Can Tabata Be Done Every Day?

This four-minute workout, which has been proven to help lose weight and build muscle, may just change your "I'm too busy to work out" mentality.

athletic person's legs with smartphone timer
Photo: George Rudy/Shutterstock

On any given day, it's easy to come up with a slew of excuses for why working out just isn't in the cards. If your justification for skipping the sweat session has to do with a lack of time, that's where Tabata comes in. The form of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) can be done in a flash, is a great addition to your workout repertoire, and can also help you lose weight and build muscle.

But when a workout is this quick and intense, can it be done every day? Here, experts shed light on the safety of that strategy, and everything else you need to know about the "four-minute miracle workout."

What Is Tabata?

Tabata is a quick and intense four-minute workout developed by researcher Izumi Tabata. "To break it down simply, Tabata is 20 seconds of maximum intensity effort followed by 10 seconds of rest," says Lindsey Clayton, a trainer at Barry's Bootcamp and co-founder of Brave Body Project. "You repeat this sequence of 20 seconds on and 10 seconds off for a total of eight rounds."

In 1996, Tabata's team of Japanese researchers thoroughly investigated the effects of HIIT-style training on anaerobic and aerobic energy systems. Simply put: Aerobic exercise is light activity that's sustainable over long periods of time (think jogging), while anaerobic activity is typically intense bursts for shorter periods of time (think sprinting). Their findings, published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, found that this interval formula (called Tabata protocol) elicited significant improvements in both aerobic and anaerobic power over a six-week period.

More recent research, published in 2019 in The Journal of Physiological Sciences, has confirmed Tabata's status as one of the most "energetically effective" methods of exercise.

What sets Tabata apart from traditional HIIT training is the 20:10 work/rest ratio and overall intensity, says Rondel King, M.S., an exercise physiologist and founder of King Performance. "You're really looking for the work periods to be done at maximal levels," he says. If you're not going all-out, it shouldn't be considered Tabata.

Can Tabata be done with weights?

Good news: The answer is totally up to you. Tabata workouts can involve weights or consist of bodyweight movements only. Similarly, Tabata can be an intense cardio workout and can be effective for weight loss or more focused on strength training. "For Tabata routines to be more cardio driven, focus on things like high knees, jumping jacks, and punches," suggests Clayton, who stresses the efficiency of this particular type of workout since it can be done virtually anywhere, with minimal or no equipment. A strength-based Tabata routine could include a mix of triceps dips, push-ups, and plank dips. (Need some guidance? This fat-burning Tabata workout can replace cardio.)

Can Tabata be done every day?

The original Tabata protocol was conducted four times per week over a six-week period with high-level athletes, notes King. If you're hooked on the thrill of Tabata training, it would be smart to consult with a personal trainer about your individual goals and the best way to implement these workouts into your routine for optimal results. Since, you know, not everyone is an elite athlete.

Since it's so easy to mix up Tabata-style routines, you could easily select different exercises to create Tabata workouts that target different muscle groups. This means, yes, you can do Tabata workouts every day.

King offers a word of warning to those looking to use Tabata to replace cardio as a whole. "I would use caution when doing this [original] protocol and stick to two to four times per week and supplement with steady state cardio three to five days a week," he says. But at the end of the day, "it really depends on the training age of the individual and how quickly they recover from exercise."

Here, Clayton offers one of her favorite Tabata-format workouts, perfect to get your heart rate up and the sweat started quickly. Do each move in order, and complete the prescribed number of sets before moving on to the next exercise.

  1. Squat jumps (20 on 10 off, 2 sets)
  2. Push-ups (20 on 10 off, 2 sets)
  3. Uppercuts (20 on 10 off, 2 sets)
  4. Mountain climbers (20 on 10 off, 2 sets)
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