You've heard of interval training, and probably HIIT Tabata workouts, but what's behind all this intimidating jargon?

Don't worry if you don't know the differences between interval training, high-intensity interval training (HIIT) and Tabata. 

interval training

Real life depiction of interval training.

Before working here at Fringe, I didn't know the difference either, so don't feel bad. 

That's why I'm here to help by turning the scary and unknown into harmless knowledge.

Running the Bases

Here's the simplest and fastest way to understand the basics of interval training, HIIT and Tabata. 

Interval training is first base, HIIT is second base and Tabata is third base. 

Like in baseball, you can't get to second without reaching first.

You also can't get to third without reaching first and getting to second. 

HIIT tabata running bases slide

By the end of this blog, you'll be running the bases as smooth as this.

Family = Interval Training

Interval training is a broad category of fitness and strength training. 

Picture an inverted pyramid with the base representing interval training.

Let's use taxonomic rank to explain the differences between interval training, HIIT and Tabata.

Interval training is a "family" of fitness and strength training. 

"Hominidae" is the family of homo sapiens

Homo is the genus.

Sapiens is the species.

HIIT Tabata taxonomic rank

Bet you thought high school bio class would never come in handy.

All humans are hominids but not all hominids are humans. 

Think homo erectus for example, which is a hominid but not a human.

But I digress.

Interval training is a type of physical training that involves bursts of high-intensity work interspersed with periods of low-intensity work. The high-intensity periods are anaerobic exercise, while the recovery periods may involve either complete rest or an activity of lower intensity. 

Genus = HIIT

High-intensity interval training is a genus of interval training. 

All HIIT is interval training, but not all interval training is HIIT.

Look, it's right in the name "high-intensity INTERVAL TRAINING."

Proceeding down the inverted pyramid, the difference between interval training and HIIT is subtle. 

The difference is so subtle it's best that the experts define it.

The American Council on Exercise defines it thus:

"High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is a system of organizing cardiorespiratory training which calls for repeated bouts of short duration, high-intensity exercise intervals intermingled with periods of lower intensity intervals of active recovery. On a 1-10 scale of perceived exertion, high intensity can be considered anything over an effort level of 7. When using max heart rate (MHR) as a guide, high intensity can be considered exercising above 80% of MHR." 

HIIT tabata workout Blues Brothers

Oops, wrong HIIT, but I'm sure they'd back your effort and enthusiasm.

There are 2 differences of note.

1. Active Recovery. Interval training rest periods can be complete rest. HIIT, on the other hand, doesn't allow for complete rest. You're still working and training but at a lower intensity.

2. Maximum Heart Rate. Interval training doesn't require maintaining a heart rate threshold, whereas HIIT does.

Species = Tabata

Not to be confused with bachata, the popular dance from the Dominican Republic, although I bet bachata can be turned into a Tabata workout.

As defined by Merriam-Webster:

"Tabata is a high-intensity interval training that consists of eight sets of fast-paced exercises each performed for 20 seconds interspersed with a brief rest of 10 seconds."

HIIT tabata workout

Stick figures make tabatas look unfairly easy.

Japanese scientist Dr. Izumi Tabata along with a team of researchers from the  National Institute of Fitness and Sports in Tokyo, discovered tabata training, thus the name.

You can read about the study Tabata and his team did and the results here.

Tabata is as easy to understand as 1, 2, 3.

1. Work out as hard as you can for 20 seconds.

2. Rest for 10.

3. Complete 8 sets (20 seconds on, 10 off) of 4 exercises.

Each exercise will last 4 minutes (8 sets), and doing the entire workout (4 exercises) will take 16 minutes.

So an example tabata workout may look like this:

  1. Burpees (4 minutes)
  2. Crunches (4 minutes)
  3. Box jumps (4 minutes)
  4. Push-ups (4 minutes) 

Tabata or Not Tabata

You may see this and think, "Oh, 16 measly minutes? No sweat."

Do NOT make this mistake. 

If you keep yourself honest and discipline yourself to push at max intensity for each 20 second work period, this workout will destroy you.

after tabata workout

You'll likely look like this and that you jumped in a pool.

I've done them, I know. 

I've done them on assault bikes, with burpees, pull-ups and bodyweight squats. 

All I want to do when I'm done is collapse on the floor, lay, be still and catch my breath while I sweat. 

Tabatas exert a massive amount of stress and stimulus on your physiology. 

This is the key to their popularity; maximum gains in minimum time. 

In this regard, tabatas are kind of like riding a high-speed train, but much less relaxing.

Dr. Tabata's research found this type of training to be more beneficial than moderate intensity workouts, thus why tabata training has become so popular in functional fitness.

Although tabata is closely associated with CrossFit, don't let this scare you off or intimidate you. 

Tabata workouts are great for anyone wanting to hit their training hard and get quality results fast, if they're willing to hammer themselves.

Tabata workouts work as a 2 for 1, as they simultaneously build up your aerobic conditioning and anaerobic strength.

Green for Go

You ready to get your tabata on?

If so, we've got you covered.

Here's a tabata WOD to check out, and here's another one that involves more garage gym toys.

Make sure you have a nice, comfy spot to lay on the ground when you're cooked afterwards.

tabata workout

If you've done one, you know.

Thanks for reading Fringe Nation. 

If you have any comments, questions or feedback, please leave them in the comments below.

Also, please feel free to share your tabatas.

Until next time, stay awesome and lift yourself beyond the ordinary.


Adam Miezio
Adam Miezio

Author