Tabata Training: Four Minutes of Pain for Gain!

Medical Disclaimer: It is important that you contact a doctor before you begin this Tabata workout routine or before you make any major changes in your exercise routine. *I am not a doctor*

I was recently introduced to an interval training sequence known as Tabata.  It’s an amazing, and challenging workout that will be the toughest four minutes of your life! 

The Tabata workout routine was discovered by Dr. Izumi Tabata, along with a team of researchers from the National Institute of Fitness and Sports in Tokyo. The team studied a speed skating coach’s workout that consisted of six to seven 20 second full speed sprints that were followed by 10 second rest periods.
During the study, men who performed the routine five days a week for six weeks improved their maximum aerobic capacity by 14%. Aerobic capacity is the measurement of the body’s ability to take in oxygen. The more oxygen a person can take in, the longer and harder a person can run. Not only did it improve their aerobic capacity, but it also improved their anaerobic capacity by 28%. Anaerobic capacity is the measurement of your speed endurance. VO2 max is an important factor for endurance athletes to understand.  VO2 max is the highest rate of oxygen consumption attainable during maximal or exhaustive exercise.  The point at which oxygen consumption plateaus defines the VO2 max or an individual’s maximal aerobic capacity. It is generally considered the best indicator of cardiorespiratory endurance and aerobic fitness. However,  it is more useful as an indicator of a person’s aerobic potential or upper limit than as a predictor of success in endurance events.

The Key to the Success of Tabata Training Verses Conventional Interval Training Methods

The key to the Tabata protocol is the ratio of the work/rest intervals. A conventional interval training method is generally a ratio of 1:3. This means your rest periods would be three times as long as your intense workout period. The Tabata protocol ratio is 2:1. This means your rest periods are only half as long as your intense workout period.

Just to make sure the 2:1 ratio was the most effective, they put their ratio to the test. In a separate study, Tabata and his team compared the results of another configuration that consisted of 30 second sprints followed by a two minute rest period. The results of this study confirmed the 2:1 ratio was the most effective. Although the people were required to sprint at the higher intensity for a longer period of time, the Tabata protocol they originally studied was more effective at increasing aerobic and anaerobic capacity.

Don’t let the Short Tabata Intervals fool you

While the short Tabata intervals may be the reason you have chosen this type interval training, do not be fooled into thinking this is an easy exercise routine. This could not be farther from the truth. It is important to understand that during the high intensity portions of the Tabata training, you will be working the hardest you have ever worked. The goal is to “honestly” do as many reps of a specific movement as you can during the high intensity portion of the routine. Know that the more Tabata intervals you do, the harder they are to complete.

When you are doing the workout, do not give up! If you are through 3, 4, or 5 intervals just remind yourself there are only a few intervals left and push yourself hard! You will not regret the results!

How Tabata Training Burns Calories Fast

The high intensity/rest intervals cause you to burn off all the blood sugar it has. This energy that has been lost needs to be replaced. Your body will do this by burning fat. The key is not to burn fat while you are exercising. You want to burn off carbohydrates as fuel while you are exercising.

There are two “fuel systems” in your body, which are aerobic and anaerobic. The aerobic system needs oxygen to burn fuel, while the anaerobic system does not need oxygen.  The aerobic energy system will burn fuel. Once your muscles have enough oxygen, the anaerobic system begins to work for you. This is where you want to be. In order to do this, you must get your heart rate up past the target heart rate zone. IMPORTANT: Use a heart rate monitor to measure your heart rate during your Tabata workout routine.

The anaerobic system is your endurance. You will need to gradually build this up. Therefore, it is important to understand that just because the actual Tabata training calls for a specific amount of reps, you will need to build up to these reps.

Introducing: The Original Tabata Protocol

The original Tabata protocol has actually increased in reps since the study. Instead of only six reps of the 2:1 ratio, Tabata training calls for eight. Here is the original Tabata protocol:
Five minute warm-up
8 intervals of 20 second high intensity workout followed by 10 seconds of rest
Two minute cool-down
This may not seem like a great increase, but remember this Tabata workout routine can be deceiving. The high intensity portion of the routine can be grueling. Adding more intervals can make it that much more difficult to complete. However, it is possible!

Beginners Beware

Beginners should NOT follow the Tabata protocol as it is described unless it is green lighted by your doctor. It is important that you do not go over your maximum heart rate. If you have not built up your endurance, then your heart rate could soar way above what your maximum heart rate should be.

Finding your Maximum and Target Heart Rate

To find your maximum heart rate, subtract your age from 220. We will use me as an example.  I am 29 years old, so my maximum heart rate would be 191 BPM (Beats per Minute). It is very important to gradually build up your heart and lung capacity over time. Wear a heart monitor throughout the entire workout and record your maximum heart rate, as well as your recovery heart rate.

Finding you Heart Rate Target Zone

Now that you know what your maximum heart rate would be, you need to learn how to figure your target heart rate. Why is this important? Your body can burn a percentage of calories from fat when it is in the “fat burning zone” at lower intensities, but if you are expecting to lose weight, you need to workout at higher intensities or interval workouts, such as the Tabata intervals. This is where you will burn the greatest amount of overall calories, as well as build endurance.

There are many ways to figure your target heart rate, but many of them do not use the resting heart rate in the calculation. Using the resting heart rate will make your target rate more accurate. The Karvonen Formula is an accurate formula that calculates your target heart rate.

Keeping with my example that a 29 year old that has a resting heart rate of 65 BPM, here is how to figure your target heart rate:
Find your maximum heart rate – (220-29=191)
Subtract your resting heart rate from your maximum heart rate – (191-65=126)
Multiply this number by either 65% (lower end heart rate) or 85% (higher end heat rate) – (126*65% = 81.9) or (132*85%=107.1)
Add this result to your resting heart rate – (81.9+65=146.9) or (107.1+65=172.1)
The target heart rate zone for me is 147 to 172.

Therefore, in order for me to work in the “fat burning zone” at lower intensity, I need to work at 146 BPM or less. For a person intending on working out with Tabata interval training, I would want to work out at 146 BPM or higher.

Tabata Workout Routine for the Beginner

The best way to start off with Tabata training is to start slow. You do not have to do all eight Tabata intervals on your first try. In fact, it is not recommended because your heart rate would go too high if it has not been conditioned for endurance.

Sample Tabata Workout Routine for the Beginner

Tabata interval training can be done with weights, weight machines, kettle bells or for cardio intervals a Stationary Bike, Versa climber, Rowing Machine, Elliptical Trainer or any other type of cardio equipment that will allow for you to gradually increase your resistance and speed. You could use a treadmill; however, during the 10 second rest period, you will have to step onto the sides and stop completely. This is because the machine will not slow down fast enough for the required change in intensity. You should choose a piece of equipment that will use your large leg muscles. You could also do Tabata squats and Tabata sprints. Using the larger muscles will make your Tabata intervals more effective.

When starting out, you will begin with a three minute warm-up, 2 intervals of 20/10 seconds each, and a 2 minute cool-down. Put on your heart monitor and remember to record the maximum heart rate and recovery heart rate. A Tabata Timer is a great way to keep track of your seconds, as this is very important. You must be accurate in keeping track of your seconds. Browse for a Tabata Timer .

Begin your warm-up at a moderate pace gradually increasing in intensity, but still remaining at a low intensity.

Here is a sample Tabata bike workout. Begin by increasing the tension at least one notch above your warm-up. Pedal at full speed as fast as you can for 20 seconds. Then pedal slowly for 10 seconds. Your heart rate should go up a little. This will tell your body that it needs more oxygen to your energy system. You may begin to pant. This is your body telling you that it needs more oxygen in the lungs to fuel your energy system.

Do the second interval. You will notice your heart rate go up a little after you begin the slow part of your Tabata intervals.

Once you have done two intervals, decrease your bike to the lowest setting. Pedal for two minutes as a cool-down. Once the two minutes are complete, stop pedaling completely and sit there for one minute. After sitting there for one minute, check your heart rate and record it. This is your recovery heart rate.

Do this beginner workout three times per week. Allow one day for recovery between workouts. This will allow your body to heal and increase the strength of your heart and lungs.

Continue to follow this Tabata protocol until your recovery heart rate goes down. When this happens, add another interval. The next time your recovery heart rate goes down below the previous workouts, add tension to the bike. Continue to add intervals once the recovery heart rate goes down.

Eventually you will reach the 8 Tabata intervals and you will be on your way to ultimate health and weight loss.


2 Comments Add yours

  1. Kat says:

    This is pretty close to Insanity. Have you heard about this 60 day program? I LOVE IT!!


  2. Awe…Tabata training. It's the one thing that no matter how much I do it, it never gets easier. Welcome to the world of Tabata! =)


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