Tabata intervals for fat loss

Our fellow QS forum member Naomi Most wrote an excellent post on fat loss, in which she recommends Tabata intervals. The first Google hit for Tabata intervals is an informative page on a fitness forum, which also lists the medical research behind the advantages of this short (4 minutes) High Intensity Interval Training for increasing anaerobic capacity.

There are also claims of efficient fat loss after the workout:

Tabata intervals have become quite popular online for fat loss (“Only 4 minutes instead of my half-hour cardio every day? Sign me up!”). However, dedicated fitness users on the very forum mentioned above claim that it’s silly to think that 4 minutes a day will result in much fat loss. Instead, they recommend 25 minutes of HIIT.

Has anyone quantified how Tabata intervals have worked for them?

Just a quick reply, but I will come back to this thread to talk more about my experience when I have more time:

It’s true that trying to get achieve fat loss using Tabatas as a replacement for “long slow” cardio is the wrong idea. (Many fitness pros are now saying the “fat burning zone” of cardio isn’t all it’s cracked up to be anyway.)

What you get out of Tabata training is all of the benefits that any type of cardiovascular training will give you EXCEPT FOR lots of calorie burning. Yes, you will burn a few calories more than sitting still, and you will raise your heart rate and have a bit of “afterburn”, but really, Tabata workouts aren’t the go-to for fat loss. (Look at intense continuous weight training using supersets for the best fat-burning effects…)

So what do you get?

Well, for starters, you can improve your body’s usage of fuel (glucose, ketones), keep your mitochondria healthy (which is a key to longevity), and promote overall cardiovascular health (circulatory system and oxygen exchange in the lungs).

You can also vastly improve your sprint performance for any sport by doing Tabata circuits – but only if you really push yourself (which is what you’re supposed to do anyway).

I do Tabata-style workouts twice a day during “heavy” training weeks and as few as 5 times a week on “off” weeks. I genuinely enjoy these workouts and use the iPhone app called “Seconds” to time them.

So far my quantification of “results” have been spotty, except I’ve lately been doing “before and after Tabata” tests of speed and skill on – preliminary data show that my problem-solving and spacial awareness go up sharply after a Tabata-style workout, while language skills seem unaffected (and sometimes go down due to my hands shaking from the exercise exertion).

This article - - by Dan John is an excellent description/review of the Tabata method. (Please disregard the “arms crossed” front squat technique - definitely NOT recommended.)
Fitness is a tricky business - especially considering the myriad of factors that influence what one person may define as fitness.
I require all of the people that I work with to keep a simple training journal. I also require them to set goals. If someone comes to me and says that their goal is to “get more fit” I tell them to come back when they have a goal that actually means something.
I think the one thing that I can consistently measure regarding “fat loss” is the rate at which my blood pressure rises every time I hear about some new method for optimizing the “fat loss” process…
Based on my experience “fat loss” to most people means looking better than they do now when they go to the beach. Exercise plays a part, perhaps a much smaller part than we think, in that process. I think most folks now agree that nutritional strategies (diet is such a nasty word!) play a much more important role in body composition determination. I believe it was the CrossFit people that said: “you cannot out-train a poor diet”.
Back to tabata:
When done properly - as the Dan John article on T-Nation suggests - the tabata protocol is going to seriously disrupt your homeostasis and should provide some quality adaptation!

I’m very curious to hear how other folks are tracking and monitoring their fitness.
Sites such as,, and the online logbook from Concept 2 are providing some powerful tools for tracking and comparing various types of fitness related data. I’ve used Google Docs with a friend to log and compare our workouts but I’ve yet to find something to replace my analog notebook/pen training log!


A huge variable here is how fat is measured. Most people use skin calipers, but they’re notoriously inaccurate. I gave them up years ago because subcutaneous inflammation causes much more of a difference than “fat loss.” Even to this day, if I eat inflammatory foods (those on the red side of the Bulletproof Diet) I get love handles, and the backs of my triceps and other parts you caliper literally swell. I can take toxin binding substances and it’s gone the next day, or wait a few days and it will go away. It’s not fat, but it shows as fat on a caliper measurement. You can also radically reduce the inflammation with liposomal glutathione.

That said, check out Peak8 by Mercola - he recommends 8 HIIT sessions of one minute each.

I don’t believe any exercise is necessary for fat loss, and my experience going from 300 to 200lbs and staying that way for more than a decade, with or without exercise, is enough evidence for me.

Just an aside: for Tabata intervals, do stop at four minutes. Don’t just keep going until you drop. I did squats for seven minutes, not knowing any better, and it took nine days to stop hurting. This surprised me, as I’ve never been that sore that long before. A friend suggested that I didn’t recover well because I wasn’t eating significant carbohydrates, but I don’t know.

I don’t think exercise is necessary for fat loss, no, but it definitely helps for retaining muscle mass and promoting good metabolic effects. The type of exercise is important as well. But when people are just starting out and need to drop (say) 30+ pounds of fat, ANYTHING they do proactively for their health will give them an improvement in the way they look.

If I were a trainer, I’d recommend that people add one healthy habit per week. Doing Tabata circuits would be in my top 10 recommendations, because they’re an easy habit to get into. Low time commitment, high results. And if Tabatas are the ONLY habit someone adds to an otherwise crappy lifestyle, they will see plenty of rewards right away.

Of course, by that same logic, doing Mercola’s Peak8 would work just as well.

Nick: I don’t think it’s unhealthy to go for 7 minutes. That IS a long time to be sore, but soreness actually has to do with the amount of calcium ions floating around in your muscle tissue, having been released by the tearing of muscle fibers. The ions “irritate” muscle fibers that haven’t been exposed before (or not in a long while), which is what leads to the soreness (kind of a black box process as far as I can understand it). The “deeper” the exercise, the more muscle fibers get irritated, but they adapt over time, which is why the next time you do the same sort of exercise, you don’t get as sore (or not sore at all).

It’s possible that your low-carb diet was too low to enable quick repair of the cells such that they built up defenses against this irritation. If you felt extra tired during this recovery time, then, yeah, it’s probable.

Here’s an article talking about what Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness is and how it works:

Dave: That’s interesting! You’ve given me good motivation for eliminating those last few inflammatory foods that have been lingering in my diet. I hate the “upper arm flab” I’ve been watching grow since I hit, oh, age 25 or so.

What’s the toxin-binding protocol you use?


Ive been doing tabata workouts for quite a while now and i can really feel the difference in my VO2Max levels.
I created an android-version of tabata timer. All the values are customisable so you can use it for anykind of interval training.
It is located at the android market:

I also made a pro-version that has a lot more features it is located at :

If you need a timer for pc check out

Yeah the documentation for fat loss with the Tabata method is incredible.

I’m a runner and there is no single variable that decreased my 3-mile time as much as Tabatas.

Fat burning aside, it’s an incredible way to achieve fitness, which I think gets lost in the conversation.

Heath, what is your exact protocol?

I’ve been doing one Tabata round (4 minutes, 4 pushups & 4 crunches) almost every day for the past month, and while the number of pushups did increase by ~60%, I saw no improvement in body composition.

Hi Dan

I went through your post and the replies you have got. I looked around for more details on tabata workout program and got lot of details.

I decided to go for this workout program and see the difference in me…

To perform a Tabata workout, I choose an exercise and performed it for 20 seconds non-stop, followed by a 10 second rest.

Further I repeated this scheme 7 more times for a total of 8 intervals, or 4 minutes of exercise.

Trust me I saw an immense change in my body; I reduced weight up to 3.5 kgs in a week.

The conclusion I got after undergoing this Tabata workout program is that “Tabata workout intervals are a recently popular training method which involves a distinct set of interval training to help you burn fat and improve your athletic fitness”.

I can surely understand that why this workout program has become so popular in a short span of time.