The Tabata Method

This is the first post regarding high-intensity interval training. Several quality, replicable studies have been conducted on different high-intensity interval training (HIIT) exercise methods over the past few years. The results of these studies have confirmed and quantified some of the results of this kind of training based on the actual training method, time and frequency. These studies also seem to have confirmed some things that coaches, trainers and athletes have had a hunch about for a long time—some high intensity work can really pay off (and be quite uncomfortable). Today I’ll discuss the Tabata method of HIIT, which is the first HIIT method I began using.

First, I would like to note that high-intensity interval training is, well, exactly what is in the name—it’s intense. Therefore, you should only engage in this kind of training if you already have a decent fitness base. For those of you starting a new exercise routine, please check with you doctor to make sure you’re in good enough health to start the routine you want to. Also, since you’re often giving your full effort during HIIT, take care to prevent injury. Particularly, watch your form. Don’t let it break down just. This is when injuries occur. Keeping in good form should always come before getting to that maximum effort. During these intense sessions, it takes a lot of mental focus to accomplish this. Practice it! Try and do these training sessions with low-intensity, low impact exercises like a stationary cycle.

The Tabata method comes directly from a study published in 1996 titled Effects of Moderate-Intensity Endurance and High-Intensity intermittent training on Anaerobic Capacity and VO2max. The study’s conclusion (paraphrased) was that moderate-intensity aerobic training that improves maximal aerobic power does not change anaerobic capacity. Adequate high-intensity intermittent training may improve both anaerobic and aerobic energy supplying systems significantly.

This study was done using stationary cycles with 7 to 8 sets of 20 second exercise at pretty much full intensity (170% of VO2max) with a 10 second rest between each exercise. Subjects performed the exercises 5 days a week for 6 weeks. The gains produced were significant and I believe this study has been replicated several times and different set lengths have been experimented with. The study has also been done with top condition athletes. The gains (about a 28% increase in anaerobic capacity after 6 weeks) are good for top athletes living in the world of incremental gains. If you Google this study or the Tabata name, you will find a lot of reputable resources on the subject.

The reason I started doing Tabata sprints was just to experiment with this method to see how it felt. I have only tracked my progress based on my feeling. I did the method with sprints. Again, please note that this is intense. If after my warm-up, I felt off for some reason, I wouldn’t do the Tabata session that day. It’s too easy to injure yourself while sprinting at full speed.

I really enjoy the Tabata method, but it does tend to hurt a lot—especially the first few sessions. I normally do only one Tabata session a week. After four weeks of doing it, I found that I was much more comfortable during the sessions and seemed to recover better in the hour after the session. I definitely recovered better over the next 24 hours, and I rarely experience soreness due to these sessions.

I have performed these sessions with running shoes on concrete (with the utmost caution). Doing this usually prevents me from really getting maxed out due to my fear of injury. I prefer to do this barefoot (sometimes with barefoot shoes and sometimes without) on a nice grassy surface. I use a free app on my iPod Touch that times the intervals automatically. It’s kind of a pain to have to hold the iPod while sprinting, but I’ve found a good way to go about it.

I have also done Tabata sessions with burpees, mountain climbers and push-ups. I prefer the sprinting method, but I am going to try doing it with air squats as I have seen on a YouTube video. I bet it will hurt.

If you feel like trying to destroy yourself for some aerobic and anaerobic improvement, try the Tabata method. It’s interesting and worthwhile. As previously mentioned, you can do this with a number of exercises. Check out the TRX Reviews page for a bodyweight exercise tool that is pretty cool.