Tabata Protocol

tabata-science-protocolThe Tabata Method or Protocol is a form of High-Intensity Interval Training or HIIT, which alternates from short bursts of high intenisty anaerobic training followed by even shorter recovery and less intense recovery periods.

The high intensity interval should be performed at or near maximal effort and the low intensity period is typically at 50% of your maximum capacity. One of the earliest reported protocols for this method of training is the Tabata method.


The Tabata method is often accredited to Izumu Tabata, however this is not entirely true. Although the original method was published by Izumu Tabata in a peer reviewed journal (see the reference at the end of the page) the idea was originally pioneered by the head coach for the Japanese Olympic speed skating team, Irisawa Koichi.

Irisawa Koichi

Irisawa Koichi was the head coach of the Japanese Speed Skating team in the 1990s and was using an unusual training technique of short bursts with even shorter rest periods. It is reported that this method not only increased short term explosive strength but also long term endurance. Izumu Tabata, a coach under Koichi, was asked to analyse his rotation of short burst with maximum effort followed by a short rest. So if we are to be rigorously correct we should call it the Koichi method (pronounced as – k oh EE ch ee) although I am not sure this will take off.

Izumu Tabata

The Tabata method is named after the coach who measured the effectiveness of the training method devised by Irisawa Koichi. He was a researcher at the National Institute for Health and Nutrition and is currently a professor in the Faculty of Sport and Health Science at Ritsumeikan University in Japan. His research page can be found here. According to his papers this technique has a “very fast increase in VO2 max”.

Tabata Method

The Tabata method paper was published in 1996 in the journal “Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise.” entitled, “Effects of Moderate-Intensity Endurance and High-Intensity Intermittent Training on Anaerobic Capacity and VO2max.” (see below for the full reference).

The High Intensity work phase for the Tabata protocol was originally performed at approximately 170% of VO2 Max. The VO2 max is a measure of the maximum capacity of your body to transport and use oxygen during a period of exertion or work. In simple terms this is an extreme intensity workout, you are working at close to your maximum heart rate. According to Dr Tabata the session should be

“…An all out effort at 170% of your VO2 max. If you feel ok after the session you have not done it right! The first three sessions should be easy and the last two should feel impossibly hard…”

When this was repeated over a period of six weeks, four times a week, the athletes saw a 28% increase in their anaerobic capacity and 15% increase in their VO2 max which is considered a good measure of cardiovascular fitness. The control group performed a steady state cardiovascular workout lasting one hour, five times a week. Their VO2 max scores increased by just 10% and their routine had no significant effect on their anaerobic capacity. Over the six week period the Tabata group recorded 120 minutes of training compared with the control gourp that recorded 1,800 minutes!

How Should you feel after the workout?

hmmm…you really want to know….here is the sort of description I would put in a journal paper

  • You should find it difficult to talk and breathe as you have oxygen debt.
  • Significantly increased sweating.
  • Elevated body temperature
  • Increased lactic acid and the “muscle burning” sensation

In real terms you will feel shattered but if you like your endorphin rush this will give you your weekly hiit :)

Working at VO2 max

The higher the number, the more cardiovascular strength you have and is thought to be the gold standard for fitness testing.

Words of Caution

You may have noticed the original Tabata protocol research was performed on serious athletes with a professional sports scientist. If you have any doubts about operating at your maximum intensity, or if you have any medical concerns in particular a history of heart disease please contact a registered and qualified health professional. This type of exercise regime should be acceptable to most people of average fitness. Remember be strong and be safe!

Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1996 Oct;28(10):1327-30.
Effects of moderate-intensity endurance and high-intensity intermittent training on anaerobic capacity and VO2max.
Tabata I, Nishimura K, Kouzaki M, Hirai Y, Ogita F, Miyachi M, Yamamoto K.
Department of Physiology and Biomechanics, National Institute of Fitness and Sports, Kagoshima Prefecture, Japan.

Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1997 Mar;29(3):390-5.
Metabolic profile of high intensity intermittent exercises.
Tabata I, Irisawa K, Kouzaki M, Nishimura K, Ogita F, Miyachi M.
Department of Physiology and Biomechanics, National Institute of Fitness and Sports, Kanoya City, Japan.