, adds variety and decreases the intimidation factor that high intensity training poses to individuals who've only observed, or read about, it.
blockfrei .
On Feb 14, 2014
Hey, a couple of years ago I made a tabata music timer for my father to save him the 5 bucks or whatever it costs to buy an app that beeps at you. I had fun doing it, made more and now I have an album out. Check out my soundcloud page to listen to them!

https://soundcloud.com/blockfrei

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