A Scientific Look At Tabata Training

People today are busy. I get that. While I have more flexibility built into my day than most people, I’m fairly business too. I have a day job, here, and some other projects that I’m working on.

Because of that busy nature we all exist in, it’s important that we make the most out of our training time. That means we want the best bang for our buck.

That means you may want to look at Tabata training.

For those who aren’t familiar with the term, the Tabata protocol is a high-intensity interval training protocol that calls for 20 seconds of intense effort, followed by 10 seconds of rest. You do that for four minutes.

After that, you’ll rest for a short period of time (something like 60-90 seconds) then start over.

It’ll kick your butt quick, fast, and in a hurry. It’s also a great way to train with your kettlebells.

Don’t just take my word for it. There are studies that have looked at the effectiveness of using a Tabata protocol with kettlebell training

For example, we have this study that I mentioned a couple of days ago found that Tabata training with a kettlebell compared well with the outcome of sprint interval cycling but was arguably more sustainable.

A significant group effect, time effect, and group × time interaction were found for V[Combining Dot Above]O2, RER, and TV, with V[Combining Dot Above]O2 being higher and TV and RER being lower in the KB-HIIT compared with the SIC. Only a significant time effect and group × time interaction were found for f, VE, kcal·min−1, and HR. Additionally, total caloric expenditure was found to be significantly higher during the KB-HIIT. The results of this study suggest that KB-HIIT may be more attractive and sustainable than SIC and can be effective in stimulating cardiorespiratory and metabolic responses that could improve health and aerobic performance.

Now, that study was important because it showed that Tabata training was effective, which ran counter to other studies that showed kettlebell swing as less than ideal for conditioning.

Another study was conducted comparing traditional conditioning training with a kettlebell to using a Tabata protocol. Here’s what it found:

This study examined the metabolic and cardiovascular responses of the kettlebell swing exercise during a HIIT (Tabata interval) or traditional resistance training protocol. When an identical volume of kettlebell swings were compared, the TAB protocol demonstrated evidence of a greater exercise stimulus than the TRAD protocol.

Now, this only had a sample size of 14 people, which is an issue, but bear with me for a bit because all 14 did both protocols.

Interestingly, it’s possible that those who use traditional kettlebell weights will get an even greater effect. Why’s that? Weight.

The study used ridiculously light weights (4.5 kg for women, 8 kg for men) which were well below the normal starting weights for kettlebell training. If you add in the appropriate weights–8 kg for women, 16 kg for men as it appears none of them were training with kettlebells previously–you’re likely to get even more of a physiological response.

These are the two primary studies into Tabata-style training that I’ve found so far, but what we can see that Tabata training is effective. However, just because these seem to be the two looking at the protocol’s use in kettlebell training doesn’t mean there aren’t studies that have looked at Tabata-style training.

In fact, there are a ton of them.

One thing is very clear from the myriad of studies. Tabata training is definitely effective for achieving quality conditioning results in a short period of time.

The great thing about Tabata training is that you can do it with almost anything. Cycling, running, slamming a sledgehammer into a tire, jumping rope, anything at all that will get your heart rate up sufficiently can be used with a Tabata protocol.

However, I’ll also say that it’s easy to overextend yourself when trying Tabata. It’s a butt-kicker of a workout, so if you’re horribly out of shape, don’t try to do too many rounds of four minutes when you first start out. If you’re really, really badly out of shape, don’t even fool with it. Just do swings in a more steady-pace and build up your cardiovascular capacity before you try the Tabata stuff.

That’s just my take.

I will add that it’s probably best if you clear this kind of training via a medical professional. While I didn’t, I’m not going to tell you to follow my example. Doing so would likely get someone’s next of kin to sue me and that sounds about as much fun as a long-term prostate exam.

Now, with that out of the way, I do think Tabata training is something everyone should try to work toward in due course. If you want to be a lean, conditioned badass, it’s going to be difficult to beat.

Plus, like I said, it works with any conditioning modality. Try it while working a heavy bag or while doing sled drags some time, then get back with me.

In fact, if I ever create BarbarianFit, I promise you that Tabata training will be a key part of it.

What about you? Have you done Tabata training? If so, what did you think about it?

Author: Tom

Tom is a husband, father, novelist, opinion writer, and former Navy Corpsman currently living in Georgia. He's also someone who has lost almost 60 pounds in a safe, sustainable way, so he knows what he's talking about.

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