What is Tabata Training?
Tabata is a style of training that has become popular over the last several years after Japanese researcher Dr. Izumi Tabata developed a proven technique that is as effective as it is brutal.
Simply put, Tabata training is a intense style of HIIT (high intensity interval training) that uses timed sets to take fat loss to the next level.
Work sets are 20 seconds long, followed by 10 seconds of rest. This low rest time is what pushes Tabata sets to the next level in terms of intensity, but also what makes it so effective.
For the actual work protocol utilized in Dr. Tabata’s study, he used a spin bike with volunteers completing 8 rounds of 20 seconds of 100% effort and then 10 seconds of cycling at a slow speed. This protocol only lasted 4 minutes, but when done properly – will be the most intense 4 minutes of your workout.
A person doing this workout 4-5 times per week for as little as 4 minutes can expect to see the same results as someone completing 60 minutes of low intensity cardio.
Subjects also experienced an increase in anaerobic fitness of up to 28% beyond what subjects in the traditional cardio group experienced.
Not only that, but the lean body mass (muscle) of the Tabata group increased slightly, while the traditional cardio group did not experience any increase in muscle.
Fat loss was the same between the same groups, but the Tabata group spent roughly 75% less time getting those results.
Obviously results this good are eye catching and cause sensational headlines. But there is a catch to it all.
I know above it says that subjects cycled at 100% of their max capacity. That’s not exactly true. Subjects were tested before the actual workouts to analyze their VO2 Max, then they were asked to perform at 110% of their MAX capacity.
This is much easier said than done.
Imagine that your survival, and the survival of all your friends, family, and loved ones depend solely on your ability to spin the crank of an exercise bike for 20 seconds. Not just as hard as you can, but above and beyond what you think you’re capable of.
This kind of intensity is difficult to achieve with your body, but can be even harder to achieve mentally when EVERYTHING is burning, you can’t get enough air, and you’re on round 3 of 8. There’s much more of a demand on your mental capacity with this kind of training than with pretty much any other variation.
Yes, the results are real, but the intensity is off the charts. By the end of the 4 minute training block, you’ll pretty much want to fall off the bike and nap for the rest of the day.
If you finish your “Tabata” abs or high knees before going to do cardio or weight training, you’re not actually doing the Tabata protocol.
Best Tabata Exercises
The best exercises to use the Tabata protocol on are exercises or machines that don’t require a high degree of coordination as you get tired, and allow you to work as hard as possible, without worrying about injury or failure.
For that reason, we prefer:
Assault Bike: this is an upright bike with handles that you can pump with your arms while spinning the pedals with your feet. It’s easy to push hard.
Spin Bike: simple and elegant in its ability to give you a strong training effect through the use of just your legs.
Versa Climber: a machine that imitates the act of climbing or crawling, you can push yourself extremely hard while not worrying about falling or slipping.
Battle Ropes: A great variation on traditional Tabata, battle ropes give your upper body a little bit more work, which is helpful if you’re using this protocol more than 2x per week.
Deadmill Sprints: Turn the treadmill off, and push the belt with your legs. This works on some treadmills better than other, but is extremely effective and difficult.
Weight Training Honorable Mention
Front Squats: While these can be more technical, they also provide a more significant level of difficulty than back squats or deadlifts while keeping the torso upright. You can also forget about getting a full breath while front squatting, making these a very difficult substitute for the aerobic version of the Tabata protocol.
Using the Tabata protocol for fat loss is incredibly effective, yet very difficult both physically and mentally.
Do a good warm up before embarking on your Tabata set, then set a timer. Work for 20 seconds then rest for 10 seconds. Repeat for 8 sets, or 4 minutes.
When finished, you should be done for the day, so don’t do this at the beginning of the workout.
You can use this as a standalone protocol for fat loss at home or in a hotel room, but it can also be used at the end of your workout as a finisher.