The Original TABATA Study, led by Dr. Izumi Tabata in Japan, set the stage for High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) as we know it today.
Dr. Izumi Tabata. Japan, 1996.
Before Izumi Tabata’s groundbreaking 1996 study on the “Tabata Protocol,” he had been publishing research on the aerobic and anaerobic systems. Put simply… long and short-form energy systems. Dr. Tabata ran many studies with sprint-style protocols to see how and when the different energy systems were triggered. He set out to create a training protocol that would most best improve the efficiency of ATP, the molecule that essentially breaks down food and turns it into energy.
Tabata teamed up with Irisawa Koichi, a Japanese speed skating coach. Koichi had developed a training program of short maximum bursts of sprints followed by short periods of rest and claimed that the program improved peak performance in elite speed skating athletes. Tabata dedicated his efforts to creating a protocol that could produce results across the map for various athletes.
Below is a simplified version Dr Izumi Tabata’s 1996 study and the conclusions he drew from it.
The subjects that participated in the study were18-24 male amateur athletes.
The study separated the group of men into two groups. Participant’s VO2 max was tested before, during, and immediately after completion of the study. Both groups worked out for a total of 5 days a week for a period of 6 weeks. Before each training session, participants performed a 10-minute warmup at about 50% of VO2max. Anaerobic capacity was also tested before, during, and after the study. Anaerobic means… without oxygen. Anaerobic capacity is essentially your body’s ability to USE the oxygen it has when under “stress,” aka a fun 20-second all-out sprint.
GROUP 1- The first group pedaled on an ergometer for an hour at a moderate intensity. What does “moderate-intensity” mean? Great question. The study controlled the participant’s RPMs on the stationary bike at 70rpm. They also observed participants and measured their VO2, which is essentially the amount of oxygen your body uses. This group of participants maintained 70% of their MAX VO2 through the 60 minutes.
GROUP 2- The second group used the same ergometer bike BUT pedaled for 20 seconds at maximum effort followed by 10 seconds of rest over a total of 8 sets or 4 minutes (what we now know as a “Tabata”). Maximal effort bottomed out at 85rpm. Athletes were cut off at seven sets if the maximal effort was not sustained.
In these graphs, Group 1 is recognized by the long duration dotted line, Group 2 is recognized by the red line. As you can see in Figure 1A, Group 2 significantly improved their aerobic capacity while Group 1 did not. Both groups VO2 max increased. More specifically, anaerobic capacity in Group 2 athletes increased by 28% after six weeks of training. VO2max of Group 2 athletes increased by a total of 14%.
So what exactly does this all mean?! Tabata’s study showed that a 4-minute workout five days a week, consistently (for at least six weeks), can be AS effective if not more effective than a steady 60-minute cardio workout.
The graph on the left in Figure 1A shows VO2 levels, which, as we know, is the amount of oxygen your body uses was increased in both groups. This is expected for Group 1 athletes, as training a longer form aerobic workout is the typical method for increasing VO2.
The surprising thing here is how substantial the improvement was from Group 2 athletes as well. It would seem that performing a 4 minute Tabata workout had the same aerobic benefits as doing a 60 minute moderately intense workout. More recent studies can be found through ACE, where they’ve seen similar results! Check out their findings here.
For a more in-depth view of Dr Izumi Tabata’s Study, VIEW THE FULL RESEARCH BRIEF HERE.