What’s the Difference Between HIIT and Tabata?

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hiit vs tabata

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If exercise is part of your regular routine, odds are you’re familiar with the terms HIIT and Tabata. For years, trainers have been preaching the gospel of high-intensity interval training and, at this point, it would be hard to not know about Kaisa Keranen, the Queen of Tabata.

From gyms to boutique studios and online workouts, HIIT and Tabata have infiltrated fitness everywhere. You’ve probably done both types of workouts a million times, but have you done them together? Are they the same thing, or are they two totally separate styles of training? Do you actually know what sets HIIT and Tabata apart? Well, you wouldn’t be the first person to confuse the two, so we’re setting the record straight.

HIIT and Tabata are similar in a couple ways.

  • Both focus on using maximum effort over short periods of time with only brief rest breaks.
  • Both have been shown to burn fat, improve endurance and speed, and aid weight loss.

So, which should you be doing to meet your particular fitness goes? We tapped Daphnie Yang, ISSA certified personal trainer and creator of HIIT IT! fitness classes to break it down.

What is Tabata, exactly?

Tabata is a type of HIIT—one subsection under the broad umbrella of high-intensity interval training. Specifically, it’s a four-minute workout consisting of 8 rounds of 20 seconds of work at maximum effort, followed by 10 seconds of rest. If a class or workout deviates from this time frame, it’s not authentic Tabata, says Yang.

The exercise method is named after a researcher, Izumi Tabata, who discovered the benefits to this way of training back in 1996. In his study he found that athletes increased their metabolism and improved their anaerobic capacity—the amount of energy you can produce during quick bursts of effort—by doing a Tabata workout five days a week for six weeks when compared to those who performed longer workouts at a less intense pace. (So that’s why it’s called a miracle workout.)

So, what makes something a HIIT workout?

HIIT workouts are more flexible with the time allotted for work and the time for rest. Simply lengthening either period means you’ve entered HIIT territory. By lengthening “on” sections of the workout, you can play around with movements that might not fit in the 20-second Tabata window, says Yang. “Maybe you want to try a crisscross jumping jack or a burpee–mountain climber combo—20 seconds isn’t a lot of time to do anything complex, so HIIT workouts are a great place to get creative,” she says.

Is HIIT or Tabata better for fitness?

Both options are great for fat-burning and muscle-building, says Yang. Results are shaped by the exercises mixed into your circuits (and, of course, the effort you put in). So, if the goal is to build arm muscle, add in strengthening moves like triceps dips. If you’re trying to lose weight, amp up the cardio. With either “all out” method, building in recovery days is crucial, says Yang, who recommends that you don’t do HIIT and Tabata workouts on consecutive days.

Bottom line: There’s a time, a place, and a reason for both in your fitness life. “Tabata is a great stepping stone,” she says. “If you’re short on time or maybe just getting into an exercise routine, four minutes is all you need to get a great workout. Then as you get stronger, you can graduate to lengthier HIITs and do more rounds with more complex moves to really challenge yourself.”

Break a sweat with these HIIT and Tabata workouts.

Now that you’re a pro with the fitness lingo, get moving with one of these butt-kicking workouts.



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