With its huge gain in popularity over the last few years, some of you may have already heard the term “Tabata” used in reference to exercise. It’s become a widely-used and very popular training method of late, but what is it? How should you use it?
In a nutshell, the history goes like this: Dr. Izumi Tabata is an exercise scientist who was hired to test the efficacy of a training protocol used by the Japanese Olympic speed skating team. They compared the effects of two stationary-bike training protocols:
- 60 minutes of aerobic exercise at 70% VO2 Max, 5 days per week (i.e., steady-state, traditional “cardio”)
- Seven to eight sets of 20 seconds of exercise at 170% VO2 Max followed by 10 seconds of rest, 5 days per week (now known as a “Tabata Interval”)
For some perspective, the intensity of the first protocol is like going for a jog. It’ll get you breathing heavy and your heart pumping, but it can be done for a long duration. The intensity of the second protocol is substantial. Even making it to 20 seconds would be difficult.
What they found after six weeks was that the Tabata Interval increased both aerobic and anaerobic capacity, while the aerobic exercise only helped in the aerobic realm.
[Something to note, though, is that the group performing the high-intensity intervals was also, from what I’ve read, doing some of the aerobic work during the week. I can’t really confirm that as I can’t find the entire study online - only its abstract.]
What does this mean?
Honestly, it’s just pretty good evidence that you don’t really need to do any traditional cardio. I mean, think about it - 60 minutes of cardio vs 8 minutes (1 full Tabata interval) of intense bursts followed by rest.
As far as numbers go, it seems like an easy decision. Plus, this type of high intensity interval training doesn’t carry with it the long-term ill effects of chronic cardio. But I’m getting ahead of myself...