Physical activity is crucial for successful weight loss. The best thing about physical activity is that options are endless. We have the opportunity to choose training and workouts we like in order to do them regularly. If you explored training for weight loss chances are high you came across Tabata and HIIT. This post focuses on the differences between Tabata and HIIT and compares their effectiveness for weight loss.
What is HIIT?
You’ve probably come across HIIT on more occasions than once. High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is a type of training that includes short bursts of intense exercise followed by low-intensity recovery periods. Evidence shows HIIT is an effective preventative strategy against a minimum of 25 medical conditions, and that’s always a good thing to know (1).
This type of training has been around for decades. The credit for developing this training process goes to 20th-century runners. They focused on switching between fast and slow jogging intervals during training to improve their strength and stamina. In the mid-1930s, the Swedish trainer Gosta Holmer developed a unique interval training system that revolved around varying intervals based on how athletes felt. In a nutshell, during a long run, an athlete could alternate between quick and slow or even medium pace. Over the decades coaches and athletes worked on perfecting their high-intensity interval training regimens. Scientists worked on experiments to uncover mechanisms of action and the benefits of this training. Today, we all know what HIIT is and millions of people practice this training across the globe (2).
What is Tabata?
Tabata training is a type of high-intensity interval training workout that features exercises lasting four minutes. This training is named after a Japanese scientist who “discovered” it – Dr. Izumi Tabata (3). Tabata and a team of researchers at the National Institute of Fitness and Sports in Tokyo carried out research involving two groups of athletes. Athletes in the first group had to train at a moderate intensity level whereas their counterparts from the second group performed high-intensity training.
Subjects from the first group exercised five days a week for six weeks. Athletes from the second group worked out four days a week for six weeks. The duration of each workout in the second group was four minutes and 20 seconds with 10 seconds of rest between each set.
The first group experienced improvements in their aerobic system i.e. cardiovascular but had no improvements in the anaerobic system i.e. muscular. The second group experienced improvements in both systems.
Even though Tabata may seem like a relatively young type of training, it was first described back in 1996. The above-mentioned study revealed multiple rounds of Tabata exercise were well-tolerated and increased caloric expenditure beyond the result that would occur if only four minutes of exercise was completed (4).
The whole idea of Tabata training came out of the assumption that short bursts of brutally hard exercise could be at least as effective as hours of moderate training (5).
Differences Between Tabata and HIIT
When you read definitions of Tabata and HIIT side by side it’s easy to think they are identical. But we can’t, and shouldn’t, use these terms interchangeably because they are not the same thing. You see, HIIT is an umbrella term that refers to the type of training where a person alternates between slower and faster pace or intensity.
On the other hand, Tabata is just one form of HIIT. Interestingly though, despite being a type of HIIT, Tabata is higher in intensity than traditional HIIT training (6). What makes Tabata more intense or grueling than HIIT is the short duration of workouts followed by even shorter rest intervals.
In a nutshell, while Tabata is HIIT, not all HIIT is Tabata.
Duration of workouts is also where Tabata and HIIT differ. As mentioned above, the Tabata workout is completed in four-minute increments performed at a higher intensity than other forms of HIIT. Rest periods in Tabata last 10 seconds only. Other forms of HIIT tend to have longer recovery periods. In some types of HIIT training duration of rest, periods is up to two minutes. Basically, Tabata workouts tend to be shorter than other types of HIIT, but more intense.
TABATA vs. HIIT for Weight Loss
Now that we have established the difference between Tabata and HIIT it’s impossible not to wonder which approach is more beneficial for weight loss.
Can they promote weight loss in the first place?
Yes, they can!
A growing body of evidence confirms HIIT workouts can support weight loss. Studies show high-intensity interval exercises can increase aerobic and anaerobic fitness and induce significant skeletal muscle adaptations. These workouts have a dramatic acute and chronic effect on insulin sensitivity (7). In one study, 12-week HIIT intervention induced clinically significant improvements in body composition, physical fitness, and lipid profile in young obese subjects without caloric restriction (8). A different study revealed that an eight-week HIIT program improved aerobic and anaerobic performances, body composition, plasma lipid levels, and cardiometabolic profile in obese, sedentary subjects (9). Studies focusing on Tabata primarily also showed weight loss benefits. Tabata successfully reduced body weight, waist-to-hip ratio, and body fat percentage (10). Additionally, Tabata can increase aerobic power similar to traditional aerobic training but less time-consuming (11).
How Do HIIT and Tabata Work for Weight Loss?
These workouts can help you slim down through several mechanisms. We’re going to elaborate on them below.
You burn calories
Since high-intensity interval training workouts involve alternating high and low or moderate intensity and are followed by short recovery periods, you get to burn a lot of calories. Studies show this type of training is beneficial for persons who want to gain the benefits of both resistance and cardiovascular training, but have limited time to dedicate to exercise (12). Basically, with HIIT workouts you can burn the same amount of calories or more but spend less time exercising.
You burn calories after exercise, too
Probably the biggest advantage of workouts such as Tabata and classic HIIT is that you burn calories at rest, as well. Some studies have shown HIIT accelerates metabolism after exercise more effectively than jogging and weight training (13). What’s more, HIIT can shift the body’s metabolism toward using fat for energy rather than carbs. In a nutshell, due to the intensity of workouts, HIIT and Tabata can speed up your metabolism and burn calories for hours after you’re done working out.
You lose fat
Excess weight is stubborn and difficult to lose, especially in the abdominal area. Fortunately, HIIT workouts can help you burn fat quite quickly. A review of 13 experiments and 424 overweight and obese adults found that both HIIT and traditional moderate-intensity exercise reduced body fat and waist circumference (14). These workouts can also reduce unhealthy visceral fat.
You gain muscle
A common concern for many people is that they lose both fat and muscle. They do slim down, but their muscles lack definition. Tabata and HIIT could be a great way to avoid that scenario. These workouts could increase muscle mass in certain individuals (15). It’s important to keep in mind the muscle gain here is primarily in the muscles being used the most. For most people, those are the muscles in the trunk and legs. In many cases, the increases in muscle mass are most likely to happen in persons who were less active (16).
NOTE: Tabata and traditional HIIT are not replacements for weight training. While you can tone muscles and increase them in size to some extent, the effect is not as significant as it would be with weight training. For weight loss and muscle building or toning, you may want to introduce weight training to your workout schedule as well.
Your oxygen consumption improves
Oxygen consumption in this case doesn’t refer to your “regular” breathing. Instead, the term refers to the ability of your muscles to use oxygen. Generally speaking, endurance training is particularly beneficial for oxygen consumption, but HIIT and Tabata can help you achieve this effect in a shorter timeframe. One study revealed that five weeks of HIIT workouts performed four days a week for 20 minutes each session improved oxygen consumption by 9% (17). The improvement was almost identical to the result of the other group in the study. Participants from the other group cycled continuously for 40 minutes a day four days a week.
You can experience other health benefits too
People do HIIT and Tabata for several reasons. Some men and women do these workouts to slim down. Others want to increase their fitness levels and stamina. Sure, Tabata and other HIIT activities can do those things for you, but another reason to give them a try is powerful health potential.
HIIT sessions can reduce heart rate and blood pressure thereby improving your cardiometabolic health. After all, hypertension (high blood pressure) is a common problem that affects half of the adults in the U.S., or 108 million people (18). When left unmanaged, hypertension can lead to more serious problems such as atherosclerosis and cardiovascular diseases and events such as heart attack and stroke. Not only is HIIT beneficial for reducing blood pressure, but evidence shows it could be more beneficial than frequently recommended moderate-intensity exercise (19).
It’s also useful to mention that HIIT reduces blood sugar and improves insulin resistance more than traditional continuous exercise (20). For this reason, Tabata and HIIT could be beneficial for persons who are at high risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
So, what’s better for weight loss: HIIT or Tabata?
Tabata and other forms of HIIT can support a successful and healthy weight loss through an array of mechanisms, as mentioned above.
But, which one is better?
It would be impossible to say one type of workout is better than the other for weight loss. First of all, a growing body of evidence confirms HIIT is beneficial for weight loss and Tabata is a form of HIIT. Studies focusing on Tabata have also confirmed its beneficial impact on weight loss.
Both types of training can give you amazing results. The actual results depend greatly on several factors:
- Willpower to stick to the training schedule regularly
- Exercises you perform
- How hard you work
- Duration of workouts
- Goals you want to achieve
- Current fitness level
Generally speaking, Tabata is more intense than many other types of HIIT. From that aspect, it could give you a better push and help you burn more calories. This type of training could help you achieve those results in a shorter timeframe. Remember, the Tabata workout lasts four minutes.
Tabata is a great option because it is particularly suitable for persons who want results, but can’t dedicate enough time to longer workouts. If you have a busy schedule and still want to be active and slim down, Tabata can be a great choice of training for you.
The thing about Tabata is that it sounds intimidating. While the training lasts four minutes those are usually the most intense four minutes you’ve experienced. Many people are nervous about the intensity and believe they won’t be able to do it. Traditional HIIT workouts are more suitable for beginners because they last longer. This gives you more time to focus on stability, form, posture, and overall conditioning.
But if you’re a beginner it doesn’t mean Tabata is out of reach for you. You can still do it, especially if you want your workout to be more intense. The key here is to stick to simpler exercises at first. That way, you can give your maximum and do your best without sacrificing form. If you start with more complex exercises, you won’t be able to achieve desired results. So, start with the basics at the beginning and work your way up.
What we can conclude here is following:
- Tabata is more intense and will increase calorie and fat burning in a shorter timeframe
- HIIT is more suitable for beginners in intensity training
- Both workouts can help you lose weight
How Does A HIIT Workout Look Like?
The main idea behind HIIT workouts is to push yourself to the limits for a short period. These workouts are shorter but are equally effective than longer types of training. A single HIIT workout form doesn’t exist. You can do HIIT in many ways and forms whether it’s running, biking, jumping, you name it. Below, you can see a simple workout you can do:
- 20 jumping jacks
- 10 push-ups
- 10 burpees
- 20 Russian twists
Do these exercises as fast as possible with little rest in between. Once you’re done with the first set take a little break, then repeat. Do three sets.
How Does the Tabata Workout Look Like?
What makes Tabata different than other HIIT workouts is that you can do the same exercise for four minutes. You can do many exercises including:
- Bodyweight squats
- Mountain climbers
Let’s say you want to do Tabata and you choose the above-mentioned, simple, exercises. Your workout should look like this:
- Do push-ups for 20 seconds at high intensity
- Rest for 10 seconds
- Do push-ups for 20 seconds
- Complete eight sets of push-ups and rest for one minute
- Move on to another exercise and repeat the same process
Tabata is a form of HIIT, but it is shorter and more intense. The benefits of HIIT workouts are numerous and they also include weight loss. It would be difficult to say one type of training is better than the other. HIIT could be more suitable for beginners, while Tabata is more intense and it’s also shorter, which can be convenient for people who don’t have enough time to exercise. The key to success with both routines is consistency and strong willpower.