Tabata protocol is fast becoming one of the most popular forms of interval training in the world of exercise. It is a method I commonly use with all my clients when doing cardio.
Interval training is a form of conditioning that uses alternating periods of work and rest.
High Intensity Interval Training or H.I.I.T as it’s known in gym jargon, is a more intense version with the periods of work being shorter and a lot harder than traditional interval training.
The Tabata protocol is a form of H.I.I.T and can be used with cardiovascular exercise, resistance training or both. There are even specialised Tabata classes at health clubs now.
This protocol is named after Professor Izumi Tabata who led a study in his native Japan investigating the most effective training methods for his Olympic Speed Skaters. He applied the interval training method of 20 seconds intense work with 10 seconds rest. This was repeated 8 times to cover a span of 4 minutes.
Professor Tabata published his incredible findings in the Journal of the American College of Sports Medicine and claimed that his training protocol was just as effective in improving the aerobic (working with oxygen) conditioning of his Speed Skaters when compared to long duration exercise where the heart rate is typically maintained at a steadier rate.
The most notable improvement though was a 28% gain in anaerobic (working without oxygen) capacity! In addition, these Japanese Speed Skaters won medals at the Olympic Games proving further credibility to the study.
The best thing about this protocol from a training perspective, was that it only took 4 minutes to achieve these results as opposed to thirty minutes or longer with the more traditional approach.
As a personal trainer, I am always looking for the most effective job in the shortest amount of time and Tabata is a perfect tool during a training session.
Since this revelation, Tabata has been proved to maximise fat loss too.
The harder we exercise, the higher our heart rate goes up.
An increase in heart rate will increase our need for fuel, which means burning more calories. After bouts of intense work, our body’s metabolism stays elevated for up to ten hours due to all the physiological processes needed for our body to return to its resting state, known as homeostasis.
Different energy systems are also utilised during Tabata interval training. By switching between the aerobic system and anaerobic system we will also burn more calories. This is the Law of Thermodynamics. I teach Spinning classes based on the cyclist’s heart rate zones and they’re a great example of this type of interval training.
Exercising at a higher intensity will also improve the body’s ability to deal with lactic acid build up.
Lactic acid is a chemical waste by-product created when the muscles contract without oxygen. This also causes pyruvate, which provides the ‘burn’ associated when our muscles start to fatigue. By regularly training the anaerobic energy system with Tabata intervals will help the body cope with lactic acid build up and improve your overall performance.
Exercising at an intensity that causes lactic acid is fundamental in enhancing growth hormone response, fat loss and insulin sensitivity.
The more sensitive our muscles are to insulin, the greater chance that blood sugar will be stored in the muscle cells rather than the fat cells. It can also prevent the onset of Type 2 Diabetes.
Long duration cardiovascular exercise has been proven to increase levels of cortisol, our stress hormone.
This is important to remember, because if you already have a stressful lifestyle, the last thing you want is to further stress the body!
I use Tabata intervals with clients as a way to boost growth hormone. But do not worry, this will not make you big and muscular but will definitely go a long way in balancing your stressed out nervous system!
Any modality can be used to perform Tabata interval training but from my experience the workouts listed below are the most effective.
Just remember, 20 seconds of heart-pounding hard work, followed by 10 seconds of complete rest. Repeat 8 bouts equating to 4 minutes in total.
Treadmill: Easy to maintain a sprinting pace as the belt keeps running. Getting on and off while it is moving is an athletic skill and could result in serious injury so practice at a slow pace and only perform this drill if you are confident enough.
Stationary Bike or Rower: Probably the safest way and I would recommend all beginners to start with either of these. Also a lot less complex than sprinting.
Kettlebell or Dumbbell Circuit: Pick 2 exercises and alternate between them. Choose compound moves that use multiple joints and large amounts of muscle to help burn more fat. A lower body and upper body exercise will keep the heart rate high, as the blood has to pump from head to toe.
Examples include – Kettlebell Swings/Kettlebell Shoulder Press and Dumbbell Lunges/Bent Over Row.
Remember to keep telling yourself “it’s only twenty seconds!”