Tabata: The Best Workout You’re Most Likely Doing Wrong

First, some background on the well-known Tabata workout. The workout almost ended up having a name other than Tabata associated with it. The Japanese researcher did not design the exercise protocol he just showed how good it was at improving work capacity in athletes.┬áThe head coach of the Japanese speed skating team brought in Izumi Tabata, PhD, to work with the team back in the 1990’s. The coach wanted Dr. Tabata to analyze the efficacy of their training program. The training program used short 20-second bouts of high intensity exercise with brief 10-second rest periods. It was Dr. Tabata who subsequently showed the world, through his research, how effective this type of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) actually was.

Misunderstanding in a Tabata Workout is Intensity Level

To begin with, most individuals end up performing a Tabata protocol incorrectly because they choose a low intensity. Looking back at the original research published in 1996 by Dr. Tabata you can see that his original training intensity was very high.

ATHLETE GROUP 1

Subjects pedaled on a cycle ergometer for 60-minutes at a moderate intensity (70 percent of VO2 max). This is comparable to a long, slow jog. Subjects were male amateur athletes in their mid-twenties. Subjects exercised 5 hours a week. The anaerobic capacity did not change. The VO2max increased significantly during the training in this group.

ATHLETE GROUP 2

Subjects pedaled for 20-seconds, followed by 10-seconds of rest, repeated 7-8 times for 4-minutes. This was performed at a maximal effort. The key word here is maximal, subjects worked at 170 percent of VO2 max. Subjects exercised 20-minutes a week. Anaerobic capacity increased by 23 percent after 4 wk of training. It increased further toward the end of the training period. After the training period, anaerobic capacity reached 77 ┬▒ 9 ml/kg/min. or 28 percent higher compared to pre-training capacity.

Both subject groups performed the exercise protocol for 6-weeks. During that time, subjects worked out either 5 days a week for a total of 5 hours a week or 20 minutes. After the training period, aerobic capacity or VO2max increased by 7 ml/kg/min. while anaerobic capacity improved by 28 percent.

Tabata Workout Protocol

The athletes used in the early work of Dr. Tabata were tested on a cycle ergometers. Therefore, certain exercises like a plank typically don’t elicit a high enough training intensity. Jump squats, on the other hand, work nicely because more muscle mass is involved. Finally, to mimic a true Tabata protocol, select exercises that utilize a large percentage of muscle mass not isolation type movements. A couple of suggested cardio products that would work are explosive bodyweight exercises, rowing ergometer, versa climber or running stairs.

Tabata Protocol

  • Warm-up (suggested time 5:00) – Use a 2:1 work-to-rets ratio x 8 rounds
  • 20-seconds of HIGH INTENSITY work
  • 10-seconds rest
  • 20-seconds of HIGH INTENSITY work
  • 10-seconds rest
  • 20-seconds of HIGH INTENSITY work
  • 10-seconds rest
  • 20-seconds of HIGH INTENSITY work
  • 10-seconds rest
  • 20-seconds of HIGH INTENSITY work
  • 10-seconds rest
  • 20-seconds of HIGH INTENSITY work
  • 10-seconds rest
  • 20-seconds of HIGH INTENSITY work
  • 10-seconds rest
  • 20-seconds of HIGH INTENSITY work
  • 10-seconds rest
  • Cool-down (suggested time: 5:00)

14-minute total time, 4:00 High Intensity work

The idea is to complete as many repetitions of the exercise or movement in 20-seconds, rest briefly for 10-seconds and repeat this format 8 times. Lastly, the idea is to repeat the same exercise or movement or choose different exercises for each round.

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The Jefit app now has the ability to perform and log interval based workouts like Tabata Protocol. Stay Strong!