Tabata workout for runners: 4-minute high-intensity interval training (HIIT)

I have heard so much about Tabata training and Tabata workout. It seems to be one of the most popular 4-minute high-intensity interval training (HIIT) available today to achieve your fitness goal. 

It is very popular in Hong Kong because I have a few Hong Kong friends who swear by its effectiveness. I was also invited to join one of the mass Tabata workouts with more than one hundred Tabata enthusiasts at Hong Kong's Happy Valley Racecourse. Unfortunately I didn't have a chance to witness the mass Tabata workouts yet. I look forward to experiencing it one day!



Today I tried out Tabata workout after tempo run and strength straining. I felt awesome! Personally, I've found Tabata workout to be extremely beneficial for runners. I tend to get lazy to do core and leg exercises. Tabata prevents me from getting lazy. I will share a bit about Tabata training and examples of Tabata workout for runners below for your reference. 




Origin of Tabata

If Tabata sounds Japanese to you, then you are right! Tabata training originates from Japan. It was discovered by Japanese scientist Dr. Izumi Tabata from the National Institute of Fitness and Sports in Tokyo. Tabata is named after Dr. Izumi Tabata.

It's a scientifically proven high-intensity interval training that has more impact on both the aerobic and anaerobic systems




How Tabata training works

It's quite a simple training program. Each exercise in a given Tabata workout lasts four (4) minutes.

Tabata - a 4-minute high-intensity interval training program:



  1. 20 seconds: workout hard (same or different workout during repeat)
  2. 10 second  : rest
  3. Repeat no. 1 and 2 above eight (8) times. This shall make up total four (4) minutes.
You will push yourself really hard for the 20 seconds following the music or video. Then you take a quick 10 second rest. This is considered one set. You then do this 8 times. 

You can choose to have the 4-minute Tabata workout to focus on only one exercise. After first 4-minute Tabata workout on one exercise, you can then move on to the next 4-minute Tabata workout focusing on another exercise and so forth.

Alternatively, you can have a combination of various exercises for the 4-minute Tabata workout. During the second 4-minute Tabata workout, you repeat the same various exercises done during the first 4 minutes and so forth. 

Look simple, right? Please don't be fooled. Some people even have a feel of nausea and see stars during the 4-minute Tabata workout.

Tabata training for runners

For runners, I would recommend choosing core and leg exercises for Tabata workouts.

Example #1 (combined leg and core)

Here is an example of my favorite 4-minute Tabata training comprising of 8 exercises covering legs and core:
  1. Squat  (workout 20 seconds; rest 10 second)
  2. Kneeling push up  (20 seconds. rest 10 second)
  3. Dynamic lunges  (20 seconds. rest 10 second)
  4. High knee  (20 seconds. rest 10 second)
  5. Spider crawl  (20 seconds. rest 10 second)
  6. Leg lifts  (20 seconds. rest 10 second)
  7. Plank Jack  (20 seconds. rest 10 second)
  8. Knee crunches  (20 seconds. rest 10 second)
It's a 4-minute high-intensity interval training once you complete the Tabata workout above with 8 different exercises. 

Repeat the above five (5) times for a total of 20-minute HIIT workout. 

If you still don't see stars at the end of 20 minutes, you are super fit! 👍

If you see stars before the 20-minute Tabata complete program is over, don't panic! You are okay! Stop there and try again the next day or the day after. Please don't faint, ok? 😉 I believe as your stamina, endurance and strength increase, surely you can do 20 minutes too.

Example #2 (core)

If you are up to strengthening your core, then probably you can follow the below Tabata workout. This example is a bit different from example #1. 

For example #2, you need to complete one (1) exercise only for 4 minutes. After which, you then move on to the next core exercise for the next 4-minute Tabata workout and so forth. 
  1. Scissors kick (workout 20 seconds;  rest 10 seconds; repeat 8 times; total 4 minutes)
  2. Plank step-ups  (workout 20 seconds;  rest 10 seconds; repeat 8 times; total 4 minutes)
  3. Heels high  (workout 20 seconds;  rest 10 seconds; repeat 8 times; total 4 minutes)
  4. Mountain climbers  (workout 20 seconds;  rest 10 seconds; repeat 8 times; total 4 minutes)
  5. Russian twists  (workout 20 seconds;  rest 10 seconds; repeat 8 times; total 4 minutes)

Enjoy your Tabata training!


Written by Vincent Khor on August 1, 2017

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