Tabata Sprints + 28 Tough Tabata Workout Ideas For Strong Runners 

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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. Other days, it’s a miracle if we can find just ten minutes to ourselves, whether to scarf down a quick bite, jump in the shower, or make a cup of tea. 

When you’re busy, it can be nearly impossible to squeeze in a workout, let alone any appreciable mileage. While it’s absolutely fine to take a day off—after all, the body needs rest—there can still be plenty of benefits to short-running workouts, such as those found in Tabata sprints!

Even running just a mile can shake off the stress of the day, stretch your legs, oxygenate your body, and leave you feeling energized. Alternatively, you can do a workout of Tabata sprints to maximize the metabolic benefits of your exercise while still conserving time. 

If you need some inspiration for a quick, heart-pumping running workout, keep reading for our guide to Tabata sprints and Tabata workout ideas.

In this article, we will cover: 

  • What Are Tabata Workouts?
  • Benefits of Tabata Workouts for Runners
  • Precautions with Tabata Workouts for Runners
  • Tabata Workouts for Runners
  • Adding Tabata Workouts to Your Running Routine

Sounds fun! Let’s get rolling!

A person doing tabata sprints on a track.

What Are Tabata Workouts?

Before we delve into what Tabata sprints and other Tabata workouts entail, let’s provide a refresher on HIIT workouts. 

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

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 is eight rounds of 20 seconds of nearly maximal-intensity work followed by just 10 seconds of rest, making the entire Tabata 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.

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 
  • Increasing your sprinting speed 
  • Increasing muscular strength, power, and endurance
A person running on a track.

Precautions 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 this style of training, it’s important to give your body adequate rest between Tabata workouts. Again, the only caveat would be if you 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, 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, depending on your fitness level and other workouts.

It is also crucial to remember that while speed and intensity are key in terms of 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.

Tabata Workouts for Runners

All Tabata workouts should begin with a few minutes of easy running to warm up and should 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 when it comes to what type of exercise you do during your Tabata workouts.

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 string together several different Tabata workouts, though be careful extending your Tabata workouts too much as the goals are 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.

  • Sprints 
  • Incline sprints on a treadmill 
  • Sprinting up stadium stairs
  • Parachute sprints
  • Bounding
  • Rowing
A man sprinting.
  • Jumping jacks
  • Jump squats
  • Jumping rope
  • Line jumps
  • Mountain climbers
  • Burpees
  • Tuck jumps
  • Push-ups
  • Pull-ups
  • Squats
  • Lunges
  • Jumping lunges
  • Kettlebell swings
  • Sprinting in place on a trampoline
  • Battle ropes
  • Box jumps
A person doing a box jump.

Adding Tabata Workouts to Your 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, the exercises that lend themselves well to Tabata workouts for runners are total-body exercises that 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 Tabatas and pushing your body to the max.

If you are looking to add a strength training routine to your running, check out our Strength Training For Runner’s Guide!

A woman sprinting.
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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