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Tabata training

Tabata training is named for Izumu Tabata, one of the Japanese coaches who helped train Japan's Olympic speed skating team.

If you are serious about exercise and getting and staying in shape, you'll love the next big thing. It's called Tabata training.

Forget Zumba. Many former fans are now switching to Tabata.

The strange part is, Tabata is not new. It was invented nearly two decades ago, back in the 1990s, by Japanese coaches who were training Japan's Olympic speed skating team. It's a HIIT type of workout, which is an acronym for "high intensity interval training."

HIIT requires a burst of activity done with maximum effort, followed by a period of active rest. Many folks are familiar with (don't laugh) fartlek training. The word is Swedish and means "speed play." It's often used as a type of training for running. The athlete sprints as fast as possible for a brief distance, then walks until breathing and heart rate return to normal, followed repeatedly by another sprint and another walk.

The high and low intensity of HIIT training is both aerobic and anaerobic, working the respiratory system as well as the muscles.

Tabata training is named for Izumu Tabata, one of the coaches who helped train Japan's Olympic speed skating team. He was the one who measured the results of using periods of high-intensity exercises like jumping over obstacles and other movements that develop explosive strength, followed by less intense and very short periods of recovery.

Imagine CrossFit on steroids. The intensity exercises were done at near the maximum heart rate for each individual athlete.

The site Tabatatraining.com quotes Dr. Tabata as saying, "If you feel OK after the session, you have not done it right. The first three sessions should be easy and the last two should feel impossibly hard."

The site goes on to comment, "When this was repeated over a period of six weeks, four times a week, the athletes saw a 28 percent increase in their anaerobic capacity, and a 15 percent increase in their VO2 max."

The VO2 max is a measurement of how much oxygen your body can use. It measures how hard your heart can work.

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The original HIIT workout assigned to the speed skating athletes called for skaters to do a routine of four-minute intervals. The athletes would do 20 seconds of high-intensity skating, followed by 10 seconds of rest. This routine would continue for four minutes.

Studies have been done on the effects of Tabata training, and they seem extremely positive. The exercise system builds the metabolism to work harder, thus burning fat.

It's more than just "losing weight." The intensity of the workout forces the body to turn to stored fat as a means of fuel. In other words, it will make you thinner.

But it's extremely important not to overdo it. The blog Clevertraining.com quotes Talisa Emberts, M.S., a leading researcher in one of the studies of Tabata training, as recommending that no more than three Tabata workouts be done each week, "with a minimum of 48 hours of rest between each workout."

The most important thing to know is that you must actually be in good shape to do a true Tabata session. It's not something you start with. It's a workout you actually have to work up to doing by being fit enough to do it without injury or overstressing any part of your body, including your heart. That is an important fact, whether you run, bike, cycle, lift weights or do any other activity.

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Wina Sturgeon is the editor of the online magazine Adventure Sports Weekly, which offers the latest training, diet and athletic information.

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