HIIT - Is Tabata Enough To Burn Fat?

by DeanMcKillop 7420 views Weight Loss

HIIT - Is Tabata Enough To Burn Fat?

While the title of this article implies what I will be discussing in greater detail, I feel like the real question is - “What’s the least amount I can do and still get results?”. Ok so maybe that is a little harsh, then again maybe it is not?

Now… While it would be nice to assume the large majority of fitness blog/article readers are 100% committed to change and are reading to educate themselves on how to be better athletes or how to achieve more optimal results, the reality is that the large majority of readers are looking for a quick fix.

They want the easy answers… not the knowledge.

So whether you are looking for a way to get the maximum effect in minimum time or do the minimum amount of work (in time) for an acceptable amount of effect, this is the article for you.

What is Tabata?

Originally coined in the 90s by Japanese Researcher Izumi Tabata, Tabata training was created on the back of a research paper comparing the physiological effects of aerobic steady state cardio for 60minutes versus high-intensity cardio for 4minutes. Within the 4 minutes, subjects were required to exercise at maximum intensity for 20 seconds, followed by 10 seconds rest and then repeat this 8x over for a total of 4minutes.

And so Tabata was coined…

Following on from this, Tabata and high intensity interval training (HIIT) began to evolve, resulting in different methodologies being utilised, including variable ‘work’ intervals in both time and intensity, a change in total work time (up to 20minutes) and variable changes in exercises specificity (multiple types of exercises in one Tabata session).

The take home message of all of these variables, however, was the same.

In order to complete a HIIT or Tabata style workout, the participant must work above their intensity threshold short term, followed by a rest period, which could be active or passive, and repeated for multiple efforts. eg: Short intervals of high-intensity work ethic.

In doing so, it was claimed that the participant could achieve maximum physical benefit in minimal time.

Sounds great right? You get to train for less time than LISS with the proposed benefits being the same or even better…

But is this true? Well… if you have read my article “How Many Calories Do You Need” you will know that the primary determinant for losing body fat is your caloric balance.

If you consume fewer calories than you burn… you lose weight.

So the question to really ask is, is Tabata necessary?

As in, do you need to follow a Tabata style workout in order to burn fat or can you simply do low intensity, easy cardio?

Even more specifically, is Tabata or HIIT enough to stimulate weight loss directly?

Perhaps… it really all comes down to the context in which this method of cardio is used in relation to the calories you consume and the macronutrient distribution you choose.

Will Tabata or HIIT stimulate fat loss in a caloric surplus? No...
Can Tabata or HIIT be used to create a caloric deficit? Yes...

But is Tabata or HIIT better than LISS?

Well... comparatively, on a minute-by-minute basis, HIIT outperforms low-intensity steady state cardio (LISS) from a caloric burn point of view.

Current research suggests that a Tabata session may burn approximately 54kcal for every 4minutes of work (1) or in the vicinity of 240-360kcal for every 20minutes (2), depending on the style of Tabata session and the body composition of the participant.

running shoe

In comparison to this, it is currently widely accepted that the average caloric burn for someone following a fast paced walking protocol on the road, will burn in the vicinity of 4-6kcal per minute or 80-120kcal per 20 minutes.

So you can either do 20min of HIIT in a Tabata session or 40-60min of LISS during a road walk for the same caloric burn.

Jump on the X-trainer, however, and you will quite comfortably be able to burn closer to 200kcal per 20 minutes of LISS exercise.

So which one is better you may ask? The simple question is neither, as both have varying benefits, however, for a greater look at what LISS and HIIT offer you from a physiological standpoint.

The real question you have to ask yourself is...
Would you prefer short term painful exercise or long-term painless exercise?

Outside of that, what exercise modality you choose is really up to you.  But back to the original question of this article...Is Tabata style training enough to Burn Fat?

The short answer would be yes, provided the exercise bout is of decent length (20min) and the intensity is maxed out. In doing so, your body will improve both its anaerobic (power) and aerobic (endurance) capacity (1,2,3), while burning additional calories that you may otherwise have to remove from food to create the same 300 calorie deficit you're chasing.

Is Tabata or HIIT a must?

Absolutely not, but if you enjoy it, you still recover well for your weights sessions and you can maintain consistency with Tabata style training, I would encourage you to embrace it.

Weight loss is not about finding one proven method to achieve the ultimate results, but instead finding a method that allows you specifically to remain the most consistent approach, that you enjoy the most and that causes the least amount of stress.

Is Tabata the best approach for you? Perhaps yes, perhaps no…

Olson M. (2013) Tabata interval exercise: Energy expenditure and post-exercise responses. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise 45, S420

Emberts. T., Porcari, J., Dobers-tien, S., Foster, C. (2013) Exercise intensity and energy expenditure of a tabata workout. Journal of Sports Science Medicine 12(3): pp 612-613.

TABATA, I., NISHIMURA, K., KOUZAKI, M., HIRAI, Y., OGITA, F., MIYACHI, M. and YAMAMOTO, K. (1996). Effects of moderate-intensity endurance and high-intensity intermittent training on anaerobic capacity and ??VO2max. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 28(10), pp.1327-1330.



Exercise Scientist

I completed my Exercise Science Degree at the University of QLD and have worked in the fitness industry for over 8 years, including a short stint at the Brisbane Broncos in 2010 as a student. I also hold my Level 2 Strength and Conditioning Coach accreditation (ASCA) and have competed in 1 bodybuilding season, placing 2nd at the IFBB u85kg Nationals.

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