All you need to know about Tabata Workouts

I have previously written an article on the benefits of weight lifting (https://www.sleb.co.za/the-real-benefits-of-lifting-weights/), and I will always stand by the assertion that weights are king for bringing significant change to your physique. That, however, doesn’t give you an excuse for skipping out on your cardio.

Yeah I know, trust me I know, cardio sucks. On a regular basis, my clients ask if it’s really necessary, right after they’ve given me the eye roll. But as I keep telling them, cardio is the vegetables of exercise. An unpleasant but important requirement to achieving and maintaining optimal health. From time to time I too need to remind myself. Because I’d be lying if I said I enjoy cardio.

There are various forms of cardio, but the most popular I see in the gym is called Continuous Training. Continuous Training is basically steady-state or single pace cardio that doesn’t involve any rest periods. But I find this to be boring, monotonous, and tedious. Not only that, with Continuous Training once you stop training, your body stops burning calories.

When I think about cardio, I just want it to be over as quickly as possible. Fortunately, there is a solution, not an easy one, but it beats running on a treadmill for half an hour. The answer is High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). Spend any amount of time in the gym, and that is a term you’ve likely heard before. HIIT is alternating bouts of intense anaerobic exercise with low intensity or rest periods. One of my preferred forms of HIIT is known as the Tabata Protocol or Tabata Training.

Apart from the fact that HIIT has a shorter duration than Continuous Training, a side effect of HIIT is that your body will have a higher Resting Metabolic Rate. HIIT also induces higher Excess Post-exercise Oxygen Consumption (EPOC). EPOC is an increased rate of oxygen intake following strenuous exercise. Essentially your body continues to burn calories hours after your gym session has ended. Which in case you were wondering, is good news when trying to drop your body fat percentage.

The Tabata Protocol was developed by Dr. Izumi Tabata from Japan. It consists of 20 seconds of all-out intensity followed by 10 seconds of rest. This pattern would be repeated for 8 rounds, which amounts to 4 minutes. Doesn’t sound like much does it, 4 minutes of exercise. But if done with the appropriate intensity, it will set your lungs on fire. Not literally. But you are going to be sucking wind pretty good. But as your fitness levels increase, you can up the Tabata as well. Increase the number of rounds or do a second 4-minute cycle after resting for a couple of minutes.

The rules of the Tabata Protocol are not set in stone. You can personalise the workout according to your goals, and your fitness levels. The 4-minute cycle can be done as a standalone workout, or after your weightlifting session, or as part of a larger fitness regimen. You can choose to perform one exercise for the duration of the cycle or alternate different exercises. Personally I prefer to alternate the exercises. For example, if you decide to only do pushups, it will be really difficult to maintain the intensity and the form. Rather alternate pushups with say Squats.

You can do the workout anywhere. At home, in the gym, in a hotel room. In the parking lot at work. I’ve put together some Tabata workouts that you can try out. However, as you develop confidence and familiarity, you can customise the programme to suit your needs. I would advise you to do 3 sessions a week of the Tabata Protocol with a day in between sessions.

Remember the format is 20 seconds ultra intensity followed by 10 seconds of rest. It’s very important you are able to keep working for the full 20 seconds. You need to be able to transition easily between exercises. Now, some gyms have clearly visible clocks, so that you’re able to time yourself correctly. Or your training partner can time you and vice verse. If you’re on your own, there are a number of Tabata/HIIT Apps you can download. As a last resort, you can ask a gym staff member to keep track of your time. Of course, having the services of a Personal Trainer to guide you would be ideal.


Round 1: Squat

Round 2: Push Press

Round 3: Hang Clean

Round 4: Romanian Deadlift

Repeat rounds 1-4


Round 1: Russian Kettlebell Swing (American Kettlebell Swing for advanced lifters)

Round 2: Goblet Squat

Round 3: Upright Row

Round 4: Kettlebell Abdominal Crunch

Repeat rounds 1-4


Round 1: Power Snatch

Round 2: Bentover Row

Round 3: Goblet Squat

Round 4: Romanian Deadlift

Repeat rounds 1-4

Combined Exercises

Round 1: Battle Ropes

Round 2: Ball Slams

Repeat rounds 1-2, 4 times


Round 1: Squat

Round 2: Pushups

Repeat rounds 1-2, 4 times


Round 1: Wall Balls

Round 2: Butterfly Situps

Repeat rounds 1-2, 4 times

Body Weight Exercises

Round 1: Pushups

Round 2: Squat

Round 3: Butterfly Situps

Round 4: Mountain Climbers

Repeat rounds 1-4


Round 1: Pushups

Round 2: Alternate Jumping Lunges

Round 3: V-ups

Round 4: Mountain Climbers

Round 5: Burpees

Round 6: Squat

Round 7: Butterfly Situps

Round 8: Jumping Jacks

Rowing Machine

Row for 20 seconds at all-out pace, followed by 10 seconds of rest.

Repeat for 8 rounds

Again, these are templates that you can use. Or you can create your own workouts. Ensure you use the appropriate weight for barbell, dumbells, etc. If you use a weight that is too light, then you’re just wasting your time. This is supposed to be difficult. Now, this isn’t a green light to eat all sorts of junk food. As I’ve said before, you can’t out-train a bad diet. So, happy hunting.


Please seek advice from your GP if you’re suffering from any pre-existing medical condition/s before considering embarking on an exercise programme. Neither Sleb nor Sizwe Luthuyi may be held liable for any medical complication/s. Only do exercise programmes in accordance with your health practitioner.

Sizwe Luthayi (Personal Trainer | Planet Fitness Morningside)

If you have any questions for me on training programmes please get in contact. Details below.

Cellphone: 0839942748

Email: luthayis@gmail.com

Instagram: @bearzulu11

Twitter: @SizweLuthayi








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