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Tabata in Deep Water

Tabata training is a popular high-intensity interval training format consisting of 20 seconds of all-out, intense work followed by 10 seconds of passive recovery, totaling 4 minutes of very strenuous exercise. HIIT protocols such as Tabata are effective and promising for time-crunched exercisers whose goals are weight loss and performance enhancement. Deep-water exercise is a great nonimpact fitness experience that includes full-body movements. Combine the two and you have a powerful HIIT workout that features all the intensity without the impact and joint stress.

Deep-Water Tabata Details

Goal/Emphasis: to be inspired by Tabata training and apply it in a deep-water environment
Total time: 30 minutes
Equipment needed: water fitness belts
Music: Use a preformatted Tabata playlist or a stopwatch or lap timer.
Additional notes: Include the warm-up to raise body temperature and rehearse the movements. Keep the exercises simple, as cuing time is limited. You may increase intensity with speed; however, stability is important, so make sure participants know how to execute the moves. Also, ensure attendees are swimmers, as the deep-water belt is not a life-saving device.

Warm-Up (4 minutes)

The exercise selection for this workout includes simple athletic movements. Participants should move more slowly in the warm-up—to help prepare the body, but also to get used to the interval timing. Additional notes:

  • There is more variety in the warm-up than in the work phase, where rounds are repeated within each Tabata in order to reduce confusion without diluting intensity.
  • It is important to include modifications and to select exercises from all three planes of motion (sagittal, frontal and transverse).
  • Participants must be properly warmed up before you increase intensity and range of motion.
  • The water lends itself to quick recovery and offers a fast cooling effect, so the 10-second recovery period should be active instead of passive. To recover, therefore, regress the 20-second burst or do an exercise that occurs in the same or a complementary plane of motion.

Use Tabata timing to perform the following:

Rounds 1 and 2

  • 20 seconds: running in place
  • 10 seconds: jogging

Rounds 3 and 4

  • 20 seconds: front kicks
  • 10 seconds: cross-country skiing

Rounds 5 and 6

Rounds 7 and 8

  • 20 seconds: twists
  • 10 seconds: jogging in place with alternating front punches

Work Phase (20 minutes)

Use the same timing as above, with similar exercises. Select movements that are easily reproducible, are simple to perform, involve the whole body and create an immediate feeling of intensity. “Travel” movements to increase intensity. Do the 4-minute sequences five times for a 20-minute workout. Take no more than 10 seconds to rest between rounds.

Tabata Section 1

Rounds 1 and 2

  • 20 seconds: running
  • 10 seconds: jogging (add traveling)

Rounds 3 and 4

  • 20 seconds: single-leg front kicks, right (R) leg only
  • 10 seconds: alternating short-lever front kicks (from knee joint)

Rounds 5 and 6

  • 20 seconds: running
  • 10 seconds: jogging (add traveling)

Rounds 7 and 8

  • 20 seconds: front-leg kicks, left (L) leg only
  • 10 seconds: alternating short-lever front kicks (from knee joint)

Tabata Section 2

Rounds 1 and 2

  • 20 seconds: cross-country skiing (traveling)
  • 10 seconds: jumping jacks in place

Rounds 3 and 4

  • 20 seconds: star jacks
  • 10 seconds: jogging with travel

Rounds 5 and 6

  • 20 seconds: cross-country skiing (traveling)
  • 10 seconds: jumping jacks in place

Rounds 7 and 8

  • 20 seconds: star jacks
  • 10 seconds: jogging with travel

For Tabata sections 3, 4 and 5, as well as cool-down ideas, please see “Sample Class: Deep-Water Tabata” in the online IDEA Library or in the June 2014 print issue of IDEA Fitness Journal. If you cannot access the full article and would like to, please contact the IDEA Inspired Service Team at (800) 999-4332, ext. 7.



Irene Lewis-McCormick, MS

"Irene McCormick, MS, is the 2018 IDEA Instructor of the Year and the senior director of fitness education for Orangetheory Fitness® in Boca Raton, Florida. Former adjunct faculty at Drake University, Irene is a master course instructor for TRX®, a lead conference educator for WaterRower®, a Savvier Fitness master trainer, a Ryka® brand ambassador and an award-winning conference educator. She has also written two books, and is a subject matter expert for ACE, NASM, Human Kinetics and Orangetheory."

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