The Tabata Protocol

November 21 2011




The Tabata Training Protocol


Now that Winter has arrived and the temperatures are starting to drop, it becomes more difficult to train outdoors. Yes, you can run all year round and you can ride your bike if the roads aren’t too icy but if you live in a colder climate and there’s ice and snow on the roads and sidewalks for months on end, it gets pretty challenging to do anything intense. Sprinting and interval training are no longer safe options because it get too slippery, there's less traction and the risk of injury is greatly increased.


Fortunately, there are many different indoor conditioning options available to you! One of the simplest and most effective, no matter where you are, is Tabata training. Tabata training and the Tabata Training Protocol originated from a research study led by Dr. Izumi Tabata at the National Institute of Fitness and Sports in Tokyo, Japan. The study was published in the journal: Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise - October 1996 - Volume 28 - Issue 10 - pp 1327-1330 and titled: “Effects of moderate-intensity endurance and high intensity intermittent training on aerobic capacity and VO2max”.


In the study, Dr. Tabata concluded that High Intensity Intermittent Training (HIIT) a.k.a. High Intensity Interval Training was a far more effective and efficient method of training when compared to traditional cardiovascular training (steady state cardio). The study showed that Tabata training was not only more effective at improving anaerobic endurance but cardiovascular endurance as well.


The breakdown of a Tabata interval session is 20 seconds of intense work followed by 10 seconds of rest repeated 8 times for a total of 4 minutes. In the study the participants (who were all apparently fit athletes) did 1 Tabata interval session a day, 5 days a week for 6 weeks. After the 6 weeks, the participants averaged a 28% increase in aerobic capacity and a 14% increase in VO2max. Tabata intervals, if done with enough intensity, will also increase you BMR (basal metabolic rate) for 24-36 hours after each session. This means you will continue to burn calories and shed fat long after you’ve left the gym! But when I say it has to be done with intensity, I mean.. done with INTENSITY!!! You will only get out of it what you put in so you have to hit it hard!


Tabata intervals are most often done with body weight or light resistance exercises. The focus is usually on explosiveness and speed so you want to choose exercises that you can do a high volume of within the 20 second time frame. When doing Tabata intervals in your workouts, you can also keep score. Your score is the your lowest number of reps in any of the 8 rounds. For example, if you were doing Tabata squats (bodyweight squats) for 8 rounds and the first round you got 17 reps but in the second round you only managed to get 14, then your score becomes 14. Then you want to try to hold on to that number for as long as you can. You also want to make sure you don’t come out of the gate too hard and score really high in the first few intervals but fade away to nothing by the end. It’s better to find a tempo and rep range that you can hold on to the entire time!


A fun Tabata workout that I’ve done myself and with my clients is called Tabata This. The Tabata This workout consists of 5 different exercises done Tabata style back to back with a minute rest in between each exercise. 


Air Squats - 8 sets of 20 seconds work, 10 seconds rest (total 4 minutes)

1 minute rest

Pull-Ups - 8 sets of 20 seconds work, 10 seconds rest (4 minutes)

1 minute rest

Push-Ups - 8 sets of 20 seconds work, 10 seconds rest (4 minutes)

1 minute rest

Sit-Ups - 8 sets of 20 seconds work, 10 seconds rest  (4 minutes)

1 minute rest

Calorie Row (rowing for calories on the concept rower) - 8 sets, 20 seconds works, 

10 off (4 minutes)


The best I’ve ever scored on this workout was 60. That breaks down to the following number of reps for each exercise - squats (18), pull-ups (8), push-ups (14),  sit-ups (12), calorie row (8). Give it a shot and let me know how it goes. Be warned though.. if you’ve never done any type of Tabata training before, be prepared to be a tiny bit sore for a few days afterwards!

Article by (Train Online)  |  November 21 2011

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