Fitness Friday: Tabata! Have You Tried It?


Have you ever found a fitness class or workout style that you actually look forward to attending? Running on a treadmill or working on an elliptical machine holds my attention for about four minutes before I’m staring at the door. Some people get a thrill from running outside or training for marathons, some have a zumba or a spin class they never miss. I have friends who wake up at 4:30 am just to attend their favorite class and the reason for this, aside from seeking better health, is developing a community of like-minded folks that you look forward to seeing as much as doing the workout itself. Have you experienced this magical desire to workout?  Are you still looking for it?  I found my fitness happy place: Tabata! Have You Tried It?

Tabata! Have You Tried It?

When I tell people I do Tabata they often don’t know what it is like they do “CrossFit” “HITT” or other workouts.  Tabata is a high intensity interval training style developed by a Japanese doctor, researcher and coach, Izumi Tabata and head coach of the Japanese Olympic speed skating team, Irisawa Koichi. Tabata is designed with a 20/10 format: you work as hard as you can with maximum intensity for 20 seconds, then rest completely for 10 seconds, completing rounds of 6-8 on any given exercise, then moving to the next. Many research articles on the subject focus on short workouts, 20 minutes though I do it for 45-60 a couple times per week. Original research found that athletes were greatly increasing their V02 Max with this type of training. V02 Max is measure of the maximum volume of oxygen a person can use, measured in milliliters per kilogram of body weight per minute (ml/kg/min). If you can improve your V02 max through training, then conceivably, you improve your performance and stamina. Through training, most people have the ability to improve their V02 max by about 5-20%; for reference, in the original Tabata study, the athletes increase their V02 max by 14%. Subsequent research has also found that tabata training meets American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM guidelines for improving cardiorespiratory endurance.

A couple things to note, when I say “tabata”, myself and my cohort at the gym are likely not actually accomplishing the level of intensity that was being studied by Olympic athletes (lol – you THINK?). But we are working at maximum capacity for our own levels. Call it interval training, HITT (high intensity tactical training), or tabata if you like, it has been one of the only activities I’ve wanted to stick with long-term and actually look forward to attending each week. Also, you’ve got to be careful when you’re doing this type of activity (see my first ever box jump injury below). Working as hard as you can over and over is exhausting. I tripped on the box because I was really fatigued and daydreamed for a split second. Swinging heavy weights and jumping on stuff in a crowded room could get dangerous so be sure to create enough space for yourself, know when to modify for safety and always stay aware of using proper form.

Logistically, you can accomplish tabata with a free interval timer on your phone. Try Tabata-timer, Tabata Stopwatch Pro, or Interval Timer-Timing for HITT Training. Many experts do not recommend tabata for beginners so if you are not used to intense exercise or are working on increasing your current physical activity status, I recommend starting with safer activities than box jumps or kettle ball swings and be sure to communicate with your physician to make sure this type of activity will work for you. A sample, basic tabata structure could include crunches, V-sit, push-ups (knees are ok!), wall-sit, body weight squats, jump rope, jumping jacks and a regular plank (again, starting on your knees may be necessary). You can always work your way up from there, adding in new exercises and challenging yourself by adding weights.

What do you think? Have you tried this type of training? What inspires you to get active? I’d love to hear about your fitness passion!



Ginger Hultin,MS, RD, CSO

An award-winning, nationally recognized nutrition expert and media spokesperson.

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