Q. I've been hearing a lot about the benefits of Tabata training. What is it, and should I work it into my program?
Tabata training is one of the most popular forms of high-intensity interval training (HIIT). It consists of eight rounds of ultra-high-intensity exercises in a specific 20-seconds-on, 10-seconds-off interval. It may only take four minutes to complete a Tabata circuit, but those four minutes may well push your body to its absolute limit.
Tabata training was born after Japanese scientist Izumi Tabata and his colleagues compared the results of moderate intensity training and HIIT. The study evaluated two groups of speed-skating athletes. The first group trained on ergonomic cycles at moderate intensity for one hour, five days per week, for a total of six weeks. The second group completed four-minute, high-intensity workouts on ergonomic cycles four days per week for a total of six weeks. The second group completed its four minutes of work by doing eight intervals of all-out training, and then resting 10 seconds.
The scientists' results concluded that the athletes who performed high-intensity training saw increases in aerobic and anaerobic system capacities; whereas the moderate-intensity group did not improve anaerobic performance. The Tabata training method was formed by modeling workouts after the second group.
Technically, Tabata training should be done with one movement. So, if you choose a movement like front squats, or thrusters, or burpees, you do it at absolute maximum intensity for 20 seconds, take a 10-second rest, then begin again. Part of what makes Tabata so difficult is performing four minutes of the same movement at kill-yourself intensity. If you're not absolutely toast after those four minutes, you didn't go hard enough.
Some people now vary the exercises during a session. It's also popular to increase or decrease rounds and intensity. Although this variation may not technically count as Tabata Protocol, adding or subtracting rounds or changing movements every other round can be useful. (If you really want an insane full-body workout, try three rounds of Tabata!)
Either way, Tabata burns a lot of calories and provides a killer full-body anaerobic and aerobic workout. Tabata training also improves athletic performance, improves glucose metabolism, and acts as an excellent catalyst for fat burning. The Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption (EPOC) effect is off the charts for Tabata Training.
If you'd like to add Tabata to your training regimen, I advise it twice per week. You can do it more often if you're better trained, need quick results, or recover well from the previous sessions.
Here are some sample workouts I use, but there are plenty of pre-made circuits out there (or you can easily put together your own). Here are some movements to incorporate: lunges, jump lunges, thrusters, cleans, hang cleans, burpees, mountain climbers, jump squats, and even push-ups.
You can follow these workouts, or choose to do one movement for all eight rounds. Make certain that you work at your maximum power output.
- Tabata I, Irisawa K, Kouzaki M, Nishimura K, Ogita F, Miyachi M (March 1997). Metabolic profile of high intensity intermittent exercises. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 29(3): 390-5. PMID 9139179.
- Tabata I, Nishimura K, Kouzaki M, et al. (1996). Effects of moderate-intensity endurance and high-intensity intermittent training on anaerobic capacity and VO2max. Med Sci Sports Exerc, 28(10): 1327-30. doi:10.1097/00005768-199610000-00018. PMID 8897392.