Tabata Versus HIIT: What's The Difference?

by Amanda Vogel, MA on Feb 10, 2014

Despite the buzz over “Tabata” training, many fitness clients—and some fitness pros—aren’t aware that they’re not doing true Tabata, meaning the protocol that was first analyzed and reported on in a 1996 edition of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise (Tabata et al. 1996).

“When professor Izumi Tabata performed his breakthrough research, the Tabata protocol was performed on high-level athletes on specialized cycle ergometers at 170% VO2max versus a control group exercising at steady state, 70% VO2max,” notes Bryce Taylor, DPT, a physical therapist at Downtown Physical Therapy in Indianapolis. In the study, the Tabata protocol was executed for 4 minutes at a time.

Of course, average fitness clients don’t really need to be doing true Tabata. In fact, it’s probably a good thing they aren’t: “If group instructors pushed their clients to this super-elevated heart rate for 4 minutes, class retention would be very low,” says Taylor.

Regardless of what you call it, the goal is to get people active and enjoying it. However, since Tabata has received a lot of media attention as a time-saving workout with astonishing results, it’s a good idea to instruct clients on what they can and can’t expect.

This table summarizes the differences between Tabata and other HIIT methods.
Why we call it that named after Japanese researcher Izumi Tabata stands for high-intensity interval training
Interval ratio 2:1 varies (e.g., 1:1, 2:1, 3:1, 1:2, etc.)
Length of intervals 20 seconds of work/10 seconds of recovery varies (e.g., work/recovery intervals—in seconds—are 30/30, 45/15, 60/30, etc.)
Number of cycles eight total (4 minutes) varies (e.g., 2.5 minutes, 3 minutes, 6 minutes, etc.)
Intensity anaerobic anaerobic or aerobic
To read the full article published in the February 2014 issue of the IDEA Fitness Journal click here.


Tabata, I., et al. 1996. Effects of moderate-intensity endurance and high-intensity intermittent training on anaerobic capacity and VO2max. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 28 (10), 1327–30.

© 2015 by IDEA Health & Fitness Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction without permission is strictly prohibited.

About the Author

Amanda Vogel, MA

Amanda Vogel, MA IDEA Author/Presenter

Amanda Vogel, MA, is a presenter, group exercise instructor and the owner of Active Voice, a writing, editing and consulting service for the fitness industry. She writes for leading magazines, includi...


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  • Amanda Vogel

    Thanks for your feedback Mark! I am assuming you are addressing the question I asked in my Facebook post! Thanks for reading - I agree with what you wrote. - Amanda
    Commented Apr 09, 2014
  • Mark Nutting

    I believe most people don't care. I care when someone calls something a Tabata when it's a different work to rest ratio or more rounds. That just tells me they haven't read the research. However, I don't care if when doing the Tabata protocol, that my client doesn't reach 170% or VO2 max (some professionals get all up in arms about this). To me, when doing HIIT (including Tabatas), I want my clients to start to learn to push beyond their "normal" intensities and get into something harder. Tabatas are also very do-able for people because of the overall short duration. They can wrap their minds around 20 seconds at a time and only 4 minutes total. Gradually they can learn (and be prepared for) higher and higher intensities. IMHO
    Commented Apr 09, 2014
  • User

    Awesome write-up! Loved it good article!
    Commented Feb 25, 2014