A 4 minute workout? An Introduction to Tabata Intervals

Tabata intervals can bring amazing results in less time than most people spend at the water fountain in their gym.  They are not the be all and end all of short duration workouts though, as they have some limitations.  So what are they?  A Tabata interval is 20 seconds of work followed by 10 seconds of rest, repeated 8 times for a total of 3:50 seconds (or 4 min if you count the last 10 seconds of rest).  The protocol was developed by Dr. Tabata a Japanese exercise physiologist working with their Olympic speed skating team.  He found that they were able to increase their VO2 max more with 3 Tabata workouts and 1 45 min tempo workout than with 5 1 hour+ workouts each week.  The protocol is simple, and profoundly effective, so why isn’t it the best and only way to train?  Primarily due to the intensity involved.  As you all know, I love high intensity workouts, I’m always going on and on about how we need to work smarter and harder, not longer.  But in order for Tabata intervals to be effective, they must be performed at 95%+ or greater intensity.  We are talking all out I think I’m going to puke and die but a rabid bear is chasing me hard core intensity.  You simply won’t get the same level of results if you’re dogging it, or if you finish the workout and your hair and makeup are still perfectly in place.  Working at that level of intensity is really hard for most people to do, especially on their own.  If you are self motivated enough to do it – Tabata’s are a great fit for you, if not either find a group to work with that will motivate you, or choose one of the other options I’ll outline below.  Just to be clear – I WANT YOU TO DO TABATA’s  I just want you to do them RIGHT.

20 seconds of work, followed by 10 seconds of rest doesn’t seem that hard until you get going, then the 20 second work intervals seem to stretch on forever, and the 10 second rests seem to end before they’ve started.  Ah Tabata’s are so much fun =)  You can do Tabata workouts with any functional movement, but I recommend that you start off with cardio type movements (Running, Rowing, Cycling, etc) or resistance movements you are very comfortable doing high reps with (I mean 150 reps in a set unbroken).  Otherwise you run the risk of injuring yourself, and that never improved anyone’s fitness.

Eventually you can progress to doing more than one set of Tabata intervals per workout, and even vary the exercises between sets.  Typically you do want to stick with one exercise per 4 minute interval however.

Have fun!

 

  • Jason @ Cook Train Eat Race

    Tabatta’s are great but for an endurance athlete that is something that can only be worked into a training regimen every 2 to 3 weeks because you still have to build endurance.

    Have the ability to do a 4 minute workout, regardless of intensity, is not going to make up for that feeling your legs have after you have been on a bike for 3+ hours and now need to run.

    Will it help? Of course, but it can only be one part of an entire training regiment.

  • Jason @ Cook Train Eat Race

    Tabatta’s are great but for an endurance athlete that is something that can only be worked into a training regimen every 2 to 3 weeks because you still have to build endurance.

    Have the ability to do a 4 minute workout, regardless of intensity, is not going to make up for that feeling your legs have after you have been on a bike for 3+ hours and now need to run.

    Will it help? Of course, but it can only be one part of an entire training regiment.

    • http://www.vegetarianpower.tv Adam Morden

      Hi Jason, Thanks for the comments! I completely agree that the mental aspect (your ability to overcome the wooden leg syndrome you describe) and long endurance (over 1 hour event) benefits of tabata intervals are not going to be sufficient for long endurance events like and Ironman. You need to spend a lot of time in the saddle, water, and pounding away on the road (probably not as much as many think, but still quite a bit) just to get used to being in those positions for as long as you need to be for ultra endurance events. That said, I think most 5 and 10k runners could very easily prepare for their races with the tabata protocol as the Japanese speed skaters followed it in training for up to 10,000m races with great success.

      • Jason @ Cook Train Eat Race

        No doubt 5k and 10k’ers benefit from tabata and I would go so far as to say half-mary and probably mary too because you need to make sure those fast twitch muscle fibers know they are needed just as much as those slow twitch muscle fibers are needed.