Written by Tim Rigby, M.A., NSCA-CPT
High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is a concept of training that should be at least vaguely familiar to anyone who’s embraced a fitness inclination. Originally, it was applied to cardio training as a more efficient means to boosting metabolism and burning fat calories, however, scientists would later investigate its application vis-à-vis resistance training and the results were similarly impressive. Tabata training is a next-level extension of HIIT based on very specific parameters, but the results you can achieve are simply amazing – read on to find out more.
The premise behind the concept of HIIT is that by working harder and exerting yourself more over a shorter period, you can efficiently stimulate your metabolism for a longer time after you train, compared to steady-state training. The end result is improved cardio function for the benefit of those among the athletic fold, along with speedy calorie burning for those simply interested in improving their body composition. What makes HIIT very convenient is that you ultimately achieve whatever your specific goals are in a fraction of the time of steady-state training. Given the demands of today’s busy lifestyles, HIIT training has become a Godsend for people who don’t have a great deal of time to devote to training. Instead of a 60-minute grind, participants can accomplish their desired results in just 15 or 20 minutes. Later on, when they’re at home or simply at rest, they continue to burn calories with greater efficiency – an excellent weapon for when you’re trying to lose weight.
Fairly recently, Japanese professor Izumi Tabata from Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto studied the effects of a radical approach to training as executed by a group of speed skaters. His theory involved having subjects training with maximum intensity for a short period, then recover (also for a short period), and repeat this pattern a limited number of times until near-absolute exhaustion occurs. Ultimately, a greater improvement to cardio function and athletic performance was expected. Any differences between this set of subjects and another set performing steady-state training were observed. His assumption proved to be correct – here’s why:
170% OF VO2 MAX
Maximal oxygen consumption (VO2 MAX) is the maximum rate of oxygen consumption measured during incremental exercise; that is, exercise of increasing intensity. During his study, Tabata had the speed skaters sprint as hard as they could, all the way to a whopping 170 percent of VO2 MAX, for a period of 20 seconds near the threshold of exhaustion. This was followed by a short recovery period of only 10 seconds, wherein the intensity level was lowered. With a spike in effort, participants increased their cardiovascular efficiency over the four weeks of the study.
In an effort to maximize the results of ultra-intense training, Tabata developed what he called the “IE1 Protocol” (what we simply know today as standard Tabata training). This involves reaching near exhaustion and then a brief recovery not just once, but for eight vicious cycles. In his study, the speed skaters performed the 20 seconds on, 10 seconds rest pattern for a sequence of eight times on mechanically braked cycle ergometers. Subjects performed this protocol four times a week, with the ultimate result of improved cardio function eventually realized.
Through performing a Tabata regimen over a period of just four minutes, subjects were able to improve their VO2 MAX at a greater rate than those who trained at a steady state for 60 minutes. Such an accomplishment was truly ground-breaking research. The Tabata set on average improved from 48 to 55 mL/(kg-min) whereas the steady state group’s improvement was relatively modest, arriving at the same eventual level but having already started at 52 mL/(kg-min). As far as modern advancements in HIIT, this study result was a “Big Bang” of sorts, as many other attempts to replicate Tabata’s success have been developed, such as the Gibala regimen in Canada and the Zuniga regimen in The United States.