What is a Tabata?

The Tabata protocol was named after a study done in the 1990’s by Dr. Izumi Tabata while working with the Japanese speed skating team preparing them for the Olympics. The study was performed in order to see the difference in results of steady-state cardio versus high-intensity interval training.

In Dr. Tabata’s study, elite athletes performed four-minute bouts of explosive intervals on stationary bikes for 20 seconds with a 10-second recovery break in between each interval. The athletes used all-out effort in the study, meaning they were performing at 170% of their VO2 Max. To better understand this, most of us exercising all-out may make it to 80% or maybe 90% VO2 Max. Basically performing at 170% VO2 is feeling like you are going to throw up and pass out from the intensity.  In fact, Dr. Tabata noted that these Olympic athletes were known to collapse on the floor at the end of these sessions.

Dr. Tabata had the athletes perform the protocol 4 times per week for 6 weeks.  By the end of  the study, participants had increased their anaerobic capacity by 28 percent, and their VO2 max and maximal aerobic power by 15 percent. In contrast, the control group, who performed an hour of steady cardiovascular exercise on a stationary bike five times a week, improved their VO2 max by just 10 percent, and their regimen had no effect on their anaerobic capacity.

Tabata training, requires both the aerobic and anaerobic systems, and thus is excellent for cardiovascular health. With Tabata, you will experience labored breathing basically meaning that you’re in oxygen debt since your body has blown through its supply of glycogen and needs to replace it. It then replaces it with fat, placing you into an anaerobic zone. By putting you into the anaerobic zone, you will start burning the fat for fuel. This is why you feel so uncomfortable since your heart rate elevates extremely fast. Great for the goal at hand (to burn fat, and get in great cardiovascular and physical shape).  But you just have to remember to go at your own pace.

I love to incorporate the tabata protocol into my training.  Obviously I’m not talking about the type of tabatas that leave myself or my clients passed out and puking.  But if you want to apply the tabata principle into your workout, it is an excellent way to improve your cardiovascular health and your choices for the exercises are limitless.  You can use push-ups, high knees, jump squats, burpees, mountain climbers, etc. The key is to push yourself as hard as you can in those 20 seconds, and then use your 10 second break to catch your breath. Shoot for 6-8 rounds (totalling 4 minutes). And then take a 1-2 minute break before starting again.  Plus you can use a tabata timer app on your smart phone that will beep when it’s time to start and stop, allowing you to focus on the exercise and exertion at hand, not the time.

If you would like more info on how to set up a tabata that you can use in your training programs, let me know.

Have a great week,

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