Back in 1996 if you mentioned HIIT most people would probably have assumed you were talking about an Oasis record rather than an exercise style, but it happens to have been the year one of the most well-known branches of HIIT was born: Tabata training.
What Is Tabata Training?
Tabata is named after Professor Izumi Tabata, who conducted a study into the effects of HIIT on aerobic and anaerobic fitness, and how it compared to steady-state training.
The original study used highly trained athletes, divided into two groups. One did five sessions of steady-state training a week, while the other did four HIIT workouts plus one steady-state workout.
The HIIT involved 20-second bursts of very intense exercise followed by ten seconds of rest, repeated eight times for a total of four minutes. This four-minute blast was preceded by a five-minute warm-up and followed by a two-minute warm-down, with all the exercise done on a stationary bike. During the intense sections the athletes had to maintain a pace of over 85RPM or they were disqualified.
At the end of the study, both groups saw rises in their VO2 max (basically, how efficiently the body can use oxygen), but those who had used the Tabata protocol also improved their anaerobic fitness.
Since then Tabata training has come to mean any workout which is broken up into 20 seconds work and ten seconds of rest, repeated for four minutes. From there people often add in more rounds, building up the workout in four-minute blocks.
It’s also used today as an effective way to burn fat (but not lose weight, this isn’t a protocol for beginners, remember). Why? Because just ten seconds of recovery after 20 seconds of lung-busting effort isn’t enough time to completely get your breath back, so your heart rate stays high and the accumulated fatigue quickly adds up to shock your body into freeing up the energy supplies tucked away in your fat cells. This means that while you may not burn that many calories during the actual four minutes of training, you body will continue to burn calories at a higher rate at rest during the following hours. Some studies indicate your metabolism is boosted for up to 24 hours after a HIIT session.
How To Do Tabata Training
Tabata is not a workout for fitness beginners, because it’s vital that the 20-second bursts of work are done at maximum intensity. In theory, it can be applied to all forms of exercise – you can do Tabata running, cycling, bodyweight exercises, weight training or anything else. However, it’s best done with exercises that allow you to increase the intensity quickly and safely. So start with work on a cardio machine or simple bodyweight moves like press-ups or unweighted squats.
To stress the most important point again, if you’re doing Tabata right it will feel like absolute torture for four minutes. You shouldn’t be able to talk during the intense bursts.
You can build workouts around the Tabata principle in four-minute blocks, changing the exercise after each four-minute stint. For example you could do four minutes on the rower, four of press-ups, four of jump squats and four on a stationary bike.
You don’t want to make the overall workout too long, though, because this will probably mean you’re unable to maintain the intensity. It’s also important to make sure you warm up before your first 20-second stint at max intensity.