Tabata Protocol: 40/20 Fitness Workout

40/20 is based on research by Dr. Izumi Tabata and a team of researchers from the National Institute of Fitness and Sports in Tokyo, Japan. Their research study, called the Tabata Protocol, published in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports & Exercise in 1996 concluded that just four minutes of high intensity Tabata interval training did more to increase aerobic and anaerobic capacity than did an hour of steady state cardio exercise. Participants in the study increased their anaerobic capacity by an average of 28% and their VO2max by 14%;


In HiiT 40/20 you’ll be doing 16 all out high intensity intervals based on the Tabata Protocol ratio of 2 to 1 for work and rest. Each interval is divided into 40 second high energy, plyo reps, followed by a 20 second rest. Three additional one minute breaks are spread throughout the program.

HiiT 40/20 is one tough workout, but is only 29 minutes in length so it is perfect for days when you don’t have a lot of time, but still want a hard and effective workout.

People who are too busy to spend an hour on a treadmill an exercise regime that was developed for athletes but is being taught in gyms may help to build fitness in less time.
The Tabata Protocol is a four-minute regime that measures fitness in seconds – 20 seconds of full-out work followed by 10 seconds of rest, repeated eight times. Although it can boost fitness levels of the healthy and time-pressed, experts say it is not for everybody and should not be done every day. “Tabata is about all-out maximum effort,” said Jessica Smith, a Miami-based fitness expert and Tabata coach, adding it is a good workout in a shorter amount of time, especially for people who don’t have hours to spend at the gym.

“The intensity has to be high to get the benefits, but you don’t want to do it too often.” The Tabata Protocol was developed by Dr. Izumi Tabata after the Japanese scientist conducted tests on two groups of athletes, comparing moderate intensity training with high intensity interval training (HIIT). He found that short bursts of highly intense exercise were at least as effective as hours of steady moderate training. While Tabata falls under HIIT, its preset work-to-rest ratio is more specific, and usually more demanding, than other interval workouts, which can encompass anything from boot camps to circuits.

“HIIT has more leeway,” said Smith. “The intervals can be longer.” The Tabata Protocol can be followed with kettlebells or on treadmills. Rachel Buschert, who leads a Tabata group fitness class at an Equinox gym in New York, follows the protocol as closely as she can in a group fitness setting. “The idea is to tax your body in 20 seconds,” she explained.

The high intensity work, which often consists of push-ups, squat thrusts and jumps, fills about 20 minutes of the 45-minute class. The rest is recovery, warm up and cool down.
For general fitness, a Tabata class twice a week is recommended, but should not be done on consecutive days. Buschert recommends people who try Tabata start from a base of aerobic fitness.
“If you can’t do one push-up, how can you do 20?” she said. “This is for that person who wants to up the ante.” Mark P. Kelly, an exercise physiologist with the American Council on Exercise, said HIIT has been proven effective in improving athletic performance and enhancing weight loss.

“During high-intensity intervals the heart rate goes really high and remains high even during the rest periods,” he said. “Various hormones kick in that build muscles and burn fat.”

HIIT also pushes the anaerobic threshold, the level of exercise intensity at which lactic acid builds up in the body faster than it can be cleared away, to enable the exerciser to perform at even higher intensity.

Kelly said the Tabata Protocol, while effective, is definitely not for the beginner, but for the experienced and even advanced exerciser. Dizziness and shortness of breath are two quick indicators that people overdoing it. Kelly advocates a well-rounded program, especially for the non-athlete. “Harder or more is only better up to a point,” he explained. “Do other things. Maintain flexibility, maintain good joint mobility. Do resistance to strengthen muscles. Do longer aerobics. Build your aerobic base first.”

With only 8 minutes every 3 days, you can turn your body into a fat-burning super-engine with Tabata Protocol.


When you create an Oxygen Debt (read: heavy panting) your body has burned off all of the blood sugar (glycogen) it has and needs to replace all of that energy. It does this by burning fat. You don’t want to try and burn fat while you are exercising. You want to burn off CARBS as fuel when you are exercising.

Your body has 2 fuel systems, so to speak. There is Aerobic and Anaerobic.

Now, the Aerobic system uses oxygen to burn fuel, and the Anaerobic system doesn’t. But one does not replace the other! What happens is you start out by burning fuel with your Aerobic energy system, and once you go past the point where there is enough oxygen in your system to provide Aerobic energy to your muscles, your Anaerobic system kicks in. Think of this as your Supra-aerobic zone.

To get there, you need to get your heart rate up past what is typically referred to as the ‘Target Heart Rate Zone’ using common aerobics lingo. You should use a Heart Rate Monitor to measure yourself while doing this program.

You will need to build up your endurance gradually. Therefore, you will not start out doing the Tabata Protocol the way it is typically described.

The original Tabata Protocol requires the following:

  • 5 minutes of warm-up
  • 8 intervals of 20 seconds all-out intensity exercise followed by 10 seconds of rest
  • 2 minutes cool-down

If you research the Tabata Protocol online, the original study conducted at the National Institute of Fitness and Sports in Tokyo, Japan used highly-trained endurance athletes in peak physical condition. They would do 8 (or more) intervals, keeping the RPMs on the bike over 85 RPMs until they couldn’t maintain that level of intensity.

You really need to ease into this workout slowly, and perform it only on cardio equipment, not with weights. You will find people doing a Tabata Workout with weights or kettle-balls or other types of resistance. Don’t do this.

Your Maximum Heart Rate is normally calculated as 220 Minus Your Age (e.g. if you are 30 yrs. old, your Max. HR would be 190 BPM – Beats Per Minute). If you do the Tabata Protocol like they did it in the above study, you may see your heart rate shoot up over 200 BPM! You need to gradually build your heart and lung capacity over time.

The entire beginner workout starts out at 6 minutes long. It breaks down to 2 minutes of warmup, 2 intervals of 30 seconds each. (1 minute of exercise) followed by a 2 minute cool-down.

1) Use a Recumbent or Stationary Bike, Versaclimber, Rowing Machine, Elliptical Trainer or other piece of cardio equipment that allows for gradually increasing resistance, speed, etc. and utilizes the large muscles of your legs.

Treadmills are a possibility, but because you have to rest for 10 seconds between bouts of exercise, the only option when on a treadmill is to step onto the sides and stop entirely, because the machine won’t respond quick enough to the required rapid changes in velocity during a Tabata Protocol interval.

2) Wear a Heart Rate Monitor. Record the Max. Heart Rate achieved during your entire workout, and your Recovery Heart Rate.

3) Warm up for 2 minutes at a moderate pace. You can start out with a low resistance and low RPMs (like 30-35 RPMs on a bike) for the first minute, increase the tension on your equipment one notch or increase RPMs slightly for the second minute, gradually raising your heart rate to a moderate level.

4) Start out by doing 2 intervals:
– First, increase the tension one notch above where your warmup ended at, or more if you find your feet are ‘flying off the pedals’

– Pedal (or go) full speed, as fast as you can, well above 85 RPMs (if on a bike) – even over 100 RPMs – for 20 seconds.

– Pedal slow for the next 10 seconds. If you did it right, you should see your Heart Rate go UP a little after you stop pedaling so fast. This is because of the Oxygen Debt you created, and it signals your body to get more oxygen to your energy system. You will notice yourself panting – this is your body trying to get more oxygen to your lungs to fuel your energy system.

– Repeat 1 more time (20 seconds all out fast, 10 seconds slow). Notice your Heart Rate go up a little after you enter the slow part of the interval each time.

– After 2 intervals, decrease the tension to 0 (lowest setting) on your bike or other equipment and pedal slow for 2 minutes.

– After your 2 minute cool-down, take your pulse or Heart Rate. This is your Recovery Heart Rate (RHR). Record it. You must compare your RHR from workout to workout to know when it is safe to increase intervals.

– Record the Maximum Heart Rate you achieved during your workout. This may have occurred during your 1st interval or your last (usually the last). It will probably be over the Max. Heart Rate calculated by 220 Minus Your Age. If it isn’t, that’s OK, especially when you are first starting out – don’t overdo it.

5) Do this workout 3 times per week – allow yourself at least one full day of recovery between workouts. Your body needs to heal itself, increase the strength of your heart and lungs, etc.

6) Gradually build up your fitness level by first adding one interval to your workout each time your RHR improves over your last workout until you get to 8 intervals. Then, you can continue to make cardio fitness gains by increasing the tension/intensity when you see your RHR improve.


The Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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