What Exercises Are in Tabata?

by Mike Samuels Google

About Mike Samuels

Mike Samuels started writing for his own fitness website and local publications in 2008. He graduated from Peter Symonds College in the UK with A Levels in law, business and sports science, and is a fully qualified personal trainer, sports massage therapist and corrective exercise specialist with accreditations from Premier Global International.


The tabata exercise protocol was designed by Dr. Izumi Tabata of the National Institute of Fitness and Sports in Tokyo, Japan. It comprises eight rounds of high intensity exercise, each lasting 20 seconds, with 10 seconds of rest between each round. When performed correctly, it is an extremely demanding workout, requiring cardiovascular fitness, muscular endurance and mental toughness. In theory, you can perform any exercises in a tabata, but there are some that work a lot better than others.

Front Squats

Strength coach Dan John recommends that the best exercises to use with tabata are ones which recruit a large number of muscle groups and that front squats are an ideal choice. In a tabata, you need to be able to start and finish exercises quickly, as you only have a 10-second rest, and a front squat is far quicker to set up than a back squat. Start with light weights for your front squat tabata, as it can be grueling.

Kettlebell Swings

Kettlebells are a great tool for improving your fitness, conditioning and coordination, and swings work well with tabata. At the end of each 20 seconds, place your kettlebell on the ground, stand up and take a few deep breaths, then begin your next set when the 10 seconds is up. You should aim to get roughly the same number of repetitions in each of the eight rounds.

Upper Body/Lower Body

Performing all eight rounds of a tabata on one exercise can be too tough to begin with, so choosing two exercises and doing four rounds of each may be a better choice. Choose a compound upper-body exercise such as a pushup or bent-over row to perform in the odd-numbered rounds, and a compound lower-body exercise like a lunge or mountain climber for the even-numbered rounds. If doing a tabata like this is still too difficult, then try doing 10 seconds of work with 20 seconds of rest, then gradually reducing the rest time and increasing the work time in each session.

Barbell Complexes

A traditional barbell complex involves picking a number of compound barbell exercises and performing each exercise back to back without putting the bar down. In his T Nation article, strength coach Nick Tumminello lists tabata barbell complexes as one of his favorite fat-loss workouts. Pick four compound exercises that you can easily transition between and use roughly the same amount of weight with. In the first 20 seconds, perform as many reps as possible on your first exercise, rest 10 seconds, then do the same with the second exercise, and so on. When you complete round four, repeat the exercises again.

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This article reflects the views of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Jillian Michaels or JillianMichaels.com.