Tabata Protocol for Dummies

Our tabata protocol for dummies guide is designed to take the mystery out of the term "tabata." The word is thrown around a lot, and oftentimes when people say they are doing it, they are gravely mistaken. It drives me absolutely nuts when fitness clubs of all places advertise tabata protocol classes that are an hour long. Read on and you'll understand why that has to be 100% false.

tabata protocol for dummiesOur tabata protocol for dummies will teach you the most important components of this powerful workout tool!

We all know the benefits of cardio workouts, but some days doing a workout for 20 plus minutes just isn't in the cards. If you are strapped for time, and are in decent shape, a tabata protocol is for you!

Warning: This workout is not suited to beginner exercisers or those with certain medical conditions.*

Tabata Protocol for Dummies

Tabata Protocol is actually pretty simple! This workout is best performed on a stationary bike. If you must use an elliptical trainer, an outdoor bike, or running outside, you can try the tabata protocol but you will lose some of the benefits of a true tabata workout. This is because it's impossible to generate the same intensity in just 20 seconds on these other modalities than you could on a stationary bike.

Step 1: Warmup for 5-10 minutes at an easy pace.

Step 2: Perform 8 20-second sprints with 10 seconds of active rest in between each one. 

Some Definitions

What is a sprint? You go with the combination of as high of a resistance as you can with as fast of a speed (RPM) as you can!

What is active recovery? You go as slow and as low resistance as you can without stopping altogether!

Tabata Protocol for Dummies: Sample Session

For example: Sprint at minute 5:00 (assuming a 5 minute warmup). 

                             Go slow from 5:20-5:30 

                             Sprint 5:30-5:50

                             Go slow from 5:50-6:00

Continue until the 9:00 minute mark.

Step 3: Cool down by moving slower for 3-5 minutes. 

That's it!

Tips for the Tabata Protocol

  • The sprint needs to be all out. You should have nothing left to give at the end of each one!
  • This means, on a bike, crank the resistance up, AND go as fast as you can.
  • You can go as slow as you want and as low resistance as you want during the 10 second rests as long as you keep moving.
  • Never skip the warmup or cooldown. That will strain your heart and limit your performance as well as your recovery. Keep the warmup and cooldown on the easy side.


*If you are over age 50 and have not been cleared by a physician, do not attempt the Tabata Protocol. Also avoid Tabata if you have a heart condition. If you are unsure it's best to avoid Tabata.

Benefits of the Tabata Protocol Workout

  • The Tabata Protocol will burn many calories during the workout, but also many more throughout the rest ofd the day. Depending on how hard you work and your body size, the total caloric burn can be a few hundred calories. Not bad for just 4 minutes of really hard work! But it only works if you max out effort.
  • This protocol is also a good way to do a high intensity workout that will boost your strength AND endurance while being easy on the joints.
  • There is no boredom because it's so hard (and short) that you really don't have the chance to get bored!

What's Wrong with Many Tabata "Classes"

tabata for dummiesDon't be fooled - hour long Tabata classes aren't a "thing."

Next time you see an hour-long fitness class advertising that it's Tabata Protocol, realize that, by definition, it can't be! Many classes will have you do a move for 20 seconds on with 10 seconds rest for 8 sets and call it Tabata. Then you will repeat that same thing with another move.

The goal of tabata is that, by the 4 minutes, you're spent. If you have time to repeat more and more sets of 4 minutes of exercises, you haven't done Tabata by the book. The more you know!

I hope this Tabata Protocol for Dummies workout was helpful! If you liked this article and would like more content from Trainer Gina Paulhus, check out her other Fitness Articles here.

Work With Gina Paulhus, Certified Personal Trainer And Certified Nutritionist

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