It seems as though every time you turn on the TV there’s a new “miracle” workout being advertised. “Burn fat in 10 minutes!” “Shape your rear in 8 minutes!” “Completely transform your body in 5 minutes!” The reason these fads come and go so quickly? They hardly ever work. That is until Izumi Tabata came along. While Tabata doesn’t fit the image most of us imagine when we think of figures from the popular health industry, his protocol works.

Enter Tabata

Izumi Tabata is a very non-intimidating man. He’s of typical Asian stature with wide-brimmed glasses and a completely bald crown of a head, surrounded by a jet black moat of hair. Yet, though he doesn’t look like your typical fitness guru, Professor Tabata has spawned an incredibly effective – and fast – workout regimen. An internet search for “Tabata Protocol” will bring up nearly a quarter of a million hits. This mild mannered professor from Ritsumeikan University in Japan has become a full-fledged fitness rock star.

The Research

Years ago most athletes engaged in steady-state conditioning, which involved running, biking, or performing a particular sport at a moderate intensity for long duration. This type of conditioning was primarily aerobic. In more recent years, research has pointed to the value of high-intensity, short duration workouts for improving both anaerobic and aerobic capacity.  Various forms of interval training have since been hyped by many prominent faces in fitness. 

Professor Tabata began his research in sport conditioning while working with the Japanese speed skating team. His academic career spanned three continents and involved some of the world’s greatest athletes, leading him to develop incredibly effective training methods. He stayed with the new-school method of high-intensity interval training and took it to heights never seen before. The result?  The most efficient four minute athletic training protocol man has ever seen. Yes, you heard right. Four minutes.

The Tabata Protocol

The Tabata Protocol involves bouts of very rigorous exercise for twenty seconds followed by ten seconds of rest. This cycle is completed eight times for a total workout time of four minutes. In order to easily control variables, Professor Tabata originally conducted his studies with subjects using a stationary bike. Those who have experimented using the Tabata Protocol with full-body exercises and sprints have had success as well. In order for for the Tabata Protocol to be effective, the high-intensity intervals used have to be of the highest possible effort. Most people reach exhaustion before completing their first Tabata workout due to the intense effort required.


The Tabata Protocol completely and utterly shocks your system, leaving it confused and unbelievably tired. In Tabata’s published study entitled, “The effects of moderate-intensity endurance and high-intensity intermittent training on anaerobic and VO2max,” Tabata put his protocol up against a typical hour-long steady-state workout. Both groups exercised five days a week for six weeks. The group that engaged in moderate exercise saw slight gains in their aerobic capacity and no gain in their anaerobic capacity. The group that completed the Tabata workout warmed up for ten minutes, and then completed the Japanese professor’s four-minute protocol “from hell.” The Tabata group elevated their aerobic systems higher than the first group and saw significant increases in anaerobic capacity as well.

The amazing thing was, compared to the first group, the group performing the Tabata Protocol exercised 46 minutes less each workout, 230 minutes less per week, and 1,380 minutes less (that’s about 23 hours) over the duration of the study!

People used to believe that you could only train your aerobic or anaerobic systems separately. Tabata shattered that myth with his research on high-intensity interval training.  Aside from being of great benefit to the heart and expanding the lung capacity to titanic proportions, the research shows that the Tabata Protocol causes the body to burn an extra 150 calories even after exercising. If ever there was a miracle workout, this is it.


No one should take the Tabata Protocol lightly. This is an extremely difficult program, even for seasoned athletes. Always check with your doctor before starting any exercise routine, especially anything of such high-intensity as the Tabata Protocol. Professor Tabata encourages beginners to seek the help of a qualified trainer who can assist them with maintaing proper form and determining appropriate intensity.

References: Ritsumeikan University: Izumi TabataMen’s Health: The Unbelievable 4-Minute Cardio WorkoutMedicine and Science in Sports and Exercise: Effects of Moderate-Intensity Endurance and High-Intensity Intermittent Training on Anaerobic Capacity and VO2max

Originally posted 2013-09-30 18:35:25.


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