Is Tabata Training Really Safe?

Is Tabata Training Really Safe?

One of the biggest crazes in the fitness world today is Tabata training, a type of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) where you work at maximum intensity for 20 seconds, rest for 10 seconds, then repeat. An entire workout is eight rounds and lasts just four minutes.
The original approach by Japanese scientist Dr. Izumi Tabata used just one type of exercise per cycle, but now people are creating multi-exercise workouts with everything from plyometrics to pushups. This type of training has clear benefits, but it might not be the miracle it’s so often promoted to be. Decide for yourself. Here are some facts to help you out.


Advocates of Tabata training explain that the heart needs a challenge in order to get stronger. The caveat is that, if you work it too hard for too long, you’ll set inflammatory mechanisms in place that, over time, actually can damage heart tissues. In this sense, pushing yourself to the extreme for hours isn’t going to do you any favors and puts you at serious risk. With Tabata training, however, you ask the heart to work hard for just a short period, which it is able to handle better.
Tabata training has been proven to boost not just aerobic fitness, but also anaerobic performance. It boosts levels of human growth hormone (HGH), which plays a significant role in cell regeneration. The workouts are effective for burning high amounts of calories in a brief window of time, with the body continuing to burn them at a higher rate well after the exercise is over. Some research also connects Tabata and other forms of HIIT to decreased diabetes risk.


Tabata training may be brief, but it’s also incredibly hard physically. Your body will need some time to recover from each workout. Most experts recommend doing one of these sessions no more than twice a week. Go overboard and you might stress your body to the point where you feel chronically fatigued, have sleep trouble, increase your injury risk, get sick more often and have other issues such as chronic muscle soreness.
True Tabata has you work for just 20 seconds at a time. This brief amount of time can sometimes cause you to rush through exercises, and you can lose good form and not fully concentrate on what you’re doing. Avoid using weights when doing Tabata exercise. In addition to spiking the heart rate too high with weights, it’s easy to lose your grip or engage the muscle you’re working improperly, increasing your risk of injury.
Another fact about Tabata is that, despite being promoted as a quick way to lose weight or get fit, Dr. Tabata’s original research involved only upper-level athletes who already were at the peak of fitness. Most of us aren’t conditioned to the point that allows us to complete this type of workout safely and effectively. If you push yourself too hard, serious health risks such as heart attack are possible. If you have a history of heart disease, you still may be able to do a Tabata workout, but you should only do it under a physician’s supervision.

heart rate monitorsOther considerations

Many of the concerns about Tabata stem from its major benefit – its intensity. The majority of fitness professionals recognize that a one-size-fits-all approach to Tabata isn’t the right approach, so they will take the Tabata approach and tweak it. For example, they might have you go all out, but then take a longer recovery time between each exercise. Or they might keep the basic Tabata form but suggest that you not push as hard as you can. Alternately, they might modify the exercise itself, such as having you do traditional lunges instead of jumping ones. A heart rate monitor can be an excellent tool if you’re unsure whether what you’re asking your body to do is too much.


Tabata can be a very beneficial form of exercise when properly executed. As with any form of exercise, you should always listen to your body and adjust your workout to your own fitness level. Always choose exercises to include in your Tabata workout to fit the brief activity period, and be sure to use good form. No matter how you tweak your Tabata, give yourself enough time to recover before you do the next one.

-Wanda Marie Thibodeaux


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