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TABATA: Can a 4 minute HIIT workout really make a difference?

May 12, 2014 4 min read

TABATA. Maybe you've heard of this before, maybe you haven't. Maybe you have, but still have NO idea what exactly it is! Is it a HIIT workout? Is it timed? What is the difference between HIIT and Tabata? Before we get into the Tabata workouts below, I want to take a second and talk about the Tabata Protocol. The current day 'Tabata' workouts all stem from a study that was done in the 1990's by a Dr. Izumi Tabata while working with the Japanese speed skating team preparing them for the Olympics. The study he conducted at the National Institute of Fitness and Sports in Tokyo, Japan, was essentially  to see how steady-state cardio (one hour of moderate intensity cardio) differs from high-intensity interval training(4 minute HIIT). In his study, he took these elite athletes and put them on a stationary bike and had them perform four-minute bouts of explosive interval moves done for 20 seconds with a 10-second break between each round, shooting for 6-8 total rounds. This all out effort in the study, meant performing at 170% of their VO2 Max. 170%! Most of us going all out may make it to 80, maybe 90% VO2Max. But 170% was the criteria for the Tabata Protocol. What does this mean to most? Well, basically it's feeling like you are going to throw up and pass out from the intensity. If you feel ok after, you are no where near 170%. In fact, Dr. Tabata himself has issued cautions, noting that Olympic athletes have been known to collapse on the floor at the end of their sessions. Dr. Tabata had the athletes perform the protocol 4 times per week for 6 weeks. By the end, participants in one experiment increased their anaerobic capacity by 28 percent, and their VO2 max and maximal aerobic power by 15 percent. In contrast, the control group, who performed an hour of steady cardiovascular exercise on a stationary bike five times a week, improved their VO2 max by just 10 percent, and their regimen had no effect on their anaerobic capacity.

Why is Tabata training so effective?

hiit-part-3The Tabata Protocol, when done correctly at all out effort, works all three muscle fibers. You have 1)Slow twitch 2) Fast Twitch and 3) Super-fast twitch muscles. Slow twitch are activated by traditional cardio and strength training exercises, which are aerobic activities, which require oxygen for fuel. Our Fast and Super-Fast twitch muscle fibers are activated by high intensity exercises, or anaerobic activities that do NOT require oxygen for fuel.  The most beneficial exercise would work all three muscle fibers. Tabata training, requires BOTH the aerobic and anaerobic systems, and thus is the best for cardiovascular health. With Tabata, you will experience labored breathing basically meaning that you're in oxygen debt since your body has blown through it's supply of glycogen and needs to replace it. It then replaces it with fat, placing you into an anaerobic zone. By putting you into the anaerobic zone, you will start burning the fat for fuel. This is why with tabata and HIIT, you feel so uncomfortable since your heart rate elevates extremely fast. Great for the goal at hand (to burn fat, get in great cardiovascular and physical shape), but just remember to go at your own pace. Don't KILL yourself. Start slow and work your way up. With Tabata, if you are truly working at or close to 100-170% of VO2 max for 20 seconds, you may only get through a few rounds. The idea and results though are a proven fact from Dr. Tabata's study proving that there was more fat loss in a 24 hour period with a 4 minute ROM exercise than with 60 minute endurance training on treadmill, bike or stepper.

With Tabata, are only aerobic exercises used (i.e. sprinting, cycling etc.)?

With the study at hand conducted by Dr. Tabata, he ONLY used aerobic activity during his protocol of 20 seconds on, 10 seconds rest. The idea was to complete the quickest ROM possible and get as many reps in, and you can only do this with aerobic exercise. For instance with a burpee you have to jump down, touch the ground, jump back in and jump up. You can only repeat this so many times in 20 seconds vs. say how fast you can elicit a rotation on a cycle for 20 seconds. Also, with anything else, your muscular endurance may fail BEFORE your cardiovascular endurance does. So doing a tabata push up routine, your chest, arm and shoulder muscles will give out prior to your cardiovascular system. If you don't believe me, TRY IT! I have and you can do the first round, but by round 2 and 3 your form may start to fail and you are no longer working at 170% of your VO2Max. hiit_training_mainBUT, if you want to apply the tabata principle in a sense to your workout (20 seconds of ALL OUT INTENSITY, followed by 10 seconds recovery), then your choices are limitless. The Crossfit community uses it quite a bit.  You can use push ups, sprints, jump squats, burpees, box jumps, kettlebell swings, mt. climbers, high knees, clean and press etc. The key is working to complete exhaustion in those 20 seconds. Shoot for 6-8 rounds. In fact, another study showed how these 'alternative' tabata workouts (using pushups, jump squats, burpees etc), resulted in great findings. The study showed that 'during a Tabata workout, subjects averaged 86 percent of HRmax (range of 84—88 percent) and 74 percent of VO2max (range of 67—81 percent)—both of which meet or exceed established industry guidelines for improving cardio fitness and modifying body composition.'    


Endurance Total Body
Butt and Thighs Total Body Total Body workout with a warm up and cool down Want to see more workouts and information on health and fitness? check out my youtube page as well!

With any cardiovascular exercise,  consult with your physician before starting these types of workouts.



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