Tabata-Style Workouts

In the late 1990’s Izumi Tabata et al. ran a series of experiments to see the effect of short duration high intensity intervals with very short rest periods; the results were dramatic and showed an extremely time efficient way to increase VO2 Max.

The original protocol from the experiment was for athletes to do 7-8 bouts of intense (170% of VO2 Max) exercise for 20s with 10s of recovery. There have been a variety of studies and variations of the protocol since Tabata et al’s publication and it appears that there is good evidence that short duration intense exercise with short recovery periods is a very time effective way to build aerobic fitness.

When using Tabata style workouts its worth noting that the studies all have the key features in common:

  1. The athlete is exhausted by the end of the 7th or 8th bout – if the athlete is not exhausted then the pace/effort needs increasing next time.
  2. The work interval is short (generally around 20 seconds)
  3. The recovery interval is very, very short (generally around 10 seconds)
  4. The athlete was doing the Tabata-style workouts 2-4 times per week alongside other easier efforts.

It also appears to be the case that most of the studies used relatively well trained athletes in good health – this would not be an advisable workout for an injured athlete or an athlete with cardio-vascular issues.

I particularly like to schedule Tabata style workouts where a track or equivalent location are unavailable; generally a main set that comprises:

TWO TIMES: 4 minutes of run VERY fast for a count of 20 breaths, walk for 10 breaths (repeating this cycle for 4 minutes) THEN 10 minutes easy running – you should be struggling to maintain the original ‘VERY fast’ pace by the end of each 4 minutes

is pretty easy to find an appropriate location or surface – it even works quite well on a short hill (and then has a double benefit of having a high strength impact as well).

Further reading:

Viana, R.B., de Lira, C.A.B., Naves, J.P.A., Coswig, V.S., Del Vecchio, F.B. and Gentil, P. (2019), Tabata protocol: a review of its application, variations and outcomes. Clin Physiol Funct Imaging, 39: 1-8. https://doi.org/10.1111/cpf.12513

Tabata, I. Tabata training: one of the most energetically effective high-intensity intermittent training methods. J Physiol Sci 69, 559–572 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12576-019-00676-7

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