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Are You Truly Aware of the Distinction Between HIIT and Tabata?

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  • Post last modified:September 26, 2023

If physical activity is a regular part of your routine, chances are you’re familiar with the terms HIIT and Tabata. For years, trainers have been preaching the doctrine of high-intensity interval training (which is what HIIT stands for) — and now, HIIT and Tabata have infiltrated the fitness world, from gyms to boutique studios and online workouts.

Actually, you’ve most likely engaged in both types of workouts countless times, but do you understand what distinguishes HIIT from Tabata? If not, you wouldn’t be the first person to confuse the two. HIIT and Tabata share some similarities: Both focus on employing maximum effort over short periods of time with only brief breaks, and both are excellent for enhancing endurance.

However, there are features that set them apart, as explained here by Daphnie Yang, an ISSA-certified personal trainer and creator of HIIT IT! fitness classes.

The Distinction Between Tabata and HIIT

In short, Tabata is a form of HIIT — just one subset within the broad umbrella of high-intensity interval training methods. Specifically, Tabata is a workout comprised of eight sets of 20 seconds of work at maximum effort, followed by 10 seconds of rest. (Altogether, the entire workout only lasts four minutes — so if you want a quick and intense HIIT session, Tabata is the way to go.) If a class or workout deviates from this timeframe, it’s not considered authentic Tabata, says Yang.

The exercise style is named after a researcher, Izumi Tabata, who discovered the advantages of this training method back in 1996. In his study, he found that athletes increased their VO2 max and improved their anaerobic capacity — also known as the amount of energy produced during quick bursts of effort — by performing a Tabata workout five days a week for six weeks. These improvements were not observed in participants who engaged in longer workouts at a less intense pace.

So, Tabata is strictly structured and defined, whereas HIIT workouts as a whole offer more flexibility when it comes to the duration of work and rest intervals. Simply extending either period of time means you’re entering the realm of HIIT. However, the intervals still follow the same pattern: There’s an “on” period of maximum effort followed by an “off” period of rest.

Why alter the interval timing? For one, by lengthening the work segments of the workout, you can explore movements that may not fit within the 20-second Tabata window, says Yang.

Perhaps you wish to attempt a crisscross leaping jack or a burpee–mountain climber combination — 20 seconds is not a considerable amount of time to execute anything intricate, so HIIT workouts are an excellent place to unleash your imagination,” she suggests. (And HIIT also possesses proven advantages comparable to the Tabata technique.)

So, Which Is Superior: HIIT or Tabata?

Both alternatives are excellent for fat incineration and muscle development, declares Yang. Outcomes are influenced by the exercises integrated into your circuits (and, naturally, the level of exertion you exert). However, with either “maximum effort” approach, integrating recovery days is vital, mentions Yang. That implies you probably shouldn’t engage in HIIT and Tabata workouts on consecutive days, she suggests.

In summary? There’s a specific occasion, location, and rationale for both HIIT and Tabata in your fitness journey. “Tabata serves as a remarkable intermediary,” asserts Yang. “If you’re pressed for time or merely commencing an exercise regimen, four minutes is all that is necessary to achieve an exceptional workout. Then, as you progress in strength, you can advance to lengthier HIIT sessions and execute more rounds with more intricate movements to genuinely test yourself,” she elaborates.

HIIT and Tabata Workouts to Give a Go

Now that you’re proficient in the fitness terminology, commence action with one of these astonishing workouts:

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