A Lotta Tabata

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Today’s workout is play day:

Box drop pushups/clap pullups. 4/4, 6 sets. Okay, not everyone can do clap pullups (maybe inlcuding me after a few sets), so the goal is to just make them explosive. Same with the pushups.

1-arm barbell snatch/windmill. Heavy singles. What? Aren’t we only supposed to do heavy singles at the very beginning of a workout? Shut up, grab the bar and start lifting.

Driving Bueler Tabata. Ya know the drill, 20 seconds on, 10 seconds off, 8 rounds (4 minutes). This should be fun.



and then pop back up fast.

A Lotta Tabata

I’m wondering about the common use of Tabata drills these days in the fitness underground. I love ’em, and use ’em, and probably abuse them, but do we really have the right to call them Tabata Drills, or the Tabata Protocol if we don’t follow the concept to the letter? From what I’ve read of the original tenets of Izumi Tabata’s original studies was that the four minute drill WAS the workout, with the all the positive effects wrapped up in the fact that the 4 minutes (well, 3:50) it takes to complete should be intense enough to do the job, the ‘job’ being an increase in VO2 and with post workout metabolic increases that rival workouts of longer durations. Keeping the VO2 at 170% of max (yikes) for 20 seconds, 8 times is supposed to hard, hard enough to do the job(s).

Gotta Tabata

So, this new trend of putting multiple ‘Tabata’ drills back to back into 12, 14 or 16 minute sweat fests makes me wonder if these are allowed to use the name Tabata. These are fun workouts, and tough to be sure, but, and I’m just thinking out loud here, isn’t the original idea to be DONE after one 4-minute round? Multiple Tabata’s sort of defeats the original purpose.

This isn’t saying that a new protocol can’t emerge, but calling anything more than a single 4 minute Tabata a ‘tabata’ is ignoring the concept of intensity. Seems to me that the whole point of the Tabata was to create an IMMENSE amount of intensity in a short period of time. So multiple 4-minute drills might mean that the first wasn’t quite tough enough.

Oughtta Tabata

Sort of reminds me of the confusions of the hey-day of Mike Mentzer’s High Intensity Training. Although HIT has fallen out of favor for most folks pushing weights these days, his concepts of intensity should be considered. His sets were meant to be done to FAILURE, which means, simply, you COULDN’T DO ANOTHER REP, even if a gun were placed to your head and a knife at your throat (have I been watching too much Dexter?). Whether there is validity in this or not isn’t the point. The point is how this was mistakenly interpreted by many practitioners. They couldn’t push themselves that hard, so they started adding volume to achieve the wiped-out effect, completely nullifying his entire concept.

Not a Tabata?

That sort of seems to be what might be happening to the concept of Tabata. Now the 20 second/10 second concept does make for a lot of interesting possibilities, and can be utilized in more than just the arena of hardcore intensity, but can it be called Tabata if you’re not trashed after 4 minutes? Might that be like calling 2 sets of almost-failure sets HIT simply because they were the same set and rep scheme, without any real consideration of intensity?

I have no answers, but am open to discussion. I don’t have Isuki’s email or phone number, so I can’t quite get any answers from the source. Thoughts?

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Showing 12 comments
  • Santos Reyes

    Good example with the 2 sets of almost failure not being true H.I.T. However, Dr tabata’s interval experements were done with stationary bikes. Does this mean that any movements done off the bike aren’t “true” tabata either?

  • Stephen

    I agree with the concept that if you aren’t blown at the end of the 4 minutes then it isn’t really what Tabata was talking about. From the few times I’ve done then, the Tabata protocol is distinguished by extreme discomfort and the inability to repeat it.

  • chip

    Santos: I was going to mention that point as well, since we do automatically assume that we can use any exercise to achieve the desired intensity. It is true, from what I’ve read that Tabata makes no such claim, but was his focus on the tool or the intensity? More food for thought.

  • Lewis

    I think that a Tabata interval is currently considered by many folks to be 20 seconds of work followed by 10 seconds of rest. Period. They are forgetting or choosing to ignore that Dr. Tabata’s work periods were done at 170% VO2Max. And his subjects didn’t typically go to 8 intervals. They went to 6 or 7 and stopped there because they could no longer hold the required intensity, i.e. they could no longer do a “Tabata interval.” I have no doubt fit people can hold that intensity for 8 rounds, but not doing pullups or pushups or many of the movements commonly now included in “Tabata” workouts. Squats, yes. Burpees, yes. Rower, yes. But in many of the other movements being used now the workload simply isn’t enough to allow one to reach that high level of intensity. There may be good reasons for doing 16 minutes of 20/10 intervals of pullups and pushups and situps (I do them), but there is no reason to think that it has anything to do with the findings of Tabata in his original studies.

  • chip

    You summed up the point quite well. ‘Twould be interesting to here what Tabata would actually say on the matter.

  • kirez

    Great entry. I’ve had similar thoughts about the multiple-tabatas.

    The way I think of it: how much of the ‘to failure’ intensity of the Tabata interval is due to muscle-specific failure? Notice, when we do Tabata Something Else or Tabata Shmabata, we’re rotating around the various muscle groups — pull-up, push-up, sit-up, squat.

    So a Tabata interval on any *one* of these exercises, eg. Tabata push-ups — we go hard to failure. Like you, I do intensity hard. I go all-out on every interval. But you get that 10-second recovery, and lo and behold, you’re able to do a few more in the next 20, given fire-in-the-gut will to do so. But on just one exercise — What caused that failure? It’s not generalized aerobic failure; it’s muscle-specific.

    Hence, we hit it again.

    How different are your Tabata scores for, eg., squats at the end of Tabata Something Else, from a Tabata Squats score done in isolation?

    That number might get at the degradation effect you’re concerned with.

    Also note: Coach Glassman seems to tangentially address this when he says that we blur the lines, in our WODs, between the energetic pathways. We’re doing explosive movements, hence glycolytic or phosphagen pathways… but we’re doing them via repeat and interval, clearly into the oxidative/aerobic stage.

    * * * * *
    Hey, I LOVE those push-ups you demo above in the photos!! Awesome.

    I used to do a similar push-up, using either a box or medicine ball: one hand on the box, one hand on the floor, then, launch explosively on the push-up, over the box sideways, switching to the opposite hand. Feet stay in the same place, just rotating the upper-body sideways — hit another push-up, then launch back in the opposite direction to the other hand, again.

    I’ve never tried that push-up you show above, but it looks fantastic, I’ll try it.

    Speaking of such innovative exercises… today I came up with an extreme burpee: instead of squat, a pistol…. kick back to a one-handed push-up (same side or opposite), back to one-leg and jump (one leg vertical leap). BWAHAHAHAHA! I tried it and the pistol-to-one-hand-push-up is perfectly feasible as a fast launch-back, so this is a viable exercise. ROCK!

  • Chuck

    Clarence Bass (cbass.com) has many articles on the studies of Dr. Tabata. I believe if you follow the true protocol it would be difficult to do any other type of “tabata” training. While I do like crossfit, they sometimes take an approach and try to maximize it beyond it’s initial intention. With my own experience, I perform a sprint Tabata on my treadmill at 12mph on incline 2. After that I am toast!

  • Brett_nyc

    One other thing to keep in mind is that Mr. Tabata found that doing 32 intervals (not 8) done at 20-10 was the optimum length. I for one can’t fathom doing 32 intervals of tabata squats.

  • cliff

    tabata training is extreme.To be honest you couldn’t call it tabata if it did not follow the originator’s concept..that said if you are creative enough to devise your own plan go for it just don’t call it tabata. Oh and by the way don’t get TOOtied up with all the politics behind it ….ENJOY IT!!

  • mark

    To me, I believe that (taking treadmill sprints for example) doing a standard tabata should be first. You can now build up past the original. As long as you beat what kicked your ass the first time, you can build more intervals or extend the duration however you want. When people ask me what a “tabata” is, I tell them 20 on 10 off 8 times. Thats my 2 cents.

  • ashley ayres

    I have experimented with H.I.T., TABATA , and Turbulence Training in my personal training sessions and my question is are any of these protocols appropriate for extremely overweight and de-conditioned folks.

    I am a new trainer and have been experimenting with my clients asking them which feels best on a Rate Of Perceived Exertion. So far they have all positively(that means it kicked there ass)responded overwhelmingly to TABATA

    I have them do 5 sprints 20 sec on 40 off on treadmill then TABATA full body movements for the duration of the session

    any thoughts on combining these things in one hour long session and whether it is appropriate for de-conditioned folks….

  • chip

    For the true, pure form of Tabata, de-conditioned folks wouldn’t actually be able to finish it, and it would probably be too much for them to even attempt it (I posted a link to a decent article about the pure tabata below).

    BUT the 20 seconds on/10 off style can be used with anyone, if the intensity and exercise selection is careful.


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