HIIT vs Tabata? Really?

I wasn't planning on writing this post. But I'm doing it anyway.

One of the news feeds I use recognizes that I read a lot of fitness-related articles so it shows me more than most people see. Most are easily dismissed by the titles: they might be "click bait" or something I already know or something I don't care about. This one's headline warned me it was likely to be a train wreck; I was curious to see just how bad it was. My mistake.

The article is Tabata vs. HIIT: Trainers Weigh In On The Differences Between The Two. Please don't click the link; I only put it there for completeness. I'd rather not give them traffic that would lead them to write similar nonsense.

First of all, the title is stupid. You can't compare HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) to a Tabata-style workout because the "Tabata" is HIIT. It would be like doing a post on swimming vs. the breaststroke. Since the stupid article notes this, the title is probably just a way for them to get searchable keywords in it. Jerks. Then again, they may not get it. Late in the article, a trainer is quoted making the same mistake.

If "Tabata" sounds familiar, maybe it's because I've written (and ranted) about it before in Tabata or Not Tabata. (Clever, right?) Go read that one so I don't have to rewrite it here.

The problem (then and now) is that so many fitness professionals don't know what "Tabata" means. It's really just the name of the lead author (Izumi Tabata) of a study that started the whole HIIT phenomenon back in the 90s. Apparently most fitness writers and professionals think it's any workout that does intervals of 20 seconds of high-intensity work separated by 10 seconds of "rest" and repeats it 8 times. That's embarrassingly simplistic (read my post and the original study).

Anyone who suggests (as the bogus article does and many other folks do) that you can do more than one "Tabata" in a row is clueless. To anyone who thinks they can, I invite you to do two things:

  1. Read the freaking study. (It's linked in my post.)
  2. Let me coach you through a real Tabata-style workout.

I'd kind of enjoy the second one. You would not.

The most common thing folks get wrong about the Tabata protocol is the intensity level. From the stupid article comes this whopper:

While both workouts demand that you go hard, "HIIT’s level of max effort is about an eight out of 10, while Tabata’s is a definite nine," Hammond says.


Now quoting from the actual study:

The exhaustive intermittent training consisted of seven to eight sets of 20-s exercise at an intensity of about 170% of ˙VO2max with a 10-s rest between each bout.


Yeah, 170% of VO2 max. That's crazy hard.

That "Just Finished a Tabata" feeling.

Tip: any fitness pro who thinks you can do a "Tabata" with curls as the exercise (as this article suggests) needs to change professions. And although burpees (which it also suggests) is closer, they won't do either. Again, read the study. Oh, and why is the image at the top of the article showing a woman doing tricep presses? Is she supposed to be doing them in a Tabata-style workout? Seriously???

It's reasonable to say driving 26 miles doesn't mean you did a marathon. It's not the distance that matters, it's how you cover it. Same idea with Tabata-style intervals. It's not the timing as much as the intensity.

By the way, I think I've only ever done one or two Tabata-style workouts in my life because THEY SUCK. Not "suck" in the sense that they're a bad workout or ineffective, just in the sense that they're horribly unpleasant (to put it mildly).

OK, that ends my Tabata rant. Not as entertaining as a Rick Mercer rant but what could be? The takeaway: if you hear anyone talk about doing "a Tabata" there's an extremely high probability they don't know what they're talking about. Let's just stick with HIIT.

Be seeing you.


Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Loved your take on this.

Comments are closed

  • Subscribe to Blog via Email

    Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 3 other subscribers