Intro to Tabata and How to Add It To Your Workout

You’ve probably heard of High Intensity Interval Training or HIIT, but what about The Tabata Method? Tabata, a training protocol developed in mid-1990’s, is essentially a HIIT workout with a basic premise of working hard for 20 seconds and resting for the next 10 seconds, repeat this for 4 minutes.

As discovered and demonstrated in Dr. Tabata’s original study, subjects who performed 7-8 sets of high-intensity intermittent training (20-second work and 10-second rest per set, total of 4 mins) increased their anaerobic capacity by 28% over the period of 6 weeks. These results were compared to a group who only trained at moderate intensity for 60 minutes; and who upon completion of the study did not show significant improvement in their anaerobic capacity.  Dr. Tabata concluded:

This study showed that moderate-intensity aerobic training that improves the maximal aerobic power does not change anaerobic capacity and that adequate high-intensity intermittent training may improve both anaerobic and aerobic energy supplying systems significantly, probably through imposing intensive stimuli on both systems.

Follow the links for an abstract: Tabata Study Abstract Or full study here.

What Does It All Mean

It basically means that this short HIIT session of 4 minutes was more effective than 60 mins of moderate-intensity training. But do not assume that spending just 4 minutes at a gym will solve all your fitness problems. You need to use Tabata as a compliment to your existing workout routine or supplement certain components of your training session.  This study was actually inspired by the training methods of the Japanese National Speed Skating Team. Do you think training just 4 minutes on the ice a day produced world class speed skaters? I don’t think so.

Why Do Tabata

There are a number of reasons why you should incorporate Tabata training into your routine. As already demonstrated by Dr. Tabata, this type of training improves your aerobic and anaerobic systems. Whether you’re a long distance runner or a sprinter, both type of athletes can benefit from implementing Tabata into their routine. Subsequent studies have also demonstrated that Tabata and other HIIT protocols are effective in reducing body fat. Lastly, Tabata is ideal for those who are sick and tired of old steady state cardio routines or are strapped for time.  Using  Tabata or other HIIT training protocols can fire up your fat burning systems and improve aerobic and anaerobic conditioning in significantly less amount of time.

How to Incorporate Tabata Training into Your Workouts

Based on my observation at the gym, including how my personal training clients used to workout, a typical gym session would look like this: 10 minutes warm up on one of those reclining cycles, 20 minutes of weight training, 30 minutes of low or moderate intensity cardio. BORING! Waste of time! Here’s your new routine: 3 minutes of warm up, 20 minutes strength training, 12-16 minutes of Tabata. 40 minutes and you’re done. I find this workout format ideal for beginners. If you’re really strapped for time, skip the weight training but add another round or two of Tabata intervals.

Tabata Workout Plan for Beginners

When I say beginners, I’m assuming you tend to workout whenever you feel like. You understand the basics, so you’re not a complete novice. And your typical workout is similar to the one I mentioned earlier. I would not recommend the following if you’ve spent your whole life as a couch potato. You’d need to work your way into an active lifestyle and regular workout routine. You can’t just jump into it.

This is a 2-day split routine. Upper body on Day 1, Lower Body and Core on Day 2.

Day 1: Upper Body

  • Warm up: 3 minutes of a brisk walk/light jog or jump rope
  • Strength  Training: Chest/Back/Arms
  • Tabata: 2-3 Rounds x 4 minutes each round

Day 2: Core and Lower Body

  • Warm up: 3 minutes of a brisk walk/light jog or jump rope
  • Strength  Training: Legs/Abs
  • Tabata: 2-3 Rounds x 4 minutes each round

Follow this link to download your workout: sample 2-day split workout plan for beginners. Ideally, you’d want to train on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays.

Don’t Forget About the Intensity

Each Tabata set demands pure intensity. You need to go hard. Faster. More reps. Aim for exhaustion. My general rule of thumb, no matter what exercise you’re doing or the weight used, try to do as many reps as possible.

With this post, I just wanted to introduce you to Tabata and how you can incorporate it into your routine. In the upcoming posts I’ll share more info, including exercises and strategies to increase intensity.