Tabata Exercises That Work: Total-Body Workouts for Beginners and Advanced

If you’ve ever been to an interval or bootcamp-style class – or opened the 8fit app – you’re probably familiar with varying styles of HIIT (high-intensity interval training). Whether it’s AMRAP (as many reps as possible) or EMOM (every minute on the minute), the common thread between all HIIT workouts is an all-out effort followed by periods of rest and recovery.

What is Tabata?

One of the most common HIIT workout styles is Tabata, which consists of eight rounds of 20 seconds of work, followed by 10 seconds or rest, for a total of four minutes. Japanese professor Dr. Izumi Tabata developed Tabata while he researched how to train the Japanese Olympic speed skating team efficiently. His findings showed that HIIT improved aerobic capacity and also increase anaerobic capacity by 28%. In layman’s terms, doing HIIT workouts like Tabata doesn’t just improve strength and burn fat, but betters the cardiovascular system as well.

what is tabata workout

When it comes to 8fit Tabata, bodyweight exercises like burpees, push-ups, sprints, lunges and squats are most common. For a burpee Tabata, your workout consists of 20 seconds of burpees and 10 seconds of rest for a total of eight rounds. Because you work at your maximum capacity during HIIT workouts, they never get easier. As a beginner, you might do 3-4 burpees in each 20 second round; then as you get stronger, you might do 10-15. You should be out of breath and drained of energy no matter your fitness level by the end of the eight rounds.

Tabata exercises for beginners

Like we mentioned above, Tabata is for all levels from beginner to Olympic athlete. That said, there are still some Tabata exercises that are more suitable for beginners versus advanced athletes. If you’re just starting out, give one of these Tabata exercises a go and read on for a suggested Tabata workout plan:

Squats

How to: Stand straight with shoulders above hips, feet hip-width apart and toes turned out slightly. To begin the movement, drop your hips back and down, keeping knees behind your toes at all times. Also, be mindful to keep your hip and ankle in line, so knees do not collapse inward. Once you drop your hips as low as possible with a straight spine, drive your weight into your heels to stand back up to start position. That is one repetition.

Tips:

  • Keep your neck long, shoulders back and down away from your ears
  • Keep your back straight during the entire movement
  • Your flexibility improves with practice; try to squat deeper with each rep
  • Keep your abs engaged and extend your arms in front of you to help balance
  • To make easier, squat with your feet wider apart; if you’re using a mat, separate them so they’re mat-width apart

Crunches

How to: Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor, with your hands behind your head. Press your lower back into the floor while rolling shoulders up and forward. Lift your shoulder blades about four inches off the floor, contracting your abs at the top. Slowly lower your torso back down to the floor to complete one repetition.

Tips:

  • Don’t interlock your fingers behind your head
  • Your lower back should remain pressed into the floor at all times

High knees (or jog in place)

How to: Stand with your feet hip-width apart, look straight ahead and raise your hands to hip height. Quickly run in place, lifting knees as high as possible. Every time your foot comes to the floor, land softly on the balls of your feet. Left and right count as one repetition.

Tips:

  • Maintain good posture with your neck long, shoulders back and absolutely no slouching
  • Aim to lift your knees up to hip-height (unless you’re modifying with a jog)

Front lunges

How to: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart with arms reaching straight up or with hands on your hips. Step forward with one leg, bending both knees to drop your hips. Descend until your rear knee nearly touches the floor, and your front knee comes directly above your ankle. Drive through your front heel and push off to return to start position. Left and right count as one repetition.

Tips:

  • Don’t let your front knee extend further forward than your toes
  • Keep your neck long, shoulders back and down away from ears, and shoulders directly above your hips
  • Keep your core engaged
  • Your flexibility will improve with time, so aim to better your range of motion with each step

Advanced Tabata exercises

Looking for a more advanced Tabata workout? These four exercises require strength and power. Only add these into your Tabata routines once you feel you’re able to execute them with proper form. Proper form is always more important than speed.

Dynamic squats

How to: Stand straight with your shoulders above your hips, feet hip-width apart and toes turned out slightly. Quickly drop your hips back and down with knees behind your toes and in line with the ankles. To complete the movement, drive weight into your heels to explosively jump up to center and land softly in the start position. This is one repetition.

Tips:

  • Keep your neck long, shoulders back and down away from ears
  • Keep your shoulders above or behind your knees
  • Engage your abs and extend arms in front of you for balance

Burpee with push-up

How to: Begin standing, then squat down and place your hands on the floor by the sides your feet. Keeping your hands planted, jump your feet behind you and land in a plank position with straight legs. Lower your body down until your chest touches the floor with elbows tight to your body. Keep your hands on floor and use your hip and core strength to pop back into a squat. Finish the movement by exploding up into a jump and landing on your feet as softly as possible

Tips:

  • Keep your spine straight, neck long and shoulders back throughout the movement
  • Complete the entire exercise with as much control – especially in the core – as possible

Spiderman plank

How to: Place your elbows on the floor directly underneath your shoulders with forearms parallel, legs straight behind, feet together and your toes curled under. Tense every muscle to keep your body in a straight line from your head through to your heels. Bring your right knee forward towards your right elbow, then return it back to plank position. Repeat and bring your left knee toward your left elbow. Left and right is one repetition.

Tips:

  • Keep your neck long, shoulders back and down away from your ears
  • Don’t sink into your shoulders
  • Keep your hips still and body in a straight line during the entire movement
  • Breathe slowly and steadily, don’t hold your breath

Bulgarian split squats with hop

How to: Begin with your feet hip-width apart and stand two or three feet in front of a knee-height surface. Place the instep of your rear foot on the surface behind you. Lower your hips towards the floor, so your rear knee comes as close to the floor as possible. Explosively press into the heel of your front leg to straighten and jump off floor. Land as softly as possible and return to start position. This is one repetition on your first leg.

Tips:

  • Don’t let your front knee extend beyond your toes when it bends
  • Keep your shoulders and hips square and parallel to the floor

25-minute Tabata workout plan example: Beginner and advanced

HIIT workouts meet you where you are whether you’re a beginner or advanced athlete. If you’re ready to incorporate Tabata workouts into your routine, give one of these 25-minute, total-body routines a go. (Disclaimer: Technically they’re 26 minutes long, but 25 sounded better. 😉) Do your routine – beginner or advanced – two or three times per week with other kinds of movement worked into your schedule.

Beginner Tabata workout plan

This total-body Tabata workout plan example for beginners features one cardio-focused exercise, one leg exercise, and one core exercise. During the 60-second recovery periods, jog in place, pace around the room or simply stand — the goal is to bring your heart rate down before the next Tabata.

  • High knees: Warm up with eight rounds of high knees – 20 seconds of work followed by 10 seconds of rest
  • 60-second recovery
  • Squats or lunges: Do eight rounds of your chosen leg exercise — 20 seconds of work followed by 10 seconds of rest
  • 60-second recovery
  • Crunches: Do eight rounds of crunches — 20 seconds of work followed by 10 seconds of rest

Advanced Tabata workout plan

Looking for an advanced, total-body Tabata workout plan? Do this routine two or three times per week to build strength and break a major sweat. During the 60-second recovery periods between Tabatas, jog in place, pace around the room or simply stand. Breathe deep and bring your heart rate down before the next Tabata.

  • Burpees: Warm up with eight rounds of burpees – 20 seconds of work followed by 10 seconds of rest
  • 60-second recovery
  • Dynamic squats or Bulgarian split squats with hop: Do eight rounds of your chosen leg exercise – 20 seconds of work followed by 10 seconds of rest
  • 60-second recovery
  • Spiderman plank: Do eight rounds of spiderman planks – 20 seconds of work followed by 10 seconds of rest

For more HIIT workout ideas, sign up for 8fit.