Tabata vs. HIIT: Which One Is Better for Weight Loss?

by Marixie Ann Obsioma, MT, undergrad MD on March 25, 2020
Last updated on May 23, 2021

While a lot of people know that exercise is healthy, it is estimated that approximately 30% of people around the world don’t get enough (1). Unless you have a job that requires heavy physical labor, a dedicated exercise routine is likely your best chance for getting active. However, most people think that they don’t really have enough time to exercise (2, 3). This best explains why micro-workouts are rising in popularity. It’s no surprise why millions of people are now talking about HIIT and Tabata. You’ve probably heard about these two fitness buzzwords lately?

person holding black exercise rope

Although HIIT has been around for quite some time now, the whole concept of Tabata was developed out of it. Tabata is a form of HIIT, and both are centered on intervals of high-intensity workouts paired with periods of complete rest. Are there any differences between these two sweaty options? Yes! Which one is better for weight loss? Read on to know more.

What is HIIT Training?

High-Intensity Interval Training includes short bursts of intense workout alternated with low-intensity recovery periods. Surprisingly, many people agree that it is the most time-efficient way to exercise (4, 5). Normally, a single session will range from 10 to 30 minutes.

Despite how short the routine is, it can give you the same health benefits as when you double moderate-intensity exercises (6, 7). Activities may vary but among the favorites are sprinting, jumping rope, and biking. The specific amount of time you exercise and recover will also differ based on the activity you choose and how intensely you are performing.

For instance, you may use a stationary bike for cycling as fast as you can against high resistance for 30 seconds, followed by several minutes of slow and easy cycling with low resistance. This is one round or repetition. You need to complete 4-6 repetitions in one session.

Regardless of how you want to do it, HIIT should always involve short periods of vigorous exercise that will increase your heart rate (8).

What is Tabata?

As mentioned earlier, Tabata is a form of HIIT. It was named after Dr. Izumi Tabatan, a Japanese scientist. He discovered that shorter, high-intensity workouts could give you better aerobic and anaerobic endurance in as fast as 6 weeks as compared to longer workouts at moderate intensity (9).

As compared to HIIT, this form of exercise is only set to last for only 4 minutes. It involves 20 seconds of extremely vigorous exercises, followed by 10 seconds of rest. This is then repeated 8 times.

Health Benefits of HIIT and Tabata

As Tabata is a form of HIIT and both focus on using maximum effort over short periods with just brief periods of rest, they share the following health benefits:

1. They Burn A Lot of Calories Within A Short Time

You can burn more calories easily using HIIT. Experts found 25-30% more calories were burnt within 30 minutes using HIIT as compared to other types of exercise like biking, running, and weight training (9, 10).

In this particular study, one HIIT repetition only included 20 seconds of rigorous training, followed by 40 seconds of rest. This is just 1/3 of the other groups’ exercise time. Although each exercise session was half an hour long in this study, it is common for HIIT exercises to be much shorter than traditional workout sessions. This is because HIIT allows you to burn approximately the same amount of calories while spending less time exercising.

2. They Increase Your Metabolism For Hours After Exercise

HIIT exercises help you burn calories even after you are done with your routine. Many studies have proved HIIT’s impressive ability to boost your metabolism for hours after a workout (11, 12, 13). In fact, just two minutes of sprinting can help increase your metabolism over 24 hours as much as 30 minutes of running (14). HIIT can also direct your body towards burning fat instead of carbs for energy.

3. They Make You Lose Fat

Studies were consistent in showing that HIIT can help you lose fat. People who are doing HIIT exercises 3 times weekly for 20 minutes per session have lost an average of 2 kilograms of body fat in 12 weeks, even without dietary changes (15). Perhaps more important was the 17% reduction in visceral fat, which surrounds internal organs.

Several studies also indicate that HIIT can be very effective in reducing body fat, despite your busy schedule (16, 17, 18).

4. They Help You Gain Muscle

Aside from helping you with fat loss, HIIT exercises have shown to increase mass in the primary muscles being used during sessions in some people (19, 20, 21). It has been noted though that the increases are more likely to occur in people who were less active to start with (22).

While weight training remains to be the gold standard to increase muscle mass, HIIT exercises can support a small amount of muscle growth too!

5. They Improve Your Oxygen Consumption

Oxygen consumption pertains to your muscles’ ability to use oxygen. To improve oxygen consumption, one is typically required to do endurance training, which involves long sessions of continuous cycling or running at a steady rate.

But, with the appearance of HIIT, which is believed to be capable of producing the same benefits within a shorter period of time (23, 24, 25), this is no longer being practiced.

Evidence shows that 5 weeks of HIIT exercises done 4 days weekly for 20 minutes per session can help improve oxygen consumption by 9% (6). This is equivalent to the improvement seen in people who cycled continuously for 40 minutes per day, 4 days weekly.

One study found that exercising on a stationary bike using both HIIT and traditional routine helped increased oxygen consumption by as much as 25% (7). However, the total time spent exercising is worth-noting. It is one hour of HIIT exercise versus 120 minutes of traditional routine weekly.

6. They Lower Your Blood Pressure

A large amount of research proves that HIIT can reduce heart rate and blood pressure in overweight and obese people (23). Eight weeks of HIIT on a stationary bike can help lower your blood pressure as much as traditional continuous endurance training in adults with high BP, which is 30 minutes per day, 4 times weekly (7).

However, it shows that HIIT exercise does not affect blood pressure in normal-weight people with normal BP (23).

7. They Control Blood Sugar Level

Blood sugar can be decreased by HIIT programs lasting less than 12 weeks (23, 26). It can also improve insulin resistance better than traditional continuous workouts (27). Having said that, HIIT is believed to be very helpful for people who are at risk for type 2 DM.

What’s The Difference Between HIIT and Tabata?

While HIIT and Tabata are similar in many ways, the key differences come down to three major points:

Duration of Work versus Rest

As mentioned earlier, Tabata is known to have a pretty standard 20-second work period followed by rest for 10 seconds. HIIT, on the other hand, requires you to work from anywhere between 30 seconds to 2 minutes, followed by 30 seconds to 2 minutes of rest time, depending on the work duration. From here, you’ll see the difference in the ratio of work to rest. Tabata follows a 2:1 ratio while HIIT more often has a 1:1 or 1:2 ratio.

Heart Rate and Intensity

Tabata aims to increase your heart rate above 100%. HIIT is slightly more conservative, pushing only 80-95% of your maximum heart rate.

Total Workout Time

Tabata requires a much lesser time compared to HIIT. Tabata routines, as mentioned earlier, generally lasts for only 4 minutes, while HIIT can be anywhere between 10-30 minutes.

Effective Tabata Workouts for Newbies

Now that you know what Tabata is and how it works, you are sure that your 8 repetitions of an all-out 20-seconds vigorous exercise will be well worth it! You can do this even in the comfort of your home and save money, time, and effort of going to the gym. Listed below are some of the most common and effective Tabata routines:

1. Squats

This uses the largest groups of muscles, hence very effective in shaping your glutes. These are perfect starters for Tabata. Stand up straight with your legs slightly apart. Toes should be facing forward and slightly turned out. Make sure that your feet are well anchored to the ground with your weight on your heels. Keep a proud chest and dip your hips down to a squatting position. Descend as low as you can without ruining your form. Keep your back upright with your hand stretching in front. Drive weight into your heels while standing up and squeezing your glutes at the top. Keep repeating for 20 seconds, then rest for 10 seconds — complete 8 repetitions.

2. Mountain Climbers

This can easily increase your heart rate while shaping your abs and shoulders. Start by placing both of your hands on the ground directly below your shoulders. Do a planking position by extending your legs with your toes curled under and hips raised. Tense every muscle to keep your body in a straight line from head to toe.  Slowly pull your right knee towards your chest while keeping your left foot straight in place. Repeat on the other side by immediately placing your right foot back down behind and pulling your left knee towards your chest. Keep alternating legs and repeat continuously for 20 seconds, followed by rest for 10 seconds — complete 8 repetitions.

3. High Knee Exercise

Stand with your legs slightly apart. Start running in place. Raise your knees as high as you can as if you are like sprinting or jogging. Make sure to keep your upper body and back upright. Do this for 20 seconds, followed by rest for 10 seconds — complete 8 repetitions.

Good HIIT Workouts for Beginners

A good HIIT workout combines basic cardio and bodyweight exercises you can do just about anywhere and anytime. As a beginner, you can start with a 15-minute simple HIIT full-body routine, which includes a circuit of 10 pushups, 20 jumping jacks, and 10 modified burpees. Complete this circuit 5 times, resting one minute between every round.

1. Push Ups

Get into a prone position on the floor with your head facing downward and palms flat on the floor. Form a straight line from your head to toes, and contract your abdomen to keep your hips from sagging (plank). Make sure to keep your elbows close to your body for better resistance. Slowly raise yourself by pushing the ground away from you. Keep exerting force until your arms are almost in a straight line again, but make sure not to lock your arms. Breathe out as you push. Repeat lowering and raising at a slow and steady pace. Every pair counts as a single push up — complete 10 repetitions.

2. Jumping Jacks

Stand upright with your feet together and arms at your sides. Slightly bend your knees and jump into the air. As you jump, spread your legs a little and stretch your arms over your head. Jump back to starting position. Repeat this 20 times.

3. Modified Burpees

Stand with your feet slightly apart and your arms at your sides. Place your weight on your heels and assume a squat position. Stand back up, and instead of jumping, reach up towards the sky without lifting your feet off the ground. Squat again and place your hands on the ground, directly in front of you, shifting your weight to your hands. Instead of jumping back into a plank position, slowly step your feet back one at a time. Instead of doing a regular pushup, lower your knees to the ground and do a modified pushup. Then, raise your knees back off the ground and raise onto your toes into a plank position. Walk your feet forward again one at a time, with bended knees. Stand up straight and reach up toward the sky. Repeat 10 times.

Which is Better for Weight Loss?

Both HIIT and Tabata are excellent for fat burning and muscle building. Results are shaped by the exercises included in your circuits. So, if your goal is to lose weight, amp up the cardio. Recovery days are crucial. Do not do HIIT and Taba workouts on consecutive days.

The Bottom Line

Weight loss is probably one of the most common reasons why people would want to improve their fitness life. Tabata is an excellent stepping stone for beginners and for those who have no time to hit the gym. Four minutes is all you need with Tabata to get a great workout. But, as you get stronger, with more free days becoming available, you can graduate to lengthier HIITs and do more rounds with more complex exercises to continuously challenge yourself. Either way, you’ll shed pounds with these routines.


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