In previous articles, I have touched briefly on the Tabata Protocol and how you can incorporate it into your routine. Today, I will go into more detail and explain the benefits of this relatively new method of training.

In 1996, professor Izumi Tabata conducted a research study in concert with the Japanese speed skating team. The coach of the team wanted Tabata to analyze the effectiveness of his training method that consisted of short and intense bouts of work followed by short periods of rest. The protocol for his study consisted of subjects performing 4 minutes of work at a time, consisting of 20 seconds of work followed by 10 seconds of rest, for a total of 8 cycles. Each cycle consisted of the same type of exercises being repeated. For example, if you do a Tabata protocol with push-ups, each 20 second work interval will consist only of push-ups.

Four minutes might not sound like a long time, but it’s much longer than you think when you’re working at a high intensity, as is the case here. Take our above example of push-ups, by the time you’re in the last few cycles, you’re arms are shaking and just getting your chest off the ground feels like an accomplishment.

However, the work is worth the suffering. Tabata found that unlike traditional cardiovascular training, the Tabata protocol improves both aerobic (in the presence of oxygen) and anaerobic (without oxygen) conditioning. Tabata’s findings helped spearhead a new movement into what is commonly referred to as high intensity training (HIT) and its many variants. They all share a common theme of high intensity intervals with short periods or rest.

Most people are familiar with aerobic conditioning, which is the ability for a person to sustain work over a long period of time with moderate intensity. Aerobic activity uses oxygen to help burn fat for energy, and since there is nearly a limitless supply of fat cells to use, this can be sustained for a very long time. Examples include distance running and biking.

Anaerobic activity, on the other hand, is work done when oxygen cannot be used to help with energy use, specifically during very high intensity activities. Examples of anaerobic activity include sprinting, weightlifting or any kind of movement of skill that consist of sudden, explosive movements.

Tabata training is a great way to mix up your exercise routine and presents a great challenge for those looking to increase their exercise intensity. I do it myself and frequently use it with my clients.

I’ve also put my own spin on it by incorporating circuits into the routine. Instead of doing the same exercise the entire time, I change it up by doing a circuit of four or five different exercises for each 20 seconds interval. For example, you can do a Tabata that consist, in this order, of push-ups, squats, jumping jacks and crunches. This circuit style allows you to work different body parts without fatiguing the same muscle over and over, and enables you to work for a longer period of time. For example, if you were to do the above circuit, you could do each exercise for two minutes a piece, for a total of eight minutes of work. This method is not as intense as the original, but still quite a good workout. As you progress, you can add more time to each exercise, and increase your total workout time to 12, 16 or 20 minutes.

The Tabata Protocol is an effective, high intensity method that is a great way to increase both aerobic and anaerobic capacity. However, take caution if you choose to do it. If you’re not used to working at high intensities, this will be quite a change. Chances are you’ll be quite sore after your first time, so work into it gradually. Feel free to experiment with your own exercises, and be sure to check out to help you keep track of your times.