Everything You Need to Know About Tabata Training


With the popularity and notoriety of the “Tabata study” published by Dr. Izumi Tabata and colleagues in 1996, there is considerable confusion and disagreement in the fitness industry about this style of training.

The What

In the researcher by Tabata, et al., they used a protocol that consisted of seven to eight sets of 20 seconds at 170% VO2max followed by 10 seconds of rest (four minutes total). This resulted in significant increases to VO2max, even in the highly trained speed skaters who participated in the study. These results were comparable to VO2max increases achieved by those performing more traditional, longer-duration cardio training.

And just like that, a revolution in training was started. With the headlines touting that four minutes of exercise can get comparable results to an hour of exercise, the wildly ambitious claims started a frenzy of interest. Everyone began using Tabata’s timing of 20 seconds of work and 10 seconds of rest—with jumping jacks.

The Problem

Let’s be clear. I’ve never done a true Tabata workout. And most likely, you haven’t either. It’s impossible to do true Tabata training with squat thrusts, push-ups, treadmills or barbells. The majority of humans will never do anything at 170% of VO2max. You can do intervals of 20 seconds of work with 10 seconds of rest, but it is not considered a true Tabata training interval unless you are using the same impossible levels of intensity used in the original Tabata study.

Exercise time and intensity have an inverse relationship. The harder you go, the shorter you last. The longer you last, the less hard you work. Even if you could do a “true” Tabata intensity class, who would really show up for only a four-minute workout? Imagine health clubs paying instructors and trainers full fees for a four-minute class or training session.

Clearly, however, there is something valuable in this idea. For too long, people focused on how long they were exercising for, especially when it came to traditional cardio. The Tabata study blew apart the convention that more time equals better workout.

The Practical from the Impractical

Knowing that true Tabata interval training is impossible to perform in the real world, what can you take from the Tabata study and actually use? How can you use it to benefit your students and clients?

You can use Tabata-inspired interval training. What does this look like? Essentially, it is interval training that features work intervals that are twice as long as the recovery interval. This means creating high-intensity intervals where the intensity is still “high,” but relative to anyone’s fitness abilities. ACE studied Tabata-style training and the resulting here.
Fitnovatives Blog — Courtesy “American Council On Exercise” (ACEfitness.org) <p>

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