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.