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Trainer Q&A: What's the Difference Between HIIT and Tabata?

Our expert explains what sets these two fitness trends apart.
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Tom Holland is a Connecticut-based exercise physiologist, certified sports nutritionist, and CEO and founder of TeamHolland. Holland explains everything you need to know about HIIT and Tabata.

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Men's Fitness: What’s the Difference Between HIIT and Tabata?

Tom Holland: When I coach people for Ironman, marathons, running, or any type of aerobic activity, HIIT allows athletes to get more work at a higher intensity than if they did it steady-state. By having those rest intervals, you spend more time in the upper end of aerobic capacity, whereas you wouldn’t be able to do that if you tried to do 10 minutes of really high-intensity exercises. It's going to have positive physiological adaptations, including improved fat burning, insulin sensitivity, and skeletal muscle oxidation.

As for Tabata, this training style originated from a 1996 study in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise authored by Izumi Tabata. The study found that intense four-minute workouts done five days a week for six weeks improved VO2 max and anaerobic energy supply system. The shorter the workout, the more intense it will be. Nowadays, the Tabata method is often used in sessions lasting longer than four minutes, making those workouts Tabata adaptations.

Here are the details about HIIT and Tabata training. The differences are that rest and work periods in Tabata are shorter compared to HIIT, and Tabata pushes the limit on the percentage of your maximum heart rate.

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The Facts About Tabata
Work:  20 seconds
Rest: 10 seconds
Heart Rate: Above 100% (Subjects in the original study trained at 170% of VO2 max)
Total Workout Time: 4 minutes

The Facts About HIIT
Work: 1-2 minutes
Rest: 30 seconds to 2 minutes is a general range. I like a 1:1 or 1:2 ratio, meaning 1 minute work, 1 minute rest or 1 minute work and 2 minutes recovery. You can mix it up and do 2:1, meaning 2 minutes work and 1-minute rest. The harder the work interval, the longer the rest will have to be.
Heart Rate: 80-95% of maximum heart, according to American Council on Exercise (ACE)
Total Workout Time: 20-40 minutes

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