Okay, so before we get into it here’s a brief history on the origins of Tabata; maybe you’ve heard this before, maybe you haven’t, but like every heroe's journey this always seems to be where the story begins.
Although Dr. Izumi Tabata had no super powers to speak of he did possess the ability to analyse data, and that’s exactly what he was doing...
WHAT is Tabata?
In the early 1990s, Dr. Izumi Tabata had been scouring the land, publishing research on the aerobic and anaerobic systems using a number of different sprint type protocols.
This research eventually reached the ears of Irisawa Koichi who was head coach for the Japanese Olympic speed skating team at the time and he asked Izumi Tabata to come in and analyse a protocol he had developed which involved short maximum effort sprints followed by even shorter rest periods.
Izumi Tabata agreed and brought his research team from the National Institute of Fitness and Sports in Japan along for the ride.
In 1996 they examined two groups of male amateur athletes in their mid-twenties with one of the groups completing eight rounds of 20 seconds of work on a mechanically braked cycle, followed by 10 seconds of rest, totalling 4 minutes, and the other pedalling for 60 minutes straight, at a moderate intensity (70% of VO2 max), five days a week for six weeks.
Over the six week period the Tabata group recorded 120 minutes of training; increasing both their aerobic and anaerobic capacity, compared with the control group that recorded 1,800 minutes of training; only increasing their aerobic capacity.
To be fair those results are exactly what you’d expect to see and the study didn’t throw up anything out of the ordinary, however, the rest, as they say, is history.
Tabata training, pioneered by Irisawa Koichi then studied, developed and popularized by Dr. Izumi Tabata has since gone on to become one of the most recognized high-intensity interval training (HIIT) protocols in the history of the world.
WHY should I do it?
Using the Tabata training method you can complete an effective HIIT workout in just 4-minutes, improving your aerobic and anaerobic fitness, increasing your metabolism; allowing you to burn more fat and build more muscle, whilst enhancing both your physical condition and overall body composition.
WHO is it good for?
The original research was done with professional athletes being pushed to exhaustion, so if we’re going to keep it true to the original study then Tabata training is not for beginners. Realistically, Tabata training is better suited for intermediate-advanced trainees who are already comfortable working at a high intensity.
WHERE can I do it?
Although Tabata training originated in Japan you can do it near enough anywhere, changing the specifics of your workout depending on the ‘equipment’ you have access to. Exercises which are compatible with the original method include, but aren't limited to: cycling, jumping, punching, rowing, skipping, swimming and sprinting.
WHEN should I do it?
It's always best to do any high intensity intervals or metabolic conditioning after your weight training sessions or on separate days altogether so as not to impact performance when you lift.
That being said, you could do a round of low-moderate intensity Tabata at the start of your workout to act as a warm-up, then do a high intensity Tabata at the end of your session to act as a workout finisher.
Just know that a low-moderate intensity Tabata isn’t really Tabata in the true sense of the word and what you’re actually doing is simply interval training.
HOW is it done?
OPTION 1: To complete a traditional, original, 100% authentic TABATA workout you’ll need to pick just the ONE exercise that you can perform at a high-intensity and follow the format of:
10 seconds - REST
20 seconds - MAXIMUM all-out effort
Repeat: 8x | Total Time: 4 minutes
Even though I’ve seen Tabata workouts being done with exercises using barbells, dumbbells and kettlebells I’d suggest keeping it way more simple than that by sticking to things like the bike, rower, and treadmill.
I’ll often chuck a Tabata track into my cycle classes and find it works really well, there’s even some pretty cool 'Tabata Songs' on Spotify that are great for keeping you honest on the timings, you should definitely check them out.
OPTION 2: I’d classify anything that doesn’t stick to the original Tabata protocol but looks kind of similar as MODIFIED TABATA it’s just easier that way.
I see people changing the number of exercises, intensity and duration of their Tabata sessions then saying stuff like ‘I done a 22 minute Tabata the other day and it was totes OMG’.
Honestly, there’s nothing wrong with that but know what it is, it’s not Tabata!
Imagine asking someone to pick you up an apple pie from the store and them coming back with a rhubarb crumble. Sure it’s a dessert, but it’s not the same thing!
Again, there’s nothing wrong with a nice rhubarb crumble just don’t try pretending it’s an apple pie.
Now, my favourite way to perform Modified Tabata is to simply choose TWO exercises rather than just the one and alternate between them for the duration of your workout. Everything else stays the same! You could do 4 exercises, I’ve even seen people do 8 exercises, but I’m not fan.
10 seconds - REST
20 seconds - Exercise 1
10 seconds - REST
20 seconds - Exercise 2
Repeat: 4x | Total Time: 4 minutes
Exercises that could work well within this format would include:
As you can see Tabata workouts aren’t supposed to be easy but you get OUT what you put IN so do them properly and you’ll no doubt get the results that you’re after.
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