Posts Tagged ‘Tabata’


Nausea. Seeing stars. Sucking wind. This is how you know you’re doing a Tabata [high intensity] workout correctly.

And most would agree… you can’t be working out at “high intensity” unless you are on the verge of tears, right?. Anything less and it’s just some more of that “low intensity cardio” right?

Well perhaps yes, perhaps no.

In practice – that is in the gym and in the fitness tabloids – a “Tabata” has been reduced to a short workout with 20 second bursts of activity that may or may not reach the intensity levels found in the research Dr. Tabata performed (linked to above).

There, intensity was determined by athletes in question performing at a level of 170% of VO2Max. Check the article at the link and you’ll realize that VO2Max isn’t measured subjectively (by whether someone is nauseous, for instance). Instead:

Measuring VO2 max accurately requires an all-out effort (usually on a treadmill or bicycle) performed under a strict protocol in a sports performance lab. These protocols involve specific increases in the speed and intensity of the exercise and collection and measurement of the volume and oxygen concentration of inhaled and exhaled air. This determines how much oxygen the athlete is using.

Not being able to workout like athletes in a lab, people try to mirror the effects of a “Tabata” workout by simply trying to exert an “all out effort” for 8 – 20 second sets with 10 seconds rest in between.

Is true Tabata intensity reached in most instances? It’s hard to tell without working out in a lab. It’s roughly possible to compare a given heart rate to VO2Max to find an equivalent using online calculators (but be warned, they probably don’t go over 100%!).

The linked calculator says that at whatever age… “100% of VO2max corresponds to 102% of maximum heart”. How did the Tabata subjects reach 170% of VO2Max for these experiments? They must have been well conditioned in advance! Most of the overweight, middle aged readers being encouraged these days to try “Tabata’s” likely should NOT try to jump into this form of exercise without extensive preconditioning at much lower levels of exertion until a significant base of fitness has been achieved it seems prudent to observe.

Dr. Leonard Schwartz work on HeavyHands started coming out long before the Tabata research was published of course. As a psychiatrist he recognized most people aren’t (at least at first) going to be able to use or stick with (or survive?) a regimen that tries to get them to approach 100%  of their heart rate and which, in practice, is equated with severe discomfort! As a medical doctor fascinated with fitness, Schwartz was intent on achieving the type of VO2Max of cross country skiers in a way that could be approached by virtually anyone, anywhere while starting from “scratch”.

His findings create something of a conundrum in the current fitness environment. He found consistently that 4 limb “panaerobic” exercise that seeks to workout using as much muscle as possible INCREASED VO2Max thereby increasing the “intensity” of ordinary walking or jogging as measured by VO2Max, while DECREASING the perceived intensity!

That finding is counter-intuitive… It describes a situation where there is MORE GAIN but LESS RELATIVE PAIN, let alone the discomfort used to describe if so-called “Tabata’s” are being properly done.

In other words, “panaerobic” exercise makes it easier for the person working out to improve their fitness without the sensations equated with “intensity” in the popular fitness press because the work done is diffused by using the whole body to drive aerobic activity.

You can use HeavyHands or other Panaerobic strategies to do 20 second “all out sets” in training. Don’t be surprised if they’re not quite as agonizing as expected for the reasons stated. Choose a maximum training heart rate with your physician’s guidance, and then use a heart monitor or other objective tool to determine if your training is effective in increasing VO2Max, not simply subjective “guesstimates” based on relative discomfort other methods may cause!

The Tabata Lie

Posted: September 23, 2014 in General
Tags: ,

Dr. Schwartz never mentioned “Tabata’s” – they were before his time. As the article demonstrates despite the popularity of the “Name” the principles are widely misunderstood. Schwartz’ protocols were for the more average person aiming to establish a solid base of fitness with exercise that was pleasurable – not dreaded because of its intensity. As the saying goes, “you know you’re really doing a ‘Tabata’ when you’re about to throw up!”

Tabata training is an example of how science has been used to skew a training protocol in to a weight loss regime- even though they are not related.  Tabatas are based upon a study where the participants performed a programme of high intensity/ low volume training peaking out at 170% of their VO2 Max. The original abstract is here for the science geeks. In summary, performing high intensity work over a six week period resulted in an improvement in maximal aerobic power and indicated that  intermittent high intensity training may improve both anaerobic and aerobic energy supply systems. That would be okay if the study stayed in cycling highlighting that a short period of high intensity work can bring about improvements in your performance.

However this study has been bastardized in to main stream fitness and “rebranded” as a fat loss protocol. Fundamentally though if you are not working at 170%…

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