Wednesday, 7 November 2012

What on earth is Tabata Training?

It's a very good question.

One I have had in the past, and when I turned up to my CrossFit session last Sunday, it was one I had again.

At the end of the workout it just said: tabata - rowing machines.

So, now that I know what it is, I thought I would pass on my knowledge to you.


Let's start at the beginning:

Tabata is a style or method of training that can be used for most forms of exercise.

The secret which has everyone talking? The workout is only 4 minutes long (excluding warm up).

It is a sequence of 20seconds training 10 seconds rest for 8 intervals.

That's it. That's all there is.

But keep reading anyway :D.

(Just for your info: You will also see it referred to as HIIT: High Intensity Interval Training, or MIT: Maximum Interval Training, etc. )


It is based on research by the Japanese scientist Izumi Tabata.  (Tabata, "Effects of moderate-intensity endurance and high-intensity intermittent training on anaerobic capacity and 'VO2max'", Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise (Oct 1996, Vol. 28: Issue 10) pp. 1327-1330).

Tabata had a sample of male university students studying Physical Education (so quite fit) and divided them into two groups.

The first group did 60 minutes of medium intensity cycling on exercise bikes five days a week for six weeks. They managed to increase their aerobic fitness by 10%.

The second group did his workout of 4 minutes: 20 seconds all out sprint, 10 seconds rest - 8 times (after a 10 minute warm up). This group increased their aerobic fitness by 14%. Moreover, unlike the first group, they also saw a 28% improvement in anaerobic capacity.

How to Use It:

The best thing about it, in my eyes, is that it can be done with any piece of equipment or even just body weight, and can be specialised to your field.

For rowers this can be done on a rowing machine, runners on a track (I don't really recommending the treadmill as a) it takes a while to get up to speed and b) you should pushing yourself so hard that falling off might be a possibility, but other people do). It can be done with barbells and weights, or just at home doing something like squats.

Just keep in mind that you are trying to work as hard as possible, so best for major muscle groups of combining muscle groups (20 seconds of super hard thumb raises is not going to do it for your cardio system, sorry).

It can also be used for combining exercises.

Here is a sample workout from Tabata Training:
  • Pushups for intervals 1 and 3
  • Body weight Squats for intervals 2 and 4
  • Medicine ball slams for intervals 5 and 7
  • Sprinting or jumping rope for intervals 6 and 8
And you're done!

Pretty amazing, huh?

Okay, so what's the catch?

There is no big catch, but there are a few things to consider:

1. When they say 20 seconds all out, they mean all out. You should be close to puking every time. Properly done, 4 minutes should be the maximum you can do, though there are training systems that do sets of tabata.

A lot of people don't get great results using this method because they do not realise how hard you are meant to push.

2. There is a danger when trying to go fast and hard of injury through accident. Make sure that everything is set up and the exercises you are doing can be performed at speed/ weight without danger of accidentally stabbing yourself. I do not recommend high speed tabata tight rope walking.

3. It might be great for cardio improvement, but there is debate about the effectiveness in terms of calories burned compared to 60mins of medium intensity.

There is a strong following out there that states it burns more fat than steady state because it ramps up the metabolism (for example, see the section on Fat Loss in the article on The Body Gensis).

Now, it is true that high intensity work does get your metabolism going and therefore continues to burn extra calories after you have finished working out, but so does medium intensity but just not as much.

I just want to see the actually figures that show 4 mins + high level extra burn is greater than 60 mins + some extra burn.


As mentioned at the beginning, for the CrossFit WOD they put it at the end of a workout for that final punch, which I think worked well.

I would generally recommend building it into a program and maybe having a day where it is your workout, but not sure it should be the only type of exercise you do.

However, if you only have a 20minute gap it is a really effective way to use it. Do your 10 minute warm up and then be prepared to absolutely kill it for the 4 minutes. The last 6 minutes is to recover.


You can download Tabata Timers for your Iphone, which can be useful if you are doing something without a clock, like squats.

There are also lots of videos on the net with different works out so check them out.

There is also a lot of scientific research out there on HIIT. When I get a chance I'll read through more of it and summarise anything good. But if you get the chance have a look yourself.

Good easy to understand articles to follow up include:
Men's Health: The Unbelievable 4 Minute Cardio Workout.
Tabata Training
The Ultimate Tabata Training Guide

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