Does Tabata Training Live Up to the Hype?

High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is all the rage in the fitness world these days, and for good reason. This challenging workout approach has been shown in study after study to give you the maximum amount of benefits in he least amount of time, improving speed and endurance while preserving muscle mass. At it’s most basic level, HIIT involves workouts that are composed of intense bouts of activity, broken up by periods of lower-intensity exercise. For example, you might jog for a minute and then sprint for 30 seconds, repeated this pattern for the length of your workout. Confusingly, however, fitness experts have managed to take that simple, effective approach and remix it to form all sorts of different HIIT formulas. Of these, Tabata training is one of the most prevalent. Since Tabata training has been getting so much attention, the American Council on Exercise recently enlisted several researchers and asked them to evaluate the effectiveness of this particular HIIT style.


What is Tabata Training?

As mentioned, Tabata training is one of the many styles of HIIT, originally created by Japanese Olympic speed-skating coach Irisawa Koichi. After using the workout for a while, Koichi asked one of his coaches, named Izumi Tabata, to analyze the technique. According to Tabata’s initial study, published in 1996, the formula produced remarkable improvements in the athletes after just 6 weeks of training.

Now that you understand the history, what exactly is Tabata training? To pull off this grueling workout, you’re going to need a timer or stopwatch that you can see clearly while going through the exercises. Your best option would be to have a training partner or coach watching the clock for you. During Tabata training, you’re going to workout at high-intensity for 20 seconds and rest for 10 seconds. Repeat this pattern eight times, so that the round lasted for 4 minutes total. Take a minute to catch your breath between rounds. You’re going to need it.

Keep this pattern up for 20 minutes.

Part of the beauty of Tabata, versus some other HIIT approaches, is that it can be applied to virtually any workout. If you plan on using the Tabata rhythm in strength training, just try to complete as many reps are you can within those 20-second activity windows.


Research Results

Even on paper, Tabata looks like a tough workout. So, it’s not really surprising that the ACE sponsored study found that the subjects averaged about 86% of their maximum heart rate and 74% of their VO2max during the workout. Both of these measures either meet or exceed the industry-recognized guidelines for improving fitness levels and body composition.

You might also be interested to know that the workouts, made up of a variety of bodyweight exercises and plyometrics, burned an average of 15 calories per minute.

The researchers did have a word of caution, which has been echoed by many fitness experts: Tabata is not a beginner’s workout. Remember, this style was created by an Olympic coach for Olympic athletes, not the casual exerciser. If you’re already in good shape, though, Tabata is a great way to mix up your workouts. Like other HIIT styles, Tabata training can help you make same major strides in a short time period.



Running Races to Enter in 2014

Dublin Marathon 2012While only January, you probably are suffering through workouts on treadmills and if you do venture outside, you are bundling up wearing an excessive amount of clothes–not something runners prefer. But it’s time to start thinking of ramping up the long runs and considering what races to add to your 2014 calendar. With the rising costs of registration fees, travel expenses and the obligatory parking fees at various races, you must carefully select each race. Here are a few options to consider, some for fun and others to PR:

Marathon: Chicago Marathon
Held each October, the Chicago Marathon sells out in record time each year. It’s best to be ready at the computer to click on the “register” button immediately when it opens. Of the nation’s most famous marathons, it’s surprisingly the most easy to enter. NYC is very challenging with its lottery system; most participants wait more than three years to get in, and Boston is a qualifier. Want to go big? Then enter Chicago.

Half Marathon: Hollywood Half Marathon
The Hollywood Half Marathon provides both a race/destination adventure. You can run along the famed Hollywood Boulevard and step on celebrities’ stars as you race through the miles. Also, participants often dress up as celebrities–so be sure to bring your Elvis or Marilyn Monroe outfits. After the race, attend Universal Studios or pick up tickets to a taping of one of your favorite shows. Plan to spend an extra couple of days to make this race worth the travel expense.

Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

International Race: Paris Marathon
Taking place in early April, you’ll need to start training hard immediately and book your flight now to take part in the Paris Marathon. But Paris in the spring with a marathon course that traverses past all the major tourist attractions, you’ll view the city of Paris on foot–along with a few thousand friends.

Adventure Race: Color Run
Growing in popularity, Color Runs are simple 5K races taking place throughout the country. Every kilometer, racers are doused in colors,giving you a rainbow look as you cross the finish line. Participants wear a white T-shirt to accentuate the brightness of the massive color throws.

Pain Management for Runners

We’ve talked plenty about pain in past posts. Specifically, we’ve dealt with preventing and treating all sorts of acute physical pains that afflict all endurance athletes. But, in your training and competition, you’ve likely faced pains that weren’t covered in those articles. Maybe you’ve been overcome by self-doubt or mental and physical exhaustion mid-race. Or perhaps it was emotional stress gearing up to an event. Either way, athletes force themselves to work through thins that would stop many people in their tracks.

How do they do it? What are some strategies that you can use in your training?


Get Used to It

I know it sounds harsh, but getting used to pain is one of the best pain management strategies there is. A recent study published in the journal Pain set out to understand the extraordinary coping skills of triathletes.

The subjects used in the study competed at an elite level, including the notorious Ironman Triathlon which consists of a 2.4 mile swim, 112 miles of cycling and a complete 26.2 mile marathon. Clearly, these individuals are used to pain.

Also observed in the study were non-athletes who exercised casually, acting as the control group. Both groups were exposed to controlled pain sensations and given a series of questionnaires designed to rate the subject’s attitude towards pain.

The athletes and the non-athletes both experienced the same amount of pain, but the athletes were able to cope more effectively. Not only did the triathletes demonstrate an increased ability to mentally moderate the amount of pain that they felt but they also reported being less afraid of experiencing pain than the control group.

The exact mechanisms at work here aren’t fulling understood yet but, several theories have surfaced. Specifically, there are two thoughts that emerged from this study that can be useful for everyone, even if you never plan on running a triathlon.

First, it seems like the reduced fear of pain allows athletes to cope better. Working yourself up and being stressed will only worsen any pain you’re experiencing and lead to feelings of doubt.

But the researchers also notes a more physical cause of these observations. The intense training that the triathletes subject themselves to on a regular basis could be teaching them how to respond to pain.

For the rest of us, the application is frustratingly simple: Deal with it. The more you train, the better you’ll become at understanding and coping with any pain you face. You’ll also be more confident and less likely to experience stress or fear.


Don’t Push It

But you shouldn’t just plow through all pain. Generally speaking, pain is a useful sensation that allows your body to let you know when something is wrong.

If you experience sharp, sudden pains in your feet, hips or shins that worsens as you run, you should stop immediately. This could be a sign of a small break in the bone called a stress fracture that shouldn’t be ignored.

Any pain that makes you limp or change your stride could be your body letting you know that you’ve torn something and should stop.

Also, any sudden chest or stomach pain, especially when coupled with a fever, shallow breathing and extreme sweating should take you out of the race immediately.

Careful training and experience will teach you individualized coping mechanisms that can help you deal with the pain that comes along with your sport. However, make sure you aren’t pushing through serious pains that could be the sign of a major injury.

Have you developed coping mechanisms in your training? Please share them in the comments.




Core Exercises for Sprints and Hurdles

Although they ultimately differ in overall technique, both sprinting and hurdles require an enormous about of explosive power. That burst of force will be what propels you forward off the blocks and over the hurdles. All of these movements originate in your core, the region of your body that includes your stomach, your back and your hips. By training these muscles you can greatly improve your performance on the track. Here are just a few exercises that can help to not only strengthen your core, but also to train the movements needed during competition.

For each exercise, complete 2 to 3 sets of 5 to 12 reps per side.



This exercise goes by a lot of names so, it’s likely that you know it as the donkey kick or even something else. Whatever you call it, the bird-dog will effectively work your entire core for both strength and stability. While you may not always consider it when you’re running, having balance and stability in your core is essential to injury prevent and good technique.

To perform the exercise:

  • Start on your hands and knees with your hands below your shoulders. Your knees should be below your hips. Keep your stomach tight and your back straight throughout the movement.
  • Raise your right arm straight in front of you. At the same time, lift your left leg off the floor and straighten it out behind you.
  • Slowly return to your starting position.
  • Repeat on the opposite side.

Mountain Climber

While the bird-dog worked on pulling your legs away from you, the mountain climber focuses on the opposite movement. This will target the muscles in your hips responsible for lifting your legs with each step or hurdle.

  • Start in a push-up position. Keep your abs tight and your back straight. Your hands should be just under your shoulders.
  • Without moving your upper-body, draw your right knee towards your chest.
  • Return to the starting position.
  • Alternate legs to perform the desired amount of reps per leg.

Glute Bridge

This exercise will target your glutes and hamstrings, while, again, engaging your back and abs. The focus on the large muscles in the back of your legs will give you power and stability throughout a full range of movement.

  • Lie on the floor with your arms at your knees and your knees bent. Your feet should be flat on the floor.
  • Lift your hips and back off the floor until there’s a straight line from your knees to your shoulders.
  • At the top of the movement, squeeze your glutes and hold for 5 to 10 seconds.
  • Return to the starting position and repeat.

These are just a few of the core exercise that can help your improve your performance this season. What are some exercises you’ve worked in to your routine?




Diet Changes for 2014

 Image courtesy of rakratchada torsap/

Image courtesy of rakratchada torsap/

While the new year is underway, you’re probably still working on those resolutions and making changes for the better. Nothing changes your lifestyle more than alleviating bad foods and replacing them with healthy alternatives. You’ll notice you have more energy, start to run faster and longer, and sleep better. No matter how many hours you spend at the gym or run circles around a track, nothing can make you a better athlete than fueling your body with health foods. Here are some options to try this year and see if it makes a difference:

Alleviate milk and creamer in your coffee.

Try this:
Switch it out with soy or rice milk. Dairy has come under attack lately by various nutritionists stating it isn’t necessary to survive and alleviating it from your diet can help with bloating, pains, eczema, among others. Try replacing it with soy or almond milk and see if you notice any difference.

Stop drinking at least one can of soda a day.

Try this:
Soda can dehydrate you as well as cause other problems with internal organs. Switch out one soda with something other than water so you won’t get bored and give up. Try a low-calorie electrolyte drink, flavored ice tea or one of those low-calorie powdered packages you dump into water. These come in all flavors like lemonade or fruit punch.

Alleviate oil in your baked goods.

Try this:
Instead of using vegetable oil when a recipe calls for it, use fruit instead. Sliced apples add a lot of flavor and juice, making your desserts come out very moist and tasty.

Add in a meatless day.

Try this:
Many restaurants now offer a special “Meatless Mondays” with vegetarian options. You don’t need to go fully meatless, just one large meal a week. Instead of chicken or steak, try out hummus or beans. It’s not hard to do and you’ll enjoy finding new recipes.

Exercises to Prevent Shin Splints

After months of forced inactivity, pushed on you by the cold, dark winter, you’re doubtlessly thrilled for the upcoming start of track and field season. Unfortunately, your excitement to get back to the track could greatly increase your chances of injury, especially from pesky shin splints. To keep you mobile, a proper warmup is incredibly important.

For some detailed information about the causes and treatment of shin splints, see this past post. In the meantime, here are some easy exercises that you can include in your warmup to help ward off the splints.

The Exercises

The basic principle at work when it comes to preventing shin splints is that of balance in your lower-leg. Your connective tissue and muscles need to be properly stretched and conditioned in the full range of motion that you’ll require of them during the actual activity. To that end, try adding these at the end of your warmup, when everything is already lose.

  1. Walk On Your Toes- For about 20 to 30 meters, raise yourself up on the balls of your feet. Walk slowly and focus on maintaining your balance. Trying to do this one too quickly could be counterproductive. As you walk, life the active leg high enough that your thigh is parallel to the ground.
  2. Walk On Your Heels- Go another 20 to 30 meters on your heels. Again, move slowly through this drill so that your heels don’t aggressively strike the ground. Keep your toes flexed upwards throughout the movement. Continue to lift your leg high to place your thigh parallel with the ground.
  3. Toe Lifts- Stand still, with your big toes touching and your heels wide apart. Slowly lift yourself up onto your toes and lower back down again. Repeat this a total of 10 times.
  4. Heel Lifts- Reverse the placement of your feet so that your heels are touching and your toes are pointing away from each other. Lift yourself up onto your heels and slowly lower back down. Repeat this for 10 reps.

Remember, even though the most common cause of shin splints is overtraining, they can also be a sign of stress fractures. If you have any persistent pain after your workouts, you should see a doctor. It’s important to note, as well, that shin splints appear after exercise rather than during. Sudden, sharp pain while you’re running could be a symptom of something else and you should stop that activity immediately.

What are some of your tips for preventing shin splints?



New Year’s Resolutions for Runners

imagesBy now, you’ve most likely set some New Year’s resolutions. While many say they don’t make them because they can’t keep them, I’ve found the opposite is true with those involved with sport. Athletes, whether professional or amateur, set goals and work hard to achieve them. They ponder the year’s past with what worked and what didn’t, then decide how to become better in the coming year.

The standard definition of how to set a goal involves the S.M.A.R.T. acronym, perhaps you’ve heard of it: specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-targeted goals.

Here is an example:

Specific: I will run a six-minute mile in 2014.

Measurable: A six-minute mile is an exact measurement.

Achievable: Did you run a seven minute mile in 2013? If you are hovering around the 10-minute per mile mark, this is probably not an achievable goal and thus you should set one more attainable. It’ll make you feel like a failure if you set something out of reach.

Realistic: Just like achievable, it cannot be a goal like making the Olympic team if you are running a 10-minute mile.

Time-targeted goals: The goal of running a six-minute mile this year is completely time targeted. That means by December 31, 2014, you’ll have achieved this goal.

But you shouldn’t just stop there–you should do more to ensure you achieve. Here are other suggestions when goal setting:

Write your goals down and put them somewhere you’ll see them everyday. You’ll be thinking of the goals more often and are more likely to follow through if they are in your face.

Create a personal goal statement. According to Stephen Covey, the bestselling author of the “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” you should go a step further than simply following the S.M.A.R.T. tradition. He says, “To achieve our goals many people will create what is called a personal goal statement. This will help the individual understand exactly what the goal is about and why they feel the goal is important to them. The individual should ask questions like How will this goal affect me if achieved? Is this a personal development goal? or is this a career development goal? How will this goal affect me in the four areas of life: body, heart, mind, and spirit?”

Set small goals instead of big ones. Michael Jordan wrote the following about his belief in short-term goals:

“I approach everything step by step….I had always set short-term goals.  As I look back, each one of the steps or successes led to the next one. When I got cut from the varsity team as a sophomore in high school, I learned something. I knew I never wanted to feel that bad again…So I set a goal of becoming a starter on the varsity. That’s what I focused on all summer. When I worked on my game, that’s what I thought about. When it happened, I set another goal, a reasonable, manageable goal that I could realistically achieve if I worked hard enough…I guess I approached it with the end in mind. I knew exactly where I wanted to go, and I focused on getting there. As I reached those goals, they built on one another. I gained a little confidence every time I came through.”

Good luck on accomplishing your 2014 goals, whether they be for sport, work, personal relationships…