Improve Conditioning With Tabata Interval Training

April 28, 2011

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Tabata training, pioneered by Dr. Izumi Tabata and other researchers at the National Institute of Fitness and Sports in Tokyo, promises incredible health and performance benefits: simultaneous improvements in anaerobic and aerobic conditioning in only 14 minutes! It seems too good to be true—reminiscent of training and weight loss programs advertised on cable TV—but Tabata training is supported by concrete scientific research.

Tabata training was first used by the Japanese National Speed Skating team and reported in a study published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise in 1996. It’s a form of high intensity interval training [HIIT], a regimen in which you perform intervals of high-intensity exercise, each followed by a set amount of rest.

The Tabata interval program is performed four days a week in accordance with the following protocol:

  • 10-minute warm-up at 50 percent max effort
  • 20 seconds max effort
  • 10 seconds rest
  • Repeat 2:1 cycle eight times

The study compared a traditional endurance conditioning program—in which subjects trained for 60 minutes at 70 percent max effort five days a week—to Tabata training, wherein subjects performed the Tabata interval program for four days and a combined traditional/Tabata program on a fifth day. [Learn more details on aerobic and anaerobic energy systems here.]

After six weeks, the traditional group increased their aerobic endurance by 9.5 percent but did not increase anaerobic capacity. Meanwhile, the Tabata group increased aerobic endurance by 14.5 percent and anaerobic capacity by an impressive 28 percent.

Essentially, Tabata training simultaneously develops the ability to sustain explosive bursts of strength and speed along with endurance for prolonged exercises like running or rowing. Tabata is not only more effective, it saves time, since you can achieve your training goals in only 14 minutes, leaving more time for strength training or practicing sports skills like hitting a curve ball or shooting foul shots.

If you want incorporate Tabata training into your program, you can perform the intervals in a few different ways: while running or biking; with sport-specific movements like skating or swimming; or with exercises like Push-Ups, Pull-Ups, Burpees and Squats. To avoid injury, be sure that your form does not break down due to fatigue.

Remember, when you begin a new training program, you may not be able initially to achieve the recommended duration or intensity. With Tabata training, it’s okay to rest a bit longer at first as you gradually work up to the 2:1 intensity-to-rest ratio times eight sets. Also, keep in mind that training programs should always be varied. No matter how effective or challenging a program is, your body will adapt and gains will be limited.

Source:  Tabata I. et al., "Effects of moderate-intensity endurance and high-intensity intermittent training on anaerobic capacity and VO2max"., Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 1996 Oct:1327-30.

Andy Haley
- Andy Haley is the Performance Director at STACK. A certified strength and conditioning specialist (CSCS), he received his bachelor’s degree in exercise science from Miami...
Andy Haley
- Andy Haley is the Performance Director at STACK. A certified strength and conditioning specialist (CSCS), he received his bachelor’s degree in exercise science from Miami...
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