“Burning Hell” – The Tabata Protocol

Do you find yourself skipping the occasional workout due to a tight schedule?  Are you missing runs due to an injury that’s aggravated with running, but which might tolerate a cross-training activity just fine?  Is your desire to lose weight what gets you out the door to exercise, and yet you’re still wondering why the pounds aren’t melting away?  The Tabata Protocol may just be the answer you’re looking for, as it provides both aerobic and anaerobic training benefits in a very short amount of time, and can be done in ways that provide cross-training opportunities for everyone.

High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) has been touted as a way to boost VO2max (a measure of the body’s capacity to transport and use oxygen during exercise), increase lactate threshold (the point at which lactic acid accumulates faster than it can be flushed from the system, and extreme fatigue sets in), and burn fat.  The Tabata Protocol is nothing more than a specific variation of HIIT, and it’s quick and simple.  Don’t mistake “quick” for “easy,” though, because this workout is anything but “easy.”

A Little Background

Activities lasting less than a few minutes and performed at moderate to high power levels are anaerobic in nature, and rely on the phosphagen and glycolytic energy systems to provide ATP (adenosine triphosphate) to fuel these efforts.  Activities performed at low power levels and lasting more than a few minutes are aerobic in nature and rely on the oxidative pathway for ATP production.  Using track events as examples, distances of 800 meters or less are basically anaerobic, while those of a mile or greater are principally aerobic in nature.  Although both types of activities improve cardiovascular function and decrease body fat, only anaerobic conditioning improves speed, strength, power and muscle mass.  It’s important to note that, while aerobic training improves aerobic conditioning, anaerobic training provides both aerobic and anaerobic benefits.

In 1996 Dr. Izumi Tabata and research associates conducted a study on the effects of moderate-intensity endurance and high-intensity intermittent training on both VO2max and anaerobic capacity  (anaerobic capacity allows one to sustain a faster speed for a longer period of time).

The results of this study demonstrated that endurance training improved VO2max but didn’t affect anaerobic capacity.  High-intensity intermittent training, however, improved both the anaerobic and aerobic energy systems.  Not only did Tabata note a 28% increase in anaerobic capacity and a 14% increase in VO2max, but these results happened with only 6 weeks of training in subjects who were already in exceptional physical condition.  Imagine the improvements that average people might realize!

Making it Work for You

A Tabata workout consists of:

  1. An adequate warm-up (You would never run a sprint or lift a 1-rep max without sufficiently warming up!)
  2. 8 sets of 20-seconds of near-maximal effort followed by 10-seconds of rest (4 minutes!)
  3. A cool down

“Burning Hell” demonstrates one example of a Tabata routine using an old tire and a sledgehammer.   A Gymboss helps keep track of time!

Going to the track and alternating eight 20-second sprints and 10-second recovery intervals is a perfect way to accomplish the goals of this workout but, if you’re a runner, you might consider something other than running, as the purpose of this activity isn’t “sport specific training.” If sledgehammer swings aren’t your “thing,” no problem.  The same protocol can be implemented on a bicycle (road or stationary), elliptical trainer or rower.  It can be done in the pool with freestyle sprints.  It can be accomplished by doing burpees or squat jumps, or by delivering punches or roundhouse kicks to a heavy bag.  In fact, any activity utilizing big muscles or full-body moves and which can transition from rest to full-on maximal-intensity in the blink of an eye will suffice (i.e., don’t try this on a treadmill … it’ll take longer than your 20-second maximal effort interval just bringing the machine up to speed!).

If new to exercise, begin with low-intensity aerobic conditioning to build a fitness base before attempting interval training.  If a conditioned athlete, don’t allow hubris to keep you from working up to performing 8 repeats of this technique; start with 4 sets and give yourself several weeks to work up to 8.  Check with your health care provider if you’re pregnant, over 40, or have 2 or more risk factors (e.g., family history of heart disease, you smoke, are sedentary, overweight or have high blood pressure or cholesterol.

Although not a substitute for running if you’re a runner, swimming if you’re a swimmer, or biking if you’re a cyclist, and certainly not a workout that most of us should employ on a daily basis, the Tabata Protocol is a short and simple way to improve both VO2max and anaerobic capacity, and it takes both to win races!

Could it be any simpler?

© Cathy Larripa and Kissworkouts, 2010. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Cathy Larripa and KissWorkouts with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


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Filed under Training, Workout Routines

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