The much misunderstood and misapplied Tabata protocol

Discussion in 'Other' started by mprevost, Nov 14, 2017.

  1. mprevost

    mprevost Helping Make Others Stronger

    Just yesterday I saw a trainer in the gym having a couple doing "Tabata planks." It is an example of the complete lack of understanding of what the Tabata protocol is. It is very common. People assume that there is some magical adaptation that happens with 20 seconds on and 10 seconds off. But they miss the really important part of Tabata's protocol, the fact that the 20 seconds on was done at a power output that was 170% of VO2 max! That is an unbelievably high power output. You can't get there with planks, probably can't get there with air squats, curls, overhead presses, loaded carries, probably not with kettlebell swings and many other exercises. Not even kettlebell snatches will get you there, even though they are brutally hard. 170% of VO2 max simply cannot be sustained for more than 12-15 seconds. You just cannot achieve the power output necessary with those exercises. 170% of VO2 max will produce maximum heart rate very quickly. You'll probably be at max heart rate by the end of the second interval. There are very few exercises that can get you there, running, cycling, rowing (maybe), but I can't think of many more. I am not sure you would even get there with burpees (close though).

    Even those who do Tabatas on the bike or treadmill are not likely achieving 170% of VO2 max. Most people who have done Tabatas have likely never done a single interval at the required power output. Fewer still have managed to do more than 2-3 at the required power output. I have never seen anyone in a gym doing a proper Tabata protocol.

    The Tabata planks yesterday were a great example of what I usually see. Rather than 170% VO2 max, they were likely at 50% VO2 max at most. That is not Tabata's protocol.

    Here is a link to the original Tabata study (abstract): Effects of moderate-intensity endurance and high-intensity intermittent training on anaerobic capacity and VO2max. - PubMed - NCBI
  2. Hasbro

    Hasbro Triple-Digit Post Count

    Tabata planks? Haha....that’s a new one on me. That wouldn’t fare much better than Tabata standing (stand for 20 sit for 10). Yeah I would have to agree that even kb swings wouldn’t qualify unless maybe you’re using a really heavy weight and overspeeding the downswing. I don’t do Tabata anymore but when I did I used an elliptical machine set with a high resistance. I don’t know if I was hitting 170% of vo2 max or not but it always kicked my butt. I did it for about a year but then it got to the point where I dreaded going to the gym because of it. I’m in the S&S A+A camp now and much happier.
  3. Bill Been

    Bill Been Helping Make Others Stronger

    Thank you, thank you, thank you!
    I get annoyed enough when people tell me their "coach" has them "doing HIIT", followed by a description of some squidgy protocol that completely skips "H.I." And Tabatas are a whole 'nuther level of goofiness as far as what people actually do. "Tabata planks" are going to be hard to beat, though.

    Lastly, even those rare souls who actually understand how to do something that looks like HIIT are far too likely to program it like they have always programmed their "cardio", not realizing 5 days a week is neither necessary nor helpful <<...cough-cough... Orange Theory...cough-cough..>>
    mprevost likes this.
  4. pet'

    pet' Strong, Powerful, Explosively Athletic Member of the Forum


    Regarding VO2 training and interval training, the "Viking Warrior Conditioning" seems to be pretty efficient (15/15, 36/36):
    Viking Warrior Conditioning | VO2Max Training |

    15/15 is pretty tough already

    However, sessions are longer. Plus, rest period are not shorter than exercise period.

    Kind regards,

  5. Bro Mo

    Bro Mo Strong Member of the Forum

    I wonder if Tabata has simply become analogous to a 2:1 work to rest ratio similar to Google being used as a verb to search the internet?

    In the confines of a gym, I think the Airdyne is the closest one could come to simulating sprinting power output. An elliptical with the resistance turned up I think is darn tough too.

    I would be interested in understanding more around the proper power outputs in relation to work:rest ratios and total duration if anyone can expand on that.
  6. Waffles03

    Waffles03 Double-Digit Post Count

    Goku and Krillin doing Tabata :D
    Michael Scott likes this.
  7. Oscar

    Oscar Strong Member of the Forum

    @mprevost, what would a 170% VO2 max intensity be? Something like 800 m run speed?
  8. Kettlebelephant

    Kettlebelephant Strong, Powerful Member of the Forum

    Yep it kind of has. Not a 2:1 w-r ratio, but the specific 20sec:10sec x8 rounds workout.
    Nobody cares about the specific VO2max values and all that stuff. As long as it is 20sec work followed by 10sec rest and repeated for 8 rounds that's Tabata for them.
  9. mprevost

    mprevost Helping Make Others Stronger

    Think in terms of a power output that you can sustain for only 12-15 seconds max. You can sustain 100% VO2 max effort for 3-7 minutes (elite athletes are on the higher end, novices on the lower end).
    Oscar likes this.
  10. mprevost

    mprevost Helping Make Others Stronger

    Yes, very true. Like many things, the details matter. In this case, many get the structure right but not the intensity. Intensity is an important detail!
  11. mprevost

    mprevost Helping Make Others Stronger

    One more thing, if you look at the original Tabata study, it looks like the high intensity interval group plateaued at about 3 weeks. This is what we would expect. Fitness improvements from high intensity intervals tend to plateau quickly, which is why a peaking phase in an endurance training program is short.
  12. mprevost

    mprevost Helping Make Others Stronger

    Here is a graph from the original Tabata study showing improvement in VO2 max over time for endurance training group VS Tabata protocol group:

    The improvement past week 3 was non significant (but still trended upwards). Biggest improvement happened in the first 3 weeks. The graph below shows improvement in anaerobic performance in the same time frame. What was unique about the Tabata study, and most people missed this, is that it was one of the first studies to show simultaneous improvement in aerobic and anaerobic capacity with the same training protocol.

    This is an interesting quote from Izumi Tabata from the study: "Since lactate production accounts for about 75% of maximal anaerobic energy release (11), significant improvements in anaerobic capacity will probably require that the subjects can produce more lactate after training."

    If you go to the "why we produce lactate" post, you will begin to understand this. We must produce more lactate in order to increase anaerobic capacity. We often think of training as resulting in less lactate production but Izumi Tabata found here that the Tabata protocol increased VO2 max, as well as increased the ability to produce lactate, which is a novel finding.
  13. Bill Been

    Bill Been Helping Make Others Stronger

    Did the Tabata study track actual performance metrics alongside the changes in VO2Max?

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