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Tabata Confusion

High intensity interval training or HIIT for short is extremely popular right now!  It’s on every group exercise schedule in every gym and is a workout people love to hate!  However, I often see people mistaking Tabata and other HIIT training protocols.  HIIT training is any exercise protocol that has periods of work and rest and can be done with cardiovascular or strength training exercises.  Tabata which is 20 seconds of work followed by 10 seconds of rest repeated 8 times is a form of HIIT training first researched by a Japanese scientist named Izumi Tabata.  He used his protocol on Japanese speed skaters to see if this type of exercise could improve their performance.  He had them ride on an exercise bike at 170-180% of their VO2 max (that translates to so hard they got off the bike and threw up when they were finished).  The results demonstrated a dramatic improvement in their performance.  That’s fantastic but what about us normal people who don’t want to throw up in a bucket after working out?  A group of researchers at Loma Linda University decided to try the same exercise protocol on average people but incorporated exercises that are not just cardiovascular but incorporate strength moves as well (Post Exercise Basil Metabolic Rate Following a 6 Minute High Intensity Interval Workout, Petrofsky et. al., The Journal of Applied Research, Vol. 11, No.2, 2011).  These researchers also found dramatic results from their study.  They found that the subjects burned 50 calories during the 4 minutes of exercise and 250 calories in the 2 hours post exercise (EPOC or Post Exercise Oxygen Consumption).  I don’t know about you but that sounds pretty good to me, efficient and effective!


The problem with HIIT training lies in the confusion between HIIT training and a true Tabata interval.  There are lots of instructors and personal trainers who will tell you that you will achieve this EPOC doing any form of interval training.  While some degree of EPOC will be achieved with HIIT training, it is unlikely that you will achieve the same degree as with a Tabata interval.  However, the Tabata interval must contain the following characteristics for it to achieve the desired EPOC.

  • It must have power (a combination of strength and speed).
  • It must have only one exercise that is repeated all 8 rounds.
  • It must be simple.  Too complicated will decrease your speed.
  • It must involve major muscle groups and be a compound movement (more than one joint moving).

If you want to achieve the amazing 300 calories burned in 4 minutes then you should try a true Tabata interval.  Remember that this type of intense training should not be done on consecutive days becase your muscles need time to rest and replenish.  Listed below are some ideas for exercises that fit the criteria12733548_10208843067579247_2772746287199817957_n for a Tabata interval.  They only work if you push yourself hard though so think big range of motion!

  • Star jumps
  • Alternating jump lunges
  • Side to side skiing
  • Lateral skates
  • Sprints
  • Squat Jumps





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