The Best Exercise to Lose Weight: Tabata Training

Dr Tabata pioneered Tabata Training with his experiments that has gained a reputation as the most efficient form of exercise for weight loss in today’s world.

Losing weight has become a nationwide obsession. Yet, doing it effectively seems strangely elusive. There are innumerable options when it comes to exercise selection and advice, and yet, the vast majority of people end up dissatisfied with their exercise results. Part of the problem lies with exercise selection.

You can train as hard as you like, but if you’re doing the wrong thing you are going to go nowhere. Let’s find out what the best exercise to lose weight is and what moves you need to perform to shred the maximum amount of body-fat in the minimum amount of time.

The myth of reducing fat just from a problem area

Woman pinching fat from her waist

You see it all the time – people slaving away on isolated movements in hopes of removing fat from a problem area of their body. More often than not, the target is the mid-section. They perform set after set of crunches. They even feel an intense burn in their abdominal wall. But they never lose the belly fat.

The problem of course, is that you cannot get rid of fat from an area of your body. Stored body fat is simply excess calories waiting to be consumed. When you start burning those calories they come from all over your body, not from one particular area. So, doing set after set of ab work is going to give you a firm, strong set of abs – but it will still be covered by an unsightly layer of fat.

Fat burning cardio, high intensity vs. steady slow state

It was Dr Kenneth Cooper who, in 1972, introduced the concept of cardiovascular exercise. He called it aerobics and it was touted as a great way to enhance the health of the heart and lungs. A side benefit was that it also consumed quite a few calories. Since then, cardio has gained a reputation as the best way to exercise for fat loss.

Over the last couple of decades, however, there has been an ongoing debate over the best form of cardiovascular exercise to achieve maximum weight loss in the shortest time frame. Essentially, this has been a debate between what is known as steady slow state cardio and high intensity cardio.

When you think of steady slow state cardio you might envision a person slowly jogging on a treadmill or using one of those elliptical trainers. They are able to hold an everyday conversation while exercising and don’t appear to be working overly hard. They can generally keep the exercise going for up to 30-45 minutes.

High intensity cardio is the mirror opposite of steady slow state cardio. It involves short bursts of maximum intensity exercise followed by even shorter periods of recovery. These on / off intensity switches are repeated for a set number of cycles.

Research over the last decade has clearly shown that high intensity cardio is a far more efficient method of fat burning than steady slow state cardio. Much of this research has been led by Japanese scientist Dr Izuni Tabata. In a ground-breaking 1996 study, Dr Tabata had 20 Olympic speed skaters perform repeated cycles of 20 second maximum intensity sprints, followed by recovery sessions which lasted for just 10 seconds. Eight of these cycles were performed in succession.

The results for this group were compared to another group who performed sessions of steady state cardio. The group who performed the max intensity sprints had a far greater cardiovascular benefit. They also burnt a lot more calories for a dramatically shorter workout time.

The type of training that Dr Tabata pioneered in that experiment has come to bear his name. Tabata Training has gained a reputation as the most efficient form of exercise for weight loss on the planet today. Let’s find out what it can do for you.

Tabata Training benefits

Tabata Training

Tabata Training allows you to accumulate a higher volume of high intensity work in a single session by alternating between short high intensity work and shorter low intensity recovery intervals. During the high intensity interval you push yourself above your normal training zone to the point where you start getting out of breath. During the recovery interval, you reduce the intensity enough so you reclaim the oxygen debt just in time to do another intense burst.

A major benefit of Tabata Training is that you can get an extremely effective fat burning workout in as little as 20 minutes. That makes Tabata one of the most efficient types of cardio and a favorite for busy people.

Another benefit of Tabata Training is its versatility. You can perform Tabata on any type of cardio exercise machine. You can also do it running outdoors, with a range of body weight conditioning exercises and circuit training drills.

Tabata Training burns a lot of calories while you are exercising. The intense exercise that you’ll be doing with Tabata Training will boost your metabolic rate up to more than 15 times your basal metabolic rate (BMR). But it burns even more after your session is over.

In fact, it can boost your metabolism for up to 24 hours after the workout is over. This is commonly known as the after burn effect. The scientific term is excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC). With Tabata induced EPOC, you ill be burning calories even as you sit on the couch watching TV.

Tabata Training will not only allow you to burn fat fast, it is also a fantastic way to train you cardiovascular system, promoting the health of your heart and lungs. It will also dramatically enhance your ability to recover from exercise, while promoting flexibility and muscular endurance.

Tabata Training in action

The basis of Tabata Training is the performance of maximum intensity exercise in a short duration (20 seconds), followed by even shorter recovery (10 seconds) for repeat cycles. Unlike traditional aerobic training in which you stay in a prescribed heart rate training zone, the idea here is to temporarily exceed the normal training zone and reach heart rates that approach a person’s age predicted maximum.

This can only be maintained for short bursts of physical activity, and must be followed by low-level active rest to allow the heart rate to come down and prepare the person for the next high intensity bout of activity.

Tabata Sprinting

Female runner jogging during outdoor workout on beach

The simplest exercise to demonstrate Tabata Training is running intervals on a track. After a two minute warm-up, which involves slow jogging with 30 seconds of butt kicks followed by 30 seconds of high knees, the person performs a full intensity sprint for 20 seconds.

This should allow the person to run between 100 and 150 meters. It is imperative that the sprint be at maximum force – imagine that you are being chased by a ravenous dog! At the end of 20 seconds (you may need a beeping stopwatch), walk for exactly 10 seconds. Take deep breaths and make sure that you get psyched for the next 20 second sprint. Immediately after the 10 second recovery is over, go directly into the next sprint.

Tabata Body Blasters

The Tabata Training concept can be applied to a broad range of exercise platforms. Using Tabata with body weight strength movements take the protocol to a new level, combining aerobic and anaerobic benefits to not only burn fat and enhance cardiovascular fitness, but to build muscle. The Body Blaster is a great option. Perform as many repetitions as you can for 20 seconds, followed by a 10 second recovery. Do a total of 8 cycles.

Here’s how to perform Body Blasters (also known as Burpees):

Start with a wide stance, a little wider than shoulder width. With your back arched, drop into a full squat and touch your hands to the ground between your feet. Use your legs to go down, rather than rounding the back to go down. Place you palms on the ground and then kick your feet back to go into a push-up position.

Immediately power your legs back so that they are just outside your hands. Again, your lower back should be arched in this position. Now jump up, using arm lift to propel you skyward. Move directly into your next rep.

Tabata Cycle / Rowing Machine

The exercyle and rowing machine are great options for Tabata training. Make sure that you perform a moderate intensity warm up on both movements. During the sprint portion you need to push to the absolute maximum work rate. Keep moving during the recovery, taking deep breaths while preparing for the next round. Make sure that you are moving through a complete range of motion on the rowing machine.

Tabata Power Jumps

Power jumps are an intense cardio movement that will get your heart pumping while ramping up the calorie burn. Performing them Tabata style will allow you to lose more weight quicker. Use the same 20 / 10 ratio and 8 cycle protocol that you have been using on the other exercises.

Here’s how to perform Power Jumps:

Stand with feet shoulder width apart. Crouch down into a squat and then explode up into a vertical jump. Bring your knees up as high as possible. Continue in a fluid motion without any rest until the 20 seconds are complete.

Tabata Mountain Climbers


Mountain Climbers are an intense movement that targets the intercostals, abdominals and thighs, while providing a great calorie burn. Use the same 20 / 10 ratio and 8 cycle protocol that you have been using on the other exercises.

Here’s how to perform Mountain Climbers:

Start with the hands resting on the floor in plank position. Your abdominals should be braced tightly and your back slightly arched. The left leg should be fully extended, with the right leg bent forward. Now, with an explosive jump, switch the position of your legs, bringing the left knee toward your chest.

With another jump, return to the starting position. Make sure that you keep your butt down while jumping. Keep the arms over the knees. Your hips should be low and your core contracted throughout the movement.

In and Out Ab Progressions are similar to Mountain Climbers, except you bring both feet up together so that your knees are up at chest level. You then kick your feet back. This is a slightly more intense variation of the movement.

Tabata Wind Sprints

Wind Sprints are a familiar exercise to many sports teams. They are great for building game endurance fitness and even better at burning calories. When adapted to the Tabata Protocol, they are more effective than ever.

Place two markers 10 feet apart. Start at one marker, crouched down with your hand touching it. Now sprint across to the other marker and put your other hand on that marker. Keep going back and forth as quickly as you can until you have touched each marker 10 times.

Putting it all together

You now know a half dozen variations of Tabata Training that will allow you to blast your fat burn to max capacity, making it possible for you to lose weight faster than with anything else you could do. You should perform Tabata Training every second day. Aim for 20 minutes of Tabata each session, choosing two of the training options outlined above and alternating between them until your have completed your 20 minute session.

Just to add up the most important facts we learned here:

  • You cannot reduce fat from one target area
  • To lose weight you need to burn calories
  • Tabata Training is the most effective way to lose weight
  • Tabata Training involves repeat cycles of 20 seconds of high intensity followed by 10 seconds of recovery
  • Choose two of the six options presented here and perform them for a total of 20 minutes, every other day

About the author

Steve Theunissen

Steve Theunissen is a former gym owner and personal trainer who lives in New Zealand with his wife, Shelley, and two daughters. For the last decade, Steve has taught literacy to Middle School students. He also runs a fitness boot camp for pre-teens.

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