Workout of the Month: Tabata Intervals

Coach Ryan Kohler shows the right way to do a Tabata Intervals workout, based on the research of Dr. Izumi Tabata, and when to do Tabata workouts during your season.

Head Coach and Physiologist Ryan Kohler brings you one of his favorite workouts, Tabatas.

It’s a fast, fun workout that is growing in popularity on social media and now he is showing you the proper way to do it.

It is a maximal workout that induces high aerobic contribution, despite the apparent largely anaerobic nature of the exercise.

Video Transcript

Tabata Workouts

Today we’re bringing you one of my favorite types of workouts. It’s fast, it’s fun, and it’s a great way to get some fitness into the body. It’s been popularized over the years by the media and you know when you hear it, that’s right, we’re doing Tabatas today and we’re going to focus on the nuances of the workout to ensure that you’re executing them correctly.

How to Perform Tabata Interval Workouts

Tabata Intervals are a maximal workout that induces a high aerobic contribution, despite the apparent largely anaerobic nature of the exercise.

The Warmup

We’ll start this with a 10 to 15-minute warmup.

The Main Set

For the main set, we have seven intervals at 115 to 130% of your maximal aerobic power. We’ll take 10 seconds rest in between those, and then we’ll finish with a 10 minute cooldown as the original benefits of this workout were realized using a cadence of 90 rpm. This is a good target to aim for. I’d not recommend this as a low cadence workout for this type of session.

Tabatas vs. 170% of VO2max Ramp Tests

Recent studies have suggested that the current well accepted ramp testing that we all know and love can change our ability to complete more than maybe three or four of those intervals at 170% of VO2max. This is because Dr. Tabata is original baseline VO2max testing for athletes Before beginning this protocol required upwards of six different 10 minute submaximal cycle or governor tests to determine that linear relationship between power and VO2max for each individual. From those results which are different from the standard one minute ramp tests we know today. He would find 170% of that VO2max number and then that would become your target for these intervals. Personally, I’ve tried completing 170% of my ramp test VO2max just for fun and it failed miserably, as expected.

Other times when I’ve completed Tabata workouts more by feel, I found that my power consistently falls within that 115 to 130% of maximal aerobic power, and I’m able to complete approximately seven to eight intervals before I’m spent.

Dr. Izumi Tabata’s Original Workouts

Today’s workout is based on the original work of Dr. Izumi Tabata, he recommends that athletes complete seven to eight total sprints within a session as that number of sprints would bring the athlete to exhaustion, ultimately improving VO2max and anaerobic capacity. Other literature has shown that this can improve power at aerobic threshold and anaerobic threshold. However, those improvements don’t always fare better when compared to a higher volume lower intensity training session. So this is of course easier if you just get on the trainer, set your power to 130% of that maximal aerobic power and go for it. This also makes for a great quick hit workout.

Outdoor Tabata Intervals

But like to do Tabatas outdoors. It allows me to work on body position, breathing, and gear selection. And it really helps to develop that field during maximal efforts. If you’re doing this outside, choose your turning carefully. I have a great local loop that’s relatively flat. It has some ups and downs. But it still allows me to work in a high gear and keep that average power output in the right target range.

When to Do Tabatas During the Season

There are a few times you might include this in your training. One as suggested by the literature could be during a break in the season for whatever reason where you want to maintain your fitness and have a large reduction of training volume going on. This type of training has been shown to maintain physiological parameters when compared to moderate intensity continuous training at a higher volume.

Pre-Race Sharpening

Another likely more common time to do this is sharpening yourself for a race where these high aerobic and anaerobic abilities may be necessary. This could be in the final four to six weeks leading up to a race. I normally try to limit this training to six sessions at a time before giving it a rest. You can realize the gains from these sessions fairly quickly.

Don’t Overdo Tabatas

So it’s important that you don’t overdo it by dragging these sessions on for a number of weeks or even months. There you have it one of my favorite workout sessions Tabatas.

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