How This Popular HIIT Workout Majorly Improved My Running

Right now, it’s cold and icy where I live and my running motivation is seriously lagging. I know that sometimes the way to get back into a running groove is to spice things up with intervals and speed play, especially when you’re confined to the treadmill.

I’d been hearing the buzzword “Tabata” for a few years now, and I wondered how I could use it to reenergize my routine. I knew it was a type of high-intensity interval training, but I’ve also heard it’s no ordinary HITT workout. Friends said they saw gains in power and speed quickly with Tabata—and that it was scientifically proven. A few days ago, I hopped on the treadmill to give it a go.

What Is Tabata Training?

So what is Tabata and how do you get started? The Tabata routine gets its name from Dr. Izumi Tabata, a professor at Ritsumeikan University in Japan. In 1990, Dr. Tabata was hired as a coach for the Japanese speed skating team. The professor saw that the team was having success with interval training, so he decided to conduct research on the team’s regimen of 20 seconds hard, 10 seconds rest.

In 1996, Tabata published a study showing that this specific form of training was not only highly efficient, but it worked both the aerobic and anaerobic systems.

Related: Everything You Need to Know About Tabata Training

Why is that important? Well, the body utilizes two different types of fuel systems, aerobic and anaerobic. You tap into the aerobic system when you run easy or long (think: half-marathons, marathons, normal miles). The anaerobic system comes into play during power efforts, like short track races or your finish line sprint at the end of a race. Targeting both systems at once allows athletes to improve in a shorter amount of time.

Quick Tip

When it comes to specifics, a Tabata routine calls for eight sets of 20 seconds “on” (hard effort), 10 seconds off (recovery or rest).

How to Do a Tabata Workout

When it comes to specifics, a Tabata routine calls for eight sets of 20 seconds “on” (hard effort), 10 seconds off (recovery or rest). One complete round of Tabata lasts just 4 minutes, but this brief workout is a mighty calorie burner. You could use just about any exercise in a Tabata routine, but running might be one of the easiest ways to get started.

Related: The Case for the Morning Run  

After a few miles of warm-up, it was time for me to Tabata. I only completed one round, but that half-mile or so was TOUGH. The hard 20-second portion was close to my max effort (approximately my mile race time), while the 10-second recovery was a very easy jog. The intervals made the time fly, but changing the speed on the treadmill every 10-20 seconds was challenging. There was no time to think about anything else.

I know athletes who’ve also had success using Tabata intervals on the track. Setting a timer to beep when your 20 seconds is up, then a second timer to beep after your 10-second break makes the workout particularly streamlined.


In future workouts, I will consider slowing down the 20-second portions and shoot for something closer to a 3K or 5K pace. Hopefully, that will leave me with enough energy to do more than one round. The best part of this training method is the simplicity and the feeling that, over time, I might improve my speed in shorter races.

Types of Tabata Running Workouts

Looking to add Tabata to your running routine? Try one of these workouts:

20-Minute Beginner Workout

Warm-up for 8 minutes

Complete a Tabata round (4 minutes total)

Cool-down for 8 minutes

30-Minute Intermediate Workout

Warm-up for 10 minutes

Complete a Tabata round (4 minutes total)

Jog for 2 minutes

Complete another Tabata round (4 minutes total)

Cool-down for 10 minutes

45-Minute Advanced Workout

Warm-up for 10 minutes

Complete 4 rounds of Tabata (4 minutes each)

Jog for 2-3 minutes after each round

Cool-down for 10 minutes

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