The Tabata training system has revolutionised fitness training. The Tabata workout takes merely four minutes to complete and has been shown to be more effective than traditional forms of cardio training.
The notion that a four minute workout can be as effective as an hour long slog on the treadmill is probably laughable to most people. Then they try the Tabata system for themselves. Any doubt, as well as copious amounts of sweat for that matter, evaporates.
Dr Izumi Tabata worked closely with Irisawa Koichi, Japans speed skating coach, during the 90s. Whilst working with the speed skating team they were increasingly aware of the apparent success of including short bursts of very intense exercise within the training. The results seemed to indicate such a training method was just as effective as moderate, longer duration exercise.
To test the findings, Dr Tabata performed a six week study of two groups of students. One group following a training regime which consisted of an hour of moderate intensity training on a stationary bike five times per week, whilst the other group would perform four minutes of the Tabata protocol (20 seconds of all-out effort followed by 10 seconds of rest) four times per week, with an additional thirty minute moderate intensity training session.
The results? The students following the Tabata protocol, despite spending 70% less time on the bike, improved their VO2 max (aerobic capacity) by 15% compared with the 10% improvement experienced by students following the moderate intensity training1. What’s more, the Tabata group surprisingly increased their anaerobic capacity by 28% while the other group report no improvement1.
To recap, the Tabata training protocol is as follows:
The study Dr Tabata conducted involved using a stationary exercise bike, which is an effective choice (especially for carrying out a study!) but is by no means the only way to implement the protocol. Here are some other exercises which will work very well with the protocol:
The important thing to remember with Tabata is the twenty second bursts need to be maximum effort. As Dr Tabata has said, “If you feel okay afterwards you’ve not done it properly”. For beginners, eight bouts may be too challenging, so beginning with four may be a better approach, with the aim of building up to the eight after several weeks.
The Tabata study involved the students following the training four times per week. Such a protocol will clearly provide significant improvements in aerobic and anaerobic capacity as shown in the study, but Dr Tabata has also stated that half the frequency, i.e. two sessions per week, can also provide good results.