The Tabata Training Protocol

The Tabata Training Protocol is a form of High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) which is very effective for improving fitness and also fat loss. In this article we will explain and detail what the Tabata Protocol is and also how to make the most of this intense conditioning tool.

Professor Izumi Tabata, The Creator

Izumi Tabata is a professor in sports science and also worked as a training coach for the Japanese speed skating team where he was asked to analyse the effectiveness of the training method the head coach had implemented. This exercise method required the athletes to exercise in short bursts with minimal rest and thus whilst examining this kind of training he immediately discovered that the results showed this was a simple yet effective means of training for improving an athletes Vo2 max (is the highest capacity of an individual’s body to transport and use oxygen during incremental exercise, which reflects the physical fitness of the individual). Further studies at a later stage also discovered HIIT was great for fat burning as wel.

What Exactly Does The Tabata Training Protocol Require?

To put it simply the Tabata Training Protocol is a brief workout mixing bursts of very intense effort followed by short times of rest. Tabata personally explains the best ratio (after warming up) as 8 times 20 seconds flat out and 10 seconds rest. You did read that right. You work flat out for 20 seconds, then simply rest for 10 seconds, then repeat 7 further times for a complete and total of 8 rounds. The entire workout lasts just 4 minutes. It seems crazy that the short amount of working out can do anything useful however research has shown the advantages.

The Scientific research

In the research performed by Tabata and his colleagues they analyzed two groups of people. One group worked out at a steady state of moderate moderate:intensity for an hour, while the other team performed a 4 minute Tabata per training session.

In the moderate-intensity team, 7 active young male’s exercised on stationary bicycles 5 days per week for 6 weeks at 70% of Vo2 max, 60 minutes every workout session. Their V02 max was gauged before as well as after the training session and every week throughout the 6 week period. As each individuals Vo2 max improved, exercise intensity was increased to keep them pedalling at 70% of their actual Vo2 max. Vo2 max and anaerobic capacity was determined before, during and also after the training.

A second group implemented a high-intensity interval regime. 7 students, also young and physically active, worked out five days per week applying a training program much like the Japanese speed skaters. The subjects did seven to eight sets of 20 seconds at 170% of V0max, with a 10 second rest between each bout. Their pedaling speed was 90-rpm and sets were terminated when rpms dropped below 85. When subjects were able to complete more than 9 sets, training intensity was increased by 11 watts. The training protocol was altered one day per week. On that day, the students exercised for 30 minutes at 70% of V02 max before doing 4 sets of 20 second intervals at 170% of V02 maximum. This latter session was not taken to exhaustion. Again, Vo2 max and anaerobic capacity was determined before, during and also after the training.

The moderate-intensity training system generated a notable improvement in V02 max (around 10%), however had no effect on anaerobic capacity. The high-intensity intermittent protocol enhanced V02 max by around 14% and anaerobic capacity increasing by 28%!

And so there you have it, not only did the high intensity training increase the participants Vo2 max better than the moderate training, it considerably increased the test subjects anaerobic capacity by 28% comparing to a 0% increase with the moderate training subjects.

Fat Loss

A group of Canadian scientists did a very similar study using 27 inactive, healthy, non-obese adults (13 men, 14 women, 18 to 32 years old). They separated the individuals into 2 groupings. One group performed a 20-week endurance training program of uninterrupted cycling 4 or 5 times a week for 30 to 45 minutes; the intensity level began at 60% of heart rate reserve and progressed to 85%. These percents of maximum heart rate are higher than is normally advised for weight-loss; for weight loss it is usually recommended to work at 60-70% of your maximum heart rate.

The second group performed a 15-week program which consisted mainly of high-intensity-interval training (HIIT). Similar to the endurance group, they started with 30-minute sessions of continuous training at 70% of maximum heart rate reserve (this was simply because they were not familiar with exercise), but they quickly developed to 10 to 15 bouts of short (15 seconds progressing to 30 seconds) or 4 to 5 long (60 seconds progressing to 90 seconds) intervals separated by recovery periods enabling heart rate to return to 120-130 beats per minute. The intensity of the short intervals was initially fixed at 60% of the maximal work output in 10 seconds, and that of the long rounds corresponded to 70% of the individual maximum work output in 90 seconds. Intensity on both was increased 5% every three weeks.


Not surprisingly, the whole energy cost of the endurance program was significantly more than the HIIT program (this is because of the significantly larger time spent working out). The researchers determined that the endurance group expended more than twice the quantity of calories while working out compared to the HIIT program. However skinfold measurements showed that the HIIT group shed more subcutaneous fat, AND the researchers reported that, “when the difference in the total energy cost of the program was taken into account… , the subcutaneous fat loss was 9 times greater in the HIIT program than in the endurance program.” In essence the HIIT group achieved 9 times more fat-loss advantage for every calorie burned exercising.

How is that possible?

The researchers concluded in their study that “HIIT may lead to a better lipid utilization in the postexercise state and thus contribute to a greater energy and lipid deficit”. Basically, through doing HIIT you burn up more body fat and calories after the exercise session than you do training at a moderate intensity!

Exercises I Do This With?

Probably the best method to achieve this is on a stationary bike, but you you can use the training fundamentals for anything that you can put maximum effort into. It’s not recommended by some that you do this method of training with weighted resistance work, but bodyweight workouts or exercise machines such as rowers and bikes are good.

In Summary

This type of training, just as the results of the above two studies show, is extremely effective at improving health and fitness in addition to fat-loss. This is a cardio work out that should be in everybody’s program. Especially those who don’t get a lot of time to work out.

The next time you consider ditching your cardio session because of an absence of time, jump on a bike and do a Tabata!

Source by Michael Perridge


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