I've heard a lot about the benefits of HIIT training over cardio at a constant level so I want to incorporate some into my training. What timings of work to rest should I use?

I read about the Tabata method which is 20 seconds rest and 40 seconds work. However when I tried this out I found the 20 seconds wasnt nearly long enough to recover. I'm fairly fit, so I don't know if I'm not fit enough or if I was pushing myself too much during the work phase.

  • possible duplicate of What Are Practical Guidelines for Effective Interval Training Commented Nov 26, 2012 at 13:30
  • 7
    Tabata is 20s work / 10s rest, not 40/20. And yes, you are not able to recover fully, that is the whole point. If you keep with it it'll be easier, though.
    – VPeric
    Commented Nov 26, 2012 at 14:33
  • Being able to complete an entire HIIT session is difficult, and something many people have trouble with at the beginning of the program. Please refer to my earlier answer for an example of a linear progression so you can build up to the recommended 20s work / 10s rest for Tabata.
    – Moses
    Commented Nov 26, 2012 at 16:40

2 Answers 2


The point of rest in Tabata protocol workouts isn't to let you fully recover, it's to let you recover a little in order to prolong the length of time you can sustain maximal effort without a dramatic decrease in output. There should never be a question of whether you pushed yourself hard enough during the work phase, because you should be exerting maximal effort. You should be very, very tired from this kind of workout.

The Tabata protocol is 2:1 of work to recovery. Per Wikipedia:

A popular regimen based on a 1996 study by Izumi Tabata (田畑 泉) uses 20 seconds of ultra-intense exercise (at an intensity of about 170% of VO2max) followed by 10 seconds of rest, repeated continuously for 4 minutes (8 cycles). Tabata called this the IE1 protocol.

There are plenty of other timings that work well. As long as the exercise and recovery periods are kept short, and the entire workout is kept fairly short as well, I wouldn't worry too much about the exact ratios. Instead, focus on working harder during those short efforts.


How long is your entire session?

You should consider breaking the HIIT into different phases during a span of several weeks to build up your endurance to the 2:1 work/rest ratio you're trying to achieve.


1-2nd week: 20 second sprint, 40 second rest/jog/walk

3-4th week: 30 second sprint, 30 second rest/jog/walk

5-6th week: 40 second sprint, 20 second rest/jog/walk

  • Im not tying to achieve any particular work/ rest ratio, I was just basing the ratio on the tabata balance. Is there any research into the most effective ratio?
    – Evanss
    Commented Nov 26, 2012 at 13:29
  • Also, will your method of building up work? If I go flat out for 20 seconds (not a set speed and resistance on a machine) which is what I understood your supposed to do, will the recovery time go down? Or will Im simply be peddling faster each time but with a similar or maybe even longer recovery?
    – Evanss
    Commented Nov 26, 2012 at 13:30
  • 1
    ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17313282 : mentions about the optimal ratio for HIIT.
    – TTT
    Commented Nov 26, 2012 at 13:37
  • From my experience with HIIT, I didn't use a machine but through track sprints and from my understanding of HIIT, the purpose is to allow you body to recover faster from these interval bursts and allowing the heart to become more efficient as it rises. I don't really understand your second question, but I would sprint to your fullest for 20 seconds, then walk it out even if this doesn't seem 'challenging' at first, but it just allowing the body to adapt.
    – TTT
    Commented Nov 26, 2012 at 13:42

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