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Tabata method


The Tabata method is a type of high-intensity interval training (HIIT). It is simple in its procedures but it is difficult to perform. To perform an exercise using the Tabata method:
  • Train at a high intensity for 20 seconds.
  • Rest for 10 seconds.
  • Repeat for 4 to 8 repetitions.

How it was developed

In an interval training session, intervals of high-intensity exercise are interspersed with intervals of rest. Since the training is intense, it is a great method for improving both aerobic and anaerobic fitness.

The training session intervals may be varied in three ways; you can vary the intensity (speed), the work period, or the rest period. With so many possible variations and without an accurate analysis of the aerobic and anaerobic energy demands of each variation, one cannot say which variation is more effective, or which variations place the same demands on the body’s energy systems.

In 1996, Japanese scientist Izumi Tabata and his colleagues at the Japanese Institute of Fitness and Sport measured how two different types of interval training sessions affected the aerobic and anaerobic energy systems. One type had longer active and longer rest periods than the other.

Aerobic energy demands were measured directly by measuring the amount of oxygen used during exercise in milliliters of oxygen used per kilogram of body weight per minute, presented as a percentage of the VO2max, which is the maximum amount of oxygen per kilogram per minute that the body may use.

Anaerobic demands cannot be measured directly since the energy is fueled from the breakdown of phosphates and glycogen stored in the muscles, thus making it is impossible to measure directly exactly how much energy has been released. However, anaerobic demands may be measured indirectly by measuring the accumulated oxygen deficit. As exercise intensity increases, more and more oxygen is used until VO2max is reached. As VO2max is neared, some energy is fueled by the anaerobic process, but after VO2max is reached, any further increase in exercise intensity will be only be fueled by the anaerobic process. Up until VO2max, there is a linear relationship between the energy output and the amount of oxygen used.

One may predict the theoretical amount of oxygen required to at intensifies higher than VO2max by extrapolating from the linear relationship between intensity and oxygen to intensity levels above VO2max. The difference between the theoretical level and the actual maximum represents the anaerobic energy demands, expressed as an oxygen equivalent. The difference between actual and theoretical oxygen usage is called the accumulated oxygen deficit. The Tabata team used this method to measure the anaerobic demands of interval exercise.


The research showed that an interval of 20 seconds of intense activity followed by 10 seconds of rest puts both the aerobic and anaerobic systems at peak stress and improves both aerobic and anaerobic capacity. Over the years, other methods at longer rest periods to the intervals. The longer rest periods do not put either of the systems at peak stress; however, they do allow more high-intensity work to be done in total, which may help improve recovery mechanisms.

Tips on using the Tabata method

  • Beginners. Beginners should warm-up well and start with a lower intensity during the workout periods. In the beginning, choose exercises with less risk of injuries, such as running or an exercise bike or rowing machine.
  • Intensity is the key element. Your goal is to perform the exercises with maximal intensity during the workout times. 
  • Choose the right exercises. If you choose exercises for building strength, such as lifting light weights, try doing a Tabata workout 1 to 2 times a week. If you choose exercises for building endurance, such as running, try doing a Tabata workout 4 to 5 times a week. 
  • Tabata workouts are more suited for conditioning than for building strength. Other workout methods are better for building strength. Stick to using exercises that are more suited to performing in sprints.
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