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Tabata Training

Tabata Training or the Tabata Interval has over the past decade gained massive popularity as a training style or method to increase both aerobic and anaerobic fitness. A favourite of many personal trainers, athletes, strength and conditioning coaches and CrossFit practitioners, Tabata Training is a great method to employ in anyone’s fitness regimen. So what is Tabata Training exactly?

What is Tabata Training?

Tabata Training is a type of high intensity intermittent training (HIIT) method, which employs specific time intervals of training to rest. This type of training has been well researched over the years and has been found to be more effective in some respects to other more traditional training methods. In the original scientific study by Professor Izumi Tabata in 1996, he used a training protocol using a 2:1 training to rest ratio with 20 seconds of extremely intense physical activity to 10 seconds of rest. This cycle was performed 8 consecutive times (a total of 4 minutes) for one exercise about 5 times per week. Over the years, many people have appropriated the Tabata method to include 8 different exercises within those 4 minutes rather than just the one.

Tabata Training - Better Than Traditional Training?

Traditional moderate intensity exercise performed at about 60-70% of your maximal oxygen uptake (VO2max – which is a measure used by sports scientists for physical fitness) has always been the norm when prescribing exercise recommendations for cardiovascular fitness and improved body composition. However, while being able to improve your aerobic energy supply systems and corresponding with high levels of fat burning, does not result in improvements in the anaerobic energy supply systems. These anaerobic energy systems are highly important in explosive, intense and short bursts of activity such as during sprints or weight training.

Continuous high intensity training, while being able to improve your anaerobic energy supply systems is not a feasible training method to be performed at long periods of time and therefore unable to improve dramatically on overall fitness levels. However, high intensity interval training overcomes this by inserting rest periods in between bouts of high intensity physical activity. One of the earliest studies in this area found that interval training and circuit weight training in fightfighters resulted in much improved fitness parameters including strength, body fat and even aerobic fitness.

To this day, interval training and circuit training are considered the pinnacles of training. As studies progressed looking into interval training, studies such as Trembley et al (1994) found that high intensity interval training elicited greater changes in fitness parameters than in traditional endurance training. Not only that, the muscular adaptations to high intensity interval training was more in favour of fat burning.

Results of Tabata Training

The results from the original Tabata study found that 6 weeks of HIIT resulted in a higher VO2max which meant increased physical fitness as well as an improvement in the anaerobic capacity of the individual by an average of 28%. Other studies looking at HIIT with different intervals found significant reductions in total, abdominal, trunk and visceral fat levels as well as increases in fat free mass or muscle mass and aerobic power. In summary, with high intensity interval training you can expect:

  • Improved aerobic fitness
  • Improved anaerobic fitness
  • Fat loss
  • Muscle Gain

The Golden Ratio

Perhaps the most interesting factor in HIIT is the ratio of work to rest. The general consensus since Tabata’s original 1996 paper was for a work to rest ratio of 2:1. However, more recent studies such as Boutcher et al (2012) used an interval of 8 seconds work to 12 seconds rest.

Furthermore, other factors also come into play such as total length of the session as well as exercise modality. Regardless, as with all exercise, the key is to have variety and so it is important to continually change your work out times as well as the ratio of work to rest during the HIIT to maximise the benefits gained.

Pitfalls of Tabata

While Tabata Training and other forms of HIIT is a great method of exercise for fat loss and overall fitness, it can be very intense and should be eased into if you are just starting to exercise as the fast movements can place strain on the joints and soft tissue. Another major pitfall is that it doesn’t prepare you for all factors of endurance events. While it has been shown that utilising HIIT in preparation for an endurance event is beneficial and can improve performance, unless it is coupled with endurance training, you won’t be able to reap the benefits.

Endurance training is very specific and helps to familiarise the body with the strains and demands of an actual endurance event; something which HIIT cannot do due to the generally shorter durations. As such, if you are training for endurance, it is important to rely on more than just HIIT.

Tabata Intervals

Tabata Intervals are becoming an extremely popular method of training for people who are short on time, but want maximum benefits. Along with circuit weight training, the use of Tabata Intervals is a great addition to any workout program. As with any workout, it is important to continue increasing the resistance for the exercise/s that you have chosen in order to maximise the benefits of this method.

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1. Tremblay A, Simoneau JA, Bouchard C. ‘Impact of exercise intensity on body fatness and skeletal muscle metabolism.’ Metabolism. 1994 Jul;43(7):814-8.
2. Pipes TV. ‘Physiological responses of fire fighting recruits to high intensity training.’ J Occup Med. 1977 Feb;19(2):129-32.
3. Tabata I, Nishimura K, Kouzaki M, Hirai Y, Ogita F, Miyachi M, Yamamoto K. ‘Effects of moderate-intensity endurance and high-intensity intermittent training on anaerobic capacity and VO2max.’ Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1996 Oct;28(10):1327-30.
4. Heydari M, Freund J, Boutcher SH. ‘The effect of high-intensity intermittent exercise on body composition of overweight young males.’ J Obes. 2012;2012:480467. Epub 2012 Jun 6.
5. Boutcher SH. ‘High-intensity intermittent exercise and fat loss.’ J Obes. 2011;2011:868305. Epub 2010 Nov 24.
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