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HIIT vs Tabata Workouts for Breaking Through Plateaus

Tabata offers intense, condensed workouts in just four minutes, while HIIT brings improved cardiovascular fitness, endurance, and strength over a longer duration.

8 min readMay 22nd, 2023

While a typical HIIT workout can last 20-40 minutes and be structured in several ways, the Tabata workout structure is always the same. You work at 100% intensity for 20 seconds, with only 10 seconds of recovery for four minutes.

Tabata and other HIIT exercises offer numerous benefits, including increased cardiovascular fitness, endurance, strength, muscle gain, and fat loss. Still, there are key differences that you should be aware of.

Keep reading for an in-depth look at the similarities and differences between HIIT and Tabata, workout examples, and tips to get started.

HIIT vs. Tabata

High-intensity interval training, true to its name, is all about intensity. This training style is primarily used with cardiovascular exercises, but we’ll cover HIIT strength options, too.

HIIT workouts alternate between near-maximum effort and a short rest period (typically between 15 seconds and 2 minutes) for the training session duration. A few great HIIT exercise options include sprinting, rowing, assault biking, and battle ropes.

HIIT training has become popular due to its effectiveness in burning calories and improving cardiovascular health and general fitness in a much shorter timeframe than traditional steady-state cardio sessions. Because of this, it’s an excellent choice for anyone who wants maximum efficiency from their workouts.

Tabata is a type of HIIT exercise created by Japanese exercise scientist Dr. Izumi Tabata. The beauty of Tabata is its simplicity and effectiveness. You can get all the benefits of a longer HIIT workout in just one 4-minute session. That may sound too good to be true, but the magic happens with the maximum effort required.

An example Tabata workout looks like this:

Exercise A: 20 seconds 100% effort, 10 seconds rest

Exercise B: 20 seconds 100% effort, 10 seconds rest

Exercise C: 20 seconds 100% effort, 10 seconds rest

Exercise D: 20 seconds 100% effort, 10 seconds rest

Exercise E: 20 seconds 100% effort, 10 seconds rest

Exercise F: 20 seconds 100% effort, 10 seconds rest

Exercise G: 20 seconds 100% effort, 10 seconds rest

Exercise H: 20 seconds 100% effort, 10 seconds rest

Ten seconds of rest is not enough time for a full recovery, so this workout will leave you feeling completely spent. It's important to note that working hard is uncomfortable and, for many people, undesirable.

It's not uncommon for exercisers to get dizzy or nauseous when working this hard. It's vital to be hydrated, well-rested, and fully warmed before attempting high-intensity exercise.

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Types of HIIT Workouts

While it's true that HIIT was initially used as a purely cardiovascular workout, many different training styles and methods now rest under the HIIT umbrella. For example, workouts like Crossfit, Insanity, P90x, and Orange Theory are all HIIT classes that include cardio and strength training aspects.

HIIT training has gained popularity in gyms and studies alike because it’s such an effective workout, no matter which style you choose.

Cardio HIIT

Cardio HIIT is straightforward and comprises a short period of work followed by a short recovery period, repeated for multiple rounds. Your entire workout, including the warmup and cool-down, should be 30-60 minutes. HIIT cardio is the gold standard for cardiorespiratory fitness and cannot be beaten for calorie burn.

Every Minute on the Minute (EMOM)

Popularized in Crossfit, an EMOM involves performing an exercise for a certain number of reps every minute on the minute and then resting for the remainder of your minute. The faster you complete the reps, the more rest you get. While there is no set time, most EMOM circuits are 10-20 minutes long.

Metabolic Resistance Training (MRT)

MRT is a form of HIIT training that uses compound strength moves performed at high intensity to create an efficient calorie-burning and muscle-building workout. Unlike traditional HIIT cardio, this workout focuses primarily on increasing strength and muscle mass, but it still provides excellent cardio benefits too.

Pros & Cons of HIIT Workouts

The HIIT training style is best for those with a strong fitness foundation, minimal injury history, and, ideally, access to equipment like a rowing machine, battle ropes, dumbbells, kettlebells, a treadmill, or a track.

However, a HIIT running session can certainly be performed at home without equipment or on the open road.

A complete workout with warmup and cool down can be done in just 30-60 minutes and performed consistently with proper recovery can yield incredible results.

  • Efficient
  • Burns more calories than other forms of cardio
  • Increases endurance, coordination, and stability
  • Builds muscle
  • Improves heart and lung capacity
  • Does not require equipment but benefits from it
  • Higher risk for injury
  • Requires a fitness foundation
  • More muscle soreness
  • Might increase hunger

While this training style has a lot of benefits, it also has its downsides. Because of its intensity, HIIT requires a strong fitness foundation before incorporating it into your routine.

It’s important to make sure you have proper form for each movement before increasing the speed or intensity of your HIIT routine.

The intensity with which you work also increases your chance of injury during your workout and can increase muscle soreness as well. Severe muscle soreness can make sticking with an exercise routine difficult.

Because of this, HIIT can be counterproductive without adequate rest and recovery. It’s also important to never skip the warmup or cool down to help aid muscle recovery and avoid injury.

Another experience some people report with high-intensity exercise is an increased appetite. This is typical when you’re burning lots of calories, but it can also become counterproductive if weight or fat loss is your goal.

High-intensity training should be used sparingly (typically between 1-3 times a week), and you should always strive to find the minimal effective dose for your body.

4 HIIT Workouts to Try

Cardio HIIT

              Sprint, row, swim, or cycle60 seconds60 seconds20 minutes

EMOM HIIT: Repeat for 3-4 rounds, rest between exercises for time remaining in minute, rest in between rounds as needed

Wall Ball Squats45 reps starting on the minute
Wood Chopper20 reps on each side starting on the minute
Med Ball Slams45 reps starting on the minute
Push-ups30 reps stating on the minute
Toe Touches60 reps starting on the minute
Superman60 reps starting on the minute

Metabolic Resistance Training HIIT Circuit: Repeat for 3-4 rounds, rest in between rounds as needed

Thrusters12 reps
Weighted Step-ups15 reps on each side
Floor Press12 reps
Gorilla Row20 reps

Tabata Exercises

The Tabata format is especially well-suited for cardiovascular and body weight exercises due to the quick transitions. However, you certainly can incorporate strength movements as well.

First, establish your primary motivation for including Tabata training in your workout routine. This will help guide you as you choose which exercises to include.

Remember that you must perform a thorough warmup before any high-intensity exercise. An inadequate warmup or improper form at high intensity is a recipe for injury.

A good rule of thumb to prepare for any strength workout is to start with 5-10 minutes of easy cardio to raise your body temperature and get the blood flowing, then dynamic stretches or targeted movements using light resistance.

Check out this Tabata guide to pick your exercises and build a Tabata circuit that’s perfect for you:


5- 10 minutes walking, jogging, rowing, etc.

20 air squats

20 glute bridges

20 rows with a light resistance band

10 push-ups

20 walking lunges

30 Standing marches with KB

[Repeat as needed]

Tabata Exercise Options For Cardio Fitness

  • Running
  • Cycling
  • Rowing
  • Boxing
  • Swimming
  • Dancing
  • Mountain Climbers
  • Jumping Jacks
  • Burpees

Tabata Exercise Options for Power & Strength

  • Battle Rope
  • Assault Bike
  • Goblet Squat
  • Kettlebell swings
  • Kettlebell clean
  • Kettlebell snatch
  • Med Ball Slams
  • Bear Crawls
  • Speed Skaters
  • Thrusters
  • Push-ups

Tabata Exercise Options for Core Strength

  • Planks
  • Spiderman Crawls
  • Toe touches
  • Reverse Crunches
  • V-ups
  • Deadbugs
  • Bird Dogs
  • Oblique Twists
  • Kettlebell Halo
  • Kettlebell Around the World

Pros & Cons of Tabata

Tabata shares all of the benefits of HIIT workouts as their benefits such as improved cardiovascular fitness, increased strength and coordination, and a higher calorie burn than other forms of cardio. The main difference is that Tabata is a structured workout that must be performed at 100% intensity, whereas HIIT training is slightly less than that.

Tabata Pros
  • Extremely efficient
  • Burns more calories than other forms of cardio
  • Increases endurance, coordination, & stability
  • Builds muscle
  • Improves heart and lung capacity
  • Doesn’t require equipment
Tabata Cons
  • Higher risk for injury
  • Requires a fitness foundation
  • More muscle soreness
  • May increase hunger

3 Tabata Workouts to Try

Tabata Cardio Workout

Sprint, row, swim, or cycle20 secs full sprint10 secRepeat for 8 rounds, for 4 min

Tabata Minimal Equipment Workout: Repeat the circuit twice for a total of 4 minutes

 Burpees 20 sec 10 sec
Mountain Climbers20 sec10 sec
Med Ball Smash20 sec10 sec
Thrusters20 sec10 sec

Tabata Gym Workout

Thrusters20 sec10 sec
Prowler push20 sec10 sec
Bear Crawl20 sec10 sec
Butterfly sit-ups20 sec10 sec
Walking Lunges20 sec10 sec
Push-ups20 sec10 sec
Gorilla Row20 sec10 sec
Superman20 sec10 sec

Getting Started with HIIT or Tabata

Whether you choose tabata or another style of HIIT training, make sure you do the following to stay safe and have the best experience possible.

Get Physician Approval

Because high intensity training has a higher risk of injury, it’s important you get cleared for this type of training by your doctor if you have any injuries or health conditions.

Know Your ‘Why’

Now that you know how many different styles of HIIT training there are and the numerous types of exercises you can pick, take a moment to think about why you’re choosing this type of exercise.

HIIT training is a great addition to many training programs because of its efficiency and utility, but it’s not for everyone. If you’re relatively healthy and have a foundation of fitness already, think about what you hope to achieve with this workout addition.

HIIT and Tabata can be used to improve your cardiorespiratory fitness, increase strength and power, promote fat loss, and more. Decide your reason for incorporating HIIT is, and then select your exercises accordingly.

A Word from Ashley

I'm Ashley Walton, Co-founder of GymBird, and I wanted to add my personal experience to this article.

I absolutely love HIIT workouts. Typically, I do HIIT or circuit training workouts once or twice a week. But I gotta say, as I've gotten older, I can definitely feel a difference in how hard HIIT can be on my body. I've incorporated way more yoga and stretching into my routine to help my body recover from high-intensity interval training.

Tabata is the spiciest of HIIT workouts. I've only done Tabata workouts a few times, and I could definitely feel it for days later. You pack a lot of exercise and effort into a short amount of time, which can help you gain muscle, but it also requires that your body rest and recover afterwards.

So, I personally love HIIT, but make sure you're being safe, talking to your doctor before starting a HIIT routine, and listening to your body.

Bottom Line

Tabata is a more intense, shorter type of HIIT workout that requires all-out intensity but your whole workout is only four minutes long. HIIT has numerous benefits including improved cardiovascular fitness, endurance, strength, coordination, and is great for fat loss.

HIIT workouts should only be incorporated after you’ve built a strong fitness foundation and should be eased into. And no matter which type of workout you choose, make sure you are hydrated and properly warmed up first.

If you’d like to try HIIT or Tabata style workouts at home, check out these fitness apps:

More HIIT Advice from GymBird Experts