Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Tabata Training

 You Know You Wanna Tabata?

Suddenly it seems that everywhere you look in health and fitness magazines there is the discussion of high intensity intermittent exercise or training (HIIE or HIIT). For the sake of consistency it shall be refereed to as HIIT. Previously, I discussed the important role that HIIT plays in fat loss and weight management, but I failed to mention one important and rarely studied HIIT method. This method has been a hidden secret for years, well maybe not that well hidden because even I know about it. However, it is out there and it works. Oh yes, and there is an app to guide you as you work out. My favorite Tabata app is, Tabata Sports Interval Timer and it is free. However, there are others out there that are good.  

What is Tabata? Tabata is a high intensity timed workout session that is broken down into four 8 set workout sections that are done with work times, rest times. The average Tabata session is 20 min. Trust me you will feel like you have had the workout of your life. Tabata training is the brainchild of exercise scientist Izumi Tabata of Tokyo, Japan. Tabata first started researching HIIT in the early to mid 1990s. His work is extensively well published, but only one study has been performed on Tabata styled exercise. Despite the fact that the Tabata training system has not been extensively researched somehow the word has gotten out and the popularity of HIIT is growing in popularity. Research from HIIT studies has shown anaerobic threshold increases of up to 28% and VO2max increases even with experienced athletes (2). Other studies that have focused on only metabolic improvements have found increased maximal oxygen deficit (1) which can lead to an increase in the resting metabolic rate post exercise thus allowing more calories to be burned throughout the remainder of the day. Therefore, Tabata, if done correctly can make you a better athlete and develop lean mass quicker than standard steady state exercises like running or elliptical for >30  minutes or weight lifting for one hour.


Will one experience muscle hypertrophy with Tabata style training? No, it is fast paced and the rest time does not allow for energy stores to return to a normal state. 

Will one experience strength gains? Yes, as with all exercise plans the exerciser will experience strength and other fitness improvements. However, training in a Tabata style will not allow the user to use heavy weights due to the repetitive motions in connection with a minimal energy storage replenishment time. Therefore, strength gains will be minimal.

Will Tabata make you faster? Maybe. This all depends on how intense you make the workout. The more intense the workout the better speed gains you will make.

Will one lose weight by doing Tabata? Yes, but don't forget the way to lose weight is with a negative caloric balance? Exercise more and eat less. Tabata will increase fat metabolism, and fat loss is good weight loss.

Will you want to quit during your session? Maybe. By your fourth set of every exercise you will most likely start to fatigue. But don't stop. Keep going. Reduce your reps or slow down your tempo. Just keep going. You will love the results that you will get. 

What should your heart rate goal be? Work at approximately 70-85% of your heart rate (HR) max. However, you will get better results working on maintaining a HR around 85% of HRmax. Overall, listen to your heart. You will know if you can push yourself or if you should hold back. A generic formula for HRmax is 220 - age = HRmax.

  • Example
    • 220 - 25 = 195
    • 195 x .75 = 131
    • 75% of HRmax is 131 beats per minute 


So how does one begin a Tabata training session? Here are a few good pointers to make sure that you do not kill yourself with your first session.
  1. Make sure that this is not your first ever exercise session
  2. Practice a few anaerobic exercises with other workout sessions prior to performing your first Tabata session. This will help raise your anaerobic tolerance so you won't die doing Tabata. 
    1. Sprints to exhaustion
    2. Body Weight (BW) or standard resistance training to exhaustion
    3. Try performing an hour long weight training session in 20-30 min, so you are exhausted.
  3. Be able to run 1.5-2 miles without stopping.
    1. Tabata might focus on the anaerobic system, but aerobic fitness will make this training more tolerable
  4. Make sure that you have a post workout snack or beverage handy
    1. You will be hungry after your workout
    2. Your thermic effect of exercise will be exceptionally high after an intense bout of Tabata
    3. Trust me, you will be hungry afterward
    4. A standard protein shake with a ratio of 3:1 or 4:1  carbs to protein will be perfect.
OK. You have satisfied the aforementioned checklist. What are you going to do?

Determine 4 BW exercises for your session
Pick the order that those exercises will be performed
Get a timer ready, because you will need it
Perform one exercise for each section of the session
There should be 4 sections for each session
Each exercise session = 20 min

One section consists of: 
20 sec of a BW exercise
10 sec of rest
repeat 8x
full rest for 1 min
Each section should last 5 min

Once you are finished move on the next exercise and begin the next section.

What kind of exercises are appropriate for Tabata? Honestly anything that can get your heart rate up will work. Ideally you should use only BW exercises. However, Tabata is great with Kettlebells, medicine balls and even free weights (if you have a timer). If you are relying on a watch then free weights might not be the best option. You can even focus on a certain body part as your work out; i.e... torso, abs or legs. Let me give you an example of a training routine. 

  • Squat to Heel Raise
  • Up Down Planks
  • Heismans
  • Push-ups
So do you think you are ready to give it a shot. Tabata probably isn't for everyone. It most certainly isn't for everyday. But it is the perfect exercise plan to fit in once or twice a week. Twice a week will give you better results. Perfect for those days that you just can't fit that long workout in. It's a perfect anaerobic training session to add into the end of your regular routine. Tabata is simply perfect. Have fun!

If your are interested in Izumi Tabata's research here are a couple. Google his name and I am sure that you will find more.

1. I. Tabata., K. Irisawa., M. Kouzaki.,  K. Nishimura., F. Ogita., & M. Miyachi. (1997). Metabolic profile of high intensity intermittent exercise. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 29(3), 390-395.

2. I.Tabata., Kouji. Nishmura., Y. Hirai., F. Yuusuke., M. Motohiko., & K. Yamamoto. (1996). Effects of moderate-intensity and high-intensity intermittent training on anaerobic capacity and vo2max. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 28(10), 1327-1330

 Example of Up Down Planks

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