Izumi Tabata, a sports science researcher in Japan, did research into whether short spurts of high intensity interval training were as effective as long-term aerobic training for increasing aerobic capacity. His research found that not only was it more effective in building aerobic endurance (versus moderate intensity training at 70% of VO2max), but also for building anaerobic endurance, in only 4 minutes of training.
His training consist of high intensity intervals (at 170% of VO2max) for 20 seconds followed by 10 seconds of rest. He did this for 8 cycles for a total of 4 minutes of training. The training continued for 6 weeks.
Should you be using the Tabata Protocol in your training?
I would not recommend doing Tabata unless you are already at a high level of fitness. Additionally, you should make sure that your physician says it's okay to engage in this type of activity. It'll put a lot of stress on your heart.
For those people who are looking for increasing their performance levels in all physical activities, especially in competitive sports, then Tabata is great to getting to that next level. It will also raise your metabolic level – where it burns fat calories versus overall calories.
Some of the best exercises to use when doing Tabata include: burpees, mountain climbers, pushups, pull-ups, squats, deadlifts, sprints, and any other total body exercises. I currently do burpees with a jump. It's intense and it works. Most people hate doing burpees regardless of whether it's in a high intensity interval format. I do them because they work for me and others.
When doing Tabata, start out at the 20 second on and 10 second rest / recover for 8 cycles. You can then move to 16 cycles after a couple of weeks. If that's too intense to start out – then go for 4 cycles, then 8 cycles, then 12 cycles, and finally 16 cycles.
The Tabata Protocol can be incorporated as part of your regular workouts. Let's say you do a typical push-pull resistance workout – then instead of doing cardio – you do Tabata training at the end of your workout. You'll build both muscles and burn fat at a higher rate. Again, make sure you're ready for this type workout.
Other people have suggested that Tabata can be done for different exercises as you would for standard training. For example: Do bench presses using Tabata, then go to military presses using Tabata, then tricep extensions in a Tabata fashion. I would favor doing more whole body training using Tabata. Pushups are better than bench presses. Clean and Jerk is better than military presses. Kettlebell clean and presses are also better than military presses.
You can also do some old kid's play workouts that will get your heart racing. Both bear crawls and crab walks make for good play and great exercise, especially when Tabata is added to the mix. Make sure you go all out for each one.
Finally, eat the right foods for building muscle, sustained energy, and burning fat. Get your physician's okay before engaging in this type of high intensity exercise program. Do each exercise with good form to prevent injuries. And most of all have fun.