Tabata training is an extremely intense HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) routine that has been touted by many as the greatest fat burning workout in existence. What’s most amazing about this exercise protocol however is that it’s only a 4 minute workout!
So what exactly is Tabata training, and what makes it so special?
Well, the Tabata workout routine was discovered by Dr. Izumi Tabata, together with a team of researchers from the National Institute of Fitness and Sports in Tokyo, Japan.
It consists of eight 20-second intervals of maximum-effort exercise, separated by 10-second rest intervals.
An entire Tabata training workout would therefore look like this:
- A five minute warm-up session.
- Eight 20-second intervals of high intensity work, each followed by 10 seconds of rest.
- A two minute cool-down session.
As far as interval training goes, Tabata training has a very high work/rest ratio of 2:1. According to tests done by Dr. Tabata, other interval protocols weren’t shown to be as effective as this configuration for increasing fitness levels.
A study done by Dr. Tabata and his team showed that men who performed this routine five days a week for six weeks improved their maximum aerobic capacity by 14%, and their anaerobic capacity by 28%.
Aerobic capacity is the measurement of the body’s ability to take in oxygen. The more oxygen you can take in, the longer and harder you can run, swim, cycle, skip, etc. Anaerobic capacity is the measurement of your endurance for high-intensity work.
But what about fat loss?
Well, numerous studies have shown that the rate of returns you get from cardio exercise in terms of the number of calories burned is tied in with the level of intensity of the exercise.
The higher the intensity, the more calories your body burns per minute of exercise.
The interesting thing though is that not only does high-intensity exercise burn more calories during the actual activity itself, it even continues to do so afterwards. That’s because it produces a metabolic after-effect, where your metabolic rate remains elevated – meaning your body is burning additional calories, for some time after the workout is over.
And the higher the intensity of the workout, the longer and stronger is this calorie-burning after-effect. It can in fact last for up to 36 hours, and sometimes more.
Because Tabata training is done at such a high level of intensity, it’s extremely effective at burning calories and therefore body fat.
Studies have shown that it’s 9 times more effective than normal, lower-intensity exercise at improving fitness. How much better it is at burning fat is a little more difficult to estimate, since it depends on a person’s level of fitness and how hard they push themselves during the workout.
You can expect to burn somewhere in the order of 4 to 10 times as many calories in a given time period though.
When Dr. Tabata and his team discovered this exercise protocol, they used a mechanically braked ergometer, or exercise cycle machine, for the workout itself. It’s possible to use any cardio exercise for Tabata training though, as long as it’s able to push your heart rate to its maximum level.
Some excellent exercise choices would be:
- Sprints – outdoor or treadmill
- Exercise bike
- Cross trainer/elliptical trainer
- Rowing machine
- Versa climber
Ideally you should use exercises that involve your leg muscles since these are very large and therefore tax your energy systems more, giving you a more effective workout.
Tabata training certainly isn’t recommended for the beginning exerciser because of its extreme level of intensity. The heart rate of an unfit person would climb excessively high with this form of training, so it’s best to achieve some level of fitness with lower intensity exercise first.
Alternatively, you could simply start out with Tabata training by sticking to fewer intervals (say, two) or by restricting how hard you push yourself.
It’s important during any type of exercise that you don’t exceed your maximum heart rate for extended periods, for safety reasons. When you have a lower level of fitness it’s not too difficult to elevate your heart rate to its maximum level, but the more fit you are, the less your heart rate tends to climb during exercise.
Whatever the case, you should get clearance from a doctor prior to starting full-blown Tabata training, or any form of HIIT for that matter, if any of the following apply to you:
- You’re over 40 years of age
- You’re a smoker
- You have high blood pressure
- You or someone in your family has a history of any type of cardiovascular disease
- You have asthma
- You have a history of any type of breathing problems
Once your fitness level is of a high enough standard, you can even start incorporating some weight-bearing exercises into your Tabata training as well if you wish. Exercises such as weighted squats or kettlebell swings will add an element of variety to your routines that will challenge your muscular endurance as well as your energy systems.
All in all, Tabata training is a great protocol for introducing into your workout regimen for rapid fitness gains and fat loss. It’s not something you should do at the exclusion of all other cardio exercise, but as a regular addition to your program it will certainly kicks things up to another level for you.