Well, the story starts with the Japanese Olympic Speed Skating Team. In 1996 team trainer and scientist Izumi Tabata conducted a study analyzing the effectiveness of a specific High Intensity Training program that the head coach had developed specifically for his athletes. The team was divided into different groups. 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 program that group two followed is what has come to be known as Tabata training:
One round: 20 seconds of ‘all-out’ work, followed by 10 seconds of rest
Tabata describes the desired intensity of work at around 170% of an athlete’s VO2 max—their maximum rate of oxygen consumption. At the conclusion of the six weeks of training, Tabata found that group two had experienced a 28% increase in their anaerobic capacity, as well as a 14% increase in their VO2 max. When summarizing the effect of the study and the HIIT program, Tabata writes that
“moderate-intensity aerobic training that improves the maximal aerobic power does not change anaerobic capacity and that adequate high-intensity intermittent training may improve both anaerobic and aerobic energy supplying systems significantly, probably through imposing intensive stimuli on both systems”.
This was a significant finding, as most authorities had regarded the two pathways—and training for them—as compartmentalized. Aerobic training was largely long slow distance (LSD) work, and anaerobic training was typically regarded as some hard-to-measure dark component left to the explosion sports.
Dr. Tabata examined several different protocols but settled on eight sets of twenty-second work intervals alternating with ten-second rest intervals as the most effective interval times for improving VO2 max. In the original study the intervals were performed at a quantifiable 170 percent of VO2 max. (Just think max effort.) In the field, where measurements are more subjective, the effort should be such that on the eighth set the trainee is nearing exhaustion. In the original study, the test subjects doing 4-minute “Tabata” intervals saw greater VO2 max improvement than the control group that did 60-minute sessions of moderate-intensity exercise.
Dr. Tabata’s research tested subjects on stationary bikes, but in the CrossFit world his protocol is applied to all variety of functional movements. The Tabata protocol is applied to exercises including squats, pull-ups, push-ups, sit-ups, rowing, and, in my practice, dumbbell moves. We generally score Tabata intervals based on the lowest number of reps completed in any one of the eight twenty -second work intervals.
Tabata training increases the metabolism and heart rate immediately, the ability to produce work will lower as you go through the sessions. The body will burn fat for up to 24 hours, because the metabolism will stay at the high levels after the workout. Tabata training will increase cardiovascular fitness as well as core and strength gains depending on the workout. It is a fast paced exercise routine that is very time efficient, all you need is 4 minutes.
Also, these high-intensity efforts produce this dramatic aerobic benefit without the muscle wasting brought about by endurance training.
- The Tabata routine is not for beginners, it is easy for the intensity to become overwhelming for beginners.
- There is a greater risk of injuries since it is high impact exercise.
- Muscles fatigue quickly, that could lead to mental fatigue and depleted motivation.
Typical Tabata workouts (try a new one):
- Push up (20 seconds of work, then 10 seconds of rest for 4 minutes)
- Body Weight Squats (20 seconds of work, then 10 seconds of rest for 4 minutes)
- Medicine Ball throw downs (20 seconds of work, then 10 seconds of rest for 4 minutes)
- Jumping rope (20 seconds of work, then 10 seconds of rest for 4 minutes)
- Mountain Climbers (20 seconds of work, then 10 seconds of rest for 4 minutes)
- Sit ups (20 seconds of work, then 10 seconds of rest for 4 minutes)
- Sprints (20 seconds of work, then 10 seconds of rest for 4 minutes)
- Stairs (20 seconds of work, then 10 seconds of rest for 4 minutes)
- Bench press (20 seconds of work, then 10 seconds of rest for 4 minutes)
- Calf raisers (20 seconds of work, then 10 seconds of rest for 4 minutes)