Tabata-type workouts are becoming more popular by the day, and with god reason. They suck to do, but get you incredibly fit really fast. For those who aren’t aware of what this is, it’s a system of training based on research done by a Japanese exercise physiologist named Dr. Izumi Tabata while working with the Japanese speed skating team, in which he compared repeated bouts of high intensity exercise (as high as 170% VO2 max, or ass-rippingly intense sprinting) for 20 seconds duration followed immediately by 10 seconds of passive recovery, to a 30 second bout of earth-shakingly stupid intense work (200% VO2 max work) followed by 2 minutes rest between bouts for repeated measures. He found that the first protocol taxed both the aerobic system and anaerobic system sufficiently to produce benefits greater than the second, and showed that essentially rest periods were for pussies. You can read the research here.
Since this research came out in 1996, everyone and their dog has jumped on the bandwagon. The problem is, people tend to make them out to be what they want and distort the science to anything done for 20 seconds with 10 seconds rest, and use “Tabata” as a catch-all term. Now we have trainers endorsing Tabata sprints (cool), Tabata speed squats squats (huh?), Tabata Abs (Seriously??), Microsoft Tabata XP (it works for 20 seconds, then freezes for at least 10 seconds), Donkey Kong: Tabata Adventures (Mario rescues the Princess while Donkey Kong hurls barrels of anaerobics at him), to name a few.
A local fitness celebrity, Marjorie O’Connor, who has worked in the industry for a number of years and achieved a lot of success, recently came out with a “Tabata Circuit Class” which has garnered some media attention. The problem is, it’s not a Tabata-protocol workout. It’s a circuit training class set to timed intervals of 20 seconds on, 10 seconds off. Check it out Here. Read the fine print of the protocol: “Intensities above 170% VO2 max.” There’s no way a standing lunge, with a slow dumbell horizontal press even gets close. Now I love Marjorie to death and think she’s amazing at what she does, but I think she jumped the shark on this one.
This is what a Tabata workout should look like.
…As well as this, but listen with the sound off.
You should barely be able to stand for the first 10 minutes after these workouts, and have difficulty walking up and down stairs for the next day or two. The initial protocol called for very elite anaerobic-endurance trained athletes to perform 4 workouts per week (a total time of 80 minutes, after warmups), which would vaporize most humans.
To properly do a Tabata-style workout, you’re going to need some math skillz. First, figure out how fast you can run on a treadmill or how many watts you can push out on a bike for at least three minutes straight. We’ll call this your VO2 max speed. Let’s say you can run at 8.0 mph without falling off. Using the ACSM metabolic equations for predicting VO2 max, this works out to 46.38 mL per kilogram body mass per minute, which isn’t too shabby. Then, times the VO2 by 170% (in this case, 78.846 mL/kg/min), and work at a speed that corresponds to it. In this case, the speed would be 14.7mph. If you wanted a speed that wouldn’t have you do a face plant the first time you stepped on the treadmill, you could use an incline of 5.0%, and a speed of 12.0 mph.Run like this for 20 seconds, step to the side for 10 seconds while trying not to puke up your kidney, and do it again for 7 repeats.
This isn’t something that will be taught in a class setting.
Sorry Marjorie. You’re amazing at what you do and I know you know your stuff, but I think you’re using the word Tabata poorly in this case. I’d buy it if you called it “Anaerobic Circuit Training,” just not Tabata training. You’re better than this.