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The real benefits of Tabata training | Results and effects from the Tabata method

28 February, 2018
Tabata training

What is Tabata training?

Tabata training has been touted as the best exercise for losing weight, as a 4-minute workout routine, as an eight-minute workout routine, as a whole-body exercise program, and a great way to gain lean muscle.

Unfortunately, the majority of these claims aren’t backed up by science, and originally, Tabata training had a very specific goal.

The origins of Tabata training

The Tabata method was created in the 1990’s by a team of scientists led by the titular Izumi Tabata. Taking a group of physically active, young, male students involved in a variety of sporting teams, they split them into two groups; one performing moderate-intensity exercise, the other high-intensity exercise.

Tabata’s high-intensity group experienced the greater benefit from the two, and the significance of the results have reverberated throughout the fitness and sporting world for more than twenty years.

What was the high-intensity training?

Test subjects were placed on ‘mechanically braked cycle ergometers’ (fancy stationary cycles) and performed a ten-minute warm-up, followed by a very specific high intensity interval training (HIIT) set:

20 seconds of exercise at 170% of VO2max, 10 seconds rest, repeated 7-8 times.

Now known as the Tabata method.

What does that actually mean?

To explain how this works, we’re going to have to understand a few key terms: aerobic, anaerobic, and VO2max.

Aerobic (with oxygen): Sports or fitness activities that you’d describe as ‘cardio’ are normally aerobic exercises, meaning they’re powered by your body’s ability to transport and use oxygen to meet your energy demands.

Anaerobic (without oxygen): Lifting weights, sprinting, and exercises or sports that involve short bursts of intense activity are anaerobic exercises. Because they require more oxygen than your body can deliver, the energy needed is taken from glucose (sugar) in your muscles.

VO2max (oxygen capacity): This is the maximum amount of oxygen you can use during intense exercise – the higher your VO2max, the higher your body’s capability to produce the energy it needs from oxygen consumption. VO2max is measured in millilitres of oxygen/per minute/per kilogram.

You’re rarely (if ever) using either aerobic or anaerobic methods of energy production and consumption; rather, your body uses the one most suited to the task at hand.

Tabata training is an exercise that hits both your aerobic and anaerobic systems. At 170% of VO2max, you’re running at your best levels of aerobic training, and pushing your anaerobic system to provide you with energy.

What can Tabata training do for you?

Tabata’s test subjects showed significantly improved results at the end of their training period:

  • VO2max increased by 7 millilitres per kilo per minute
  • Anaerobic capacity increased by 28%’

However, it didn’t show anything about weight loss, muscle gain, or anything relating to changes in physique.

The Tabata method is a supplementary training method – basically, you use it to be better at your main exercise, sport, or goal. If you want to run further, Tabata training can increase your VO2max. If you want to have more energy while lifting, Tabata training can increase your anaerobic capacity. More than that, the Tabata method forces you to push hard for a concentrated amount of time, meaning you really have to challenge yourself.

Note: If you are thinking about attempting Tabata training, we recommend you visit a GP to see if they think it’s right for you.


Effects of moderate-intensity endurance and high-intensity intermittent training on anaerobic capacity and ˙VO2max - Tabata I1Nishimura KKouzaki MHirai YOgita FMiyachi MYamamoto K

Aerobic vs anaerobic exercise training effects on the cardiovascular system - Harsh PatelHassan AlkhawamRaef MadaniehNiel ShahConstantine E Kosmas, and Timothy J Vittorio

Anaerobic Exercise: Definition, Benefits & Examples –

What Is Aerobic Exercise? - Definition, Benefits & Examples –

Aerobic vs. Anaerobic: What is The Difference? –

VO2 Max Testing – University of Virginia School of Medicine

All information contained in this article is intended for general information purposes only. The information provided should not be relied upon as medical advice and does not supersede or replace a consultation with a suitably qualified medical practitioner. CBHS endeavours to provide independent and complete information, and content may include information regarding services, products and procedures not covered by CBHS Health Cover policies. For full terms, click here.

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