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Tabata Sprints + 28 Tough Tabata Workout Ideas For Strong Runners 

The ultimate guide to intense interval training

Some days, we have all the time we need for a good warmup, a nice long run, and even some post-run stretches and core exercises.

On other days, finding just ten minutes to ourselves is a miracle, whether to scarf down a quick bite, jump in the shower, or make a cup of tea. When you’re busy, squeezing in a workout, let alone any appreciable mileage, can be nearly impossible.

While it’s absolutely fine to take a day off—after all, the body needs rest—short-running workouts, such as Tabata sprints, can still have plenty of benefits!

Tabata sprints is a form of high-intensity interval training that involves alternating short periods of all-out sprints and recovery. Tabata training is an incredible cardio workout, and if done at your max, it works your anaerobic capacity.

If you need inspiration for a quick, heart-pumping running workout, keep reading for our guide to Tabata sprints for some great ways to stick some high-intensity exercise into your busy day.

A person doing tabata sprints on a track.

What Is The Difference Between Tabata And HIIT?

Before we delve into what Tabata sprints and other Tabata workouts involve, let’s review what HIIT workouts are. 

High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is a type of workout that involves alternating short bursts of vigorous exercise with less intense recovery periods.

By engaging in these hard-easy cycles, HIIT workouts allow you to work harder during the intense periods and keep your heart rate elevated throughout the workout—even while you recover or rest.

HIIT workouts usually last between 15-45 minutes, but there are different styles of HIIT, which is where Tabata workouts enter the conversation.

What Are Tabata Sprints?

Tabata is a specific style of HIIT training that involves extremely high-intensity efforts and very short rest periods. 

Developed by Dr. Izumi Tabata in 1996, the traditional Tabata format consists of eight rounds of 20 seconds of nearly maximal-intensity work followed by just 10 seconds of rest, making the entire workout just 4 minutes long.

Because a Tabata workout is just four minutes long, the intensity should be even higher than your hard efforts during a HIIT workout.

People sprinting on a track.

What Are The Benefits of Tabata Workouts for Runners?

Just because Tabata workouts are only 4 minutes long doesn’t mean they’re a walk in the park—or leisurely jog—even if you have the stamina to run a marathon or more. 

You’ll be pushing your body to near-maximal intensity, but the payoff is worth it as there are quite a few benefits you’ll reap from engaging in Tabata sprints, including the following:

  • Training your anaerobic system as well as your aerobic system
  • Boosting your metabolism
  • Adding variety and fun to a workout routine
  • Challenging different energy systems than during distance running 
  • Providing a time-efficient workout option 
  • Improving your running economy
  • Increasing your VO2 max1Menz, V., Marterer, N., Amin, S. B., Faulhaber, M., Hansen, A. B., & Lawley, J. S. (2019). Functional Vs. Running Low-Volume High-Intensity Interval Training: Effects on VO2max and Muscular Endurance. Journal of Sports Science & Medicine18(3), 497–504. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6683610/
  • Increasing your sprinting speed 
  • Improving your running form
  • Burning calories efficiently2Emberts, T., Porcari, J., Dobers-tein, S., Steffen, J., & Foster, C. (2013). Exercise Intensity and Energy Expenditure of a Tabata Workout. Journal of Sports Science & Medicine12(3), 612–613. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3772611/
  • Increasing fat oxidation3Pearson, R. C., Olenick, A. A., Green, E. S., & Jenkins, N. T. (2020). Tabata‐style functional exercise increases resting and postprandial fat oxidation but does not reduce triglyceride concentrations. Experimental Physiology105(3), 468–476. https://doi.org/10.1113/ep088330
  • Increasing muscular strength, power, and endurance
A person running on a track.

What Precautions Should Be Taken with Tabata Workouts for Runners?

Just as you shouldn’t do a speed workout with VO2 max intervals every day, so too should you space out your Tabata efforts, particularly if you’re only doing Tabata sprints

Due to the intense nature of the Tabata protocol, it’s important to give your body adequate rest between workouts. Again, the only caveat is that you should do a different type of exercise every day for your Tabata workout.

For example, while doing Tabata sprints every day could increase your risk of injury, depending on your fitness level and other workouts, it would potentially be okay to do Tabata sprints on Monday, Tabata push-ups on Tuesday, Tabata squats on Thursday, Tabata jump rope on Saturday, and Tabata high knees on Sunday.

It is also crucial to remember that while speed and intensity are key to reaping the benefits of Tabata workouts, intensity should never come at the expense of good form. 

For this reason, it’s best to choose exercises you can do well without sacrificing your form and putting your body at risk for injury.

A woman doing tabata sprints.

What Are The Best Tabata Workouts for Runners?

All Tabata workouts should begin with a few minutes of easy running to warm up and end with easy jogging to cool down and promote circulation and the removal of metabolic byproducts from your muscles. 

Aside from following the structure of a Tabata workout—8 x 20 seconds on, 10 seconds rest—there are no rules regarding what type of exercise you do.

You can simply do Tabata sprints (run at your maximum velocity for 20 seconds and then rest or jog very slowly for 10 seconds eight times), or you can incorporate other exercises. 

You can also do multiple rounds or reps or string together several different Tabata workouts, though be careful extending your Tabata workouts too much. The goal is to be at a near-maximal effort for those “on” intervals. 

The longer you extend the workout, the less intensity you can expect from your body. In other words, if you run for an hour in the Tabata format (20 seconds on, 10 seconds easy), you’ll get a great HIIT workout, but it won’t be Tabata in its pure sense, and your hard intervals won’t be maximal intensity after a while.

A person smiling while doing a burpee.

Below, we share a few of the best Tabata workouts for runners, including Tabata sprints and Tabata strength training ideas to get you started. These full-body workouts will have your heart pumping!

Just follow the 8 x 20/10 protocol for the following exercises:

  • Outdoor sprints 
  • Hill sprints
  • Sprints on a treadmill
  • Incline sprints on a treadmill 
  • High knees sprinting in place 
  • Sprinting up stadium stairs
  • Parachute sprints
  • Bounding
  • Spinning/stationary bike
  • Rowing
  • Jumping jacks
  • Jump squats
  • Jumping rope
  • Line jumps
  • Mountain climbers
  • Burpees
  • Tuck jumps
  • Push-ups
  • Pull-ups
  • Squats
  • Lunges (you can add dumbbells)
  • Jumping lunges
  • Kettlebell swings
  • Sprinting in place on a trampoline
  • Battle ropes
  • Box jumps
  • Skaters
A person doing a box jump.

How Can I Add Tabata Workouts to My Running Routine?

Theoretically, you can do a Tabata workout with any exercise or modality, as it’s less about what you are doing and more about how you are doing it. 

However, total-body exercises that lend themselves well to Tabata workouts for runners can be strung together with minimal changes in equipment since the periods of rest are exceptionally brief. Therefore, bodyweight exercises work particularly well.

Tabata sprints can be surprisingly challenging, yet they often add just the right amount of spice and fun to your running routine to become your default workout for those hectic days where time is at an all-time premium.

So, next time you have just a commercial break-length opening in your packed schedule for a workout, try sneaking in Tabata intervals and pushing your body to the max.

For alternating days, you may want to add some moderate-intensity exercise or steady-state runs to switch it up and work on your cardiovascular endurance. Check out this next guide for more information:

References

  • 1
    Menz, V., Marterer, N., Amin, S. B., Faulhaber, M., Hansen, A. B., & Lawley, J. S. (2019). Functional Vs. Running Low-Volume High-Intensity Interval Training: Effects on VO2max and Muscular Endurance. Journal of Sports Science & Medicine18(3), 497–504. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6683610/
  • 2
    Emberts, T., Porcari, J., Dobers-tein, S., Steffen, J., & Foster, C. (2013). Exercise Intensity and Energy Expenditure of a Tabata Workout. Journal of Sports Science & Medicine12(3), 612–613. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3772611/
  • 3
    Pearson, R. C., Olenick, A. A., Green, E. S., & Jenkins, N. T. (2020). Tabata‐style functional exercise increases resting and postprandial fat oxidation but does not reduce triglyceride concentrations. Experimental Physiology105(3), 468–476. https://doi.org/10.1113/ep088330
Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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