Recently, I’ve introduced a scientifically-backed exercise protocol to my training sessions: Tabata. Since I had my first sweaty experience of Tabata with Master Trainer Richard Scrivener, I’ve been hooked.
What is Tabata?
Tabata is a form of High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), which is something that I have been a fan of for a long time. However, Tabata follows a unique structure; 20 seconds of exercise at maximum intensity, followed by 10 seconds rest, repeated 8 times. That makes this super-effective drill’s duration just 4 minutes. That’s doable for anyone, right?
The Science of Tabata
What I really love about the Tabata protocol is that it was developed in response to pioneering research conducted by Professor Tabata. His research comparing two experiments is totally fascinating:
Group 1 followed the Tabata protocol, working at 170% of their VO2 max during the 20 second exercise blocks.
Group 2 worked at a VO2 max of 200% for 30 seconds, but had longer rest periods of 2 minutes, and repeated this for 4-5 rounds.
The Tabata method increased both anaerobic and aerobic fitness.
How is it possible to work out above 100% of your VO2 max?
Your VO2 max (100%) is the maximum amount of oxygen that your body can use during exercise. Working at your VO2 max and below means that you are in the aerobic zone, meaning ‘with oxygen’, and can likely sustain the exercise for a long period of time. Exercising above your VO2 max means that you are in the anaerobic zone, ‘without oxygen’, which can only be sustained for a very short period of time.
Essentially, there’s an inverse relationship between how intensely you can exercise, and how long that exercise can be sustained for. So, if you feel that you could do longer intervals, you aren’t pushing yourself hard enough. If you decide to try the Tabata method, be sure that you putting everything you have into each of the 20 second bursts. Go all out!
A Tabata Workout
A full Tabata class, like the one that I took with Richard, lasts for 20 minutes. This incorporates a warm up, a few minutes of cardio to start increasing heart rate, a break down of the exercises that will be included in the Tabata, the official 4 minute Tabata workout, some core conditioning, and a cool down.
Exercises for Tabata
A number of different exercises can be used to form a Tabata from body weight exercises, to treadmill sprints. I also really like to use a spin bike or rowing machine to ensure I get lots of variety in my Tabatas. When you’re selecting exercises to include in a Tabata, be sure to choose explosive movements that will challenge you. Some of my favourites include burpees, mountain climbers and squat jumps.
My Verdict on Tabata
I’m sold. If I can improve both my aerobic and anaerobic fitness by adding just 4 minutes of HIIT per session, I’m damn well going to do it! I love that I can easily add a blast of cardio onto the end of a weight training session to ensure that I’ve covered all bases during my workout.
Be warned: it’s brutal. You will sweat, you will be out of breath, and your muscles will fatigue. Don’t expect to end your workout with a Tabata and then be off the gym-floor and in the shower a minute later.
I spend more time recovering from a Tabata than I do completing it, but I push myself hard because I want the best results.
I recommend downloading a Tabata timer app and giving it a go!
Have you tried Tabata? Let me know what your favourite exercises to incorporate are!