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The Truth about Tabata Intervals

Opdateret: 29. juni 2018

High Intensity Interval Training

In the fitness industry, High Intensity Interval Training (better known as HIIT) has become popular in recent years. Research has shown that HIIT training has a particularly positive impact on our progress and fitness level. HIIT covers short intense anaerobic intervals (intensity scale 10) with short breaks. The HIIT training session (not intervals) can be done in a range of 4-30 minutes and the most used formula is 2: 1 - like 30 second ON: 15 seconds OFF.

Tabata intervals

Most commonly known HIIT intervals are the so-called "Tabata" intervals. The name "Tabata" comes from Professor Izumi Tabata, who in 1996 conducted research on the effect of HIIT training among athletes. The trial was conducted at the National Institute of Fitness and Sports in Tokyo. Izumi Tabata wanted to investigate the effect of short intense anaerobic intervals against steady state exercise at lower intensity. There were 2 groups that had the following training plan for 6 weeks:

Group 1

HIIT Intervals of 20 second work followed by 10 seconds break total 8 times (4 minutes). Intensity 170 percent of VO2Max. Made on ergometer bike

Group 2

steady state training of 70 percent of VO2Max for 60 minutes. Made on ergometer bike

Group 1 performed the HIIT intervals 4 times a week plus one steady state exercise (a total of 5 training session a week).

Group 2 performed 5 training sessions per week on 70 percent of VO2Max for 60 minutes.

As a result, group 1 had 28 percent improvement in anaerobic capacity and 14 percent improvement of VO2Max. Group 2 did not significantly increase the anaerobic capacity, but about 9% improvement of VO2Max.

The intervals in the experiment were found to give good results both in relation to the aerobic and anaerobic energy systems. It also showed that HIIT intervals can be very effective. Based on this study, Tabata intervals are today the most well-known and used HIIT intervals.

Is there an increased risk of injury by using Tabata in cycling training?

There is no research substantiating the claim that Tabata intervals performed on an ergometer bike or on a regular indoor bike would result in increased injury risk. Tabata intervals should be performed in continuation of a thorough warm up for about 10-15 minutes, after which the 4 minute Tabata intervals can be completed. However, it is not recommended for beginners for several reasons [1].

Do We Really Perform Tabata Intervals in Indoor Cycling?

The short answer is no! We use the same method in time, ie 20:10 and repeat 8 times, but very few will be able to perform a correct workout with Tabata Intervals with 170% of VO2Max. Performed with a power meter this is equal to about 200 percent of FTP. So we need to keep in mind that that we can not expect the same results as Izumi Tabata found in the study, if we do not perform Tabata intervals with the same intensity.


Tabata intervals are effective, the are motivating for a lot of members and this routine should be part of your training sessions. If you are lucky to teach with power, challenge your participants to achieve the same intensity as in the original study, ie 170% of VO2Max/200% FTP - they will both love you and hate you for doing so!

Tabata workouts

At www.intelligent-cycling.com we have more than 30 ready-to-go workouts based on the original protocol by Izumi Tabata. They are 20 minutes long and perfectly synchronized with playlists in spotify.

Reference and Summary

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.

This study consists of two training experiments using a mechanically braked cycle ergometer. First, the effect of 6 wk of moderate-intensity endurance training (intensity: 70% of maximal oxygen uptake (VO2max), 60 min.d-1, 5 d.wk-1) on the anaerobic capacity (the maximal accumulated oxygen deficit) and VO2max was evaluated. After the training, the anaerobic capacity did not increase significantly (P > 0.10), while VO2max increased from 53 +/- 5 ml.kg-1 min-1 to 58 +/- 3 ml.kg-1.min-1 (P < 0.01) (mean +/- SD). Second, to quantify the effect of high-intensity intermittent training on energy release, seven subjects performed an intermittent training exercise 5 d.wk-1 for 6 wk. The exhaustive intermittent training consisted of seven to eight sets of 20-s exercise at an intensity of about 170% of VO2max with a 10-s rest between each bout. After the training period, VO2max increased by 7 ml.kg-1.min-1, while the anaerobic capacity increased by 28%. In conclusion, this study showed that moderate-intensity aerobic training that improves the maximal aerobic power does not change anaerobic capacity and that adequate high-intensity intermittent training may improve both anaerobic and aerobic energy supplying systems significantly, probably through imposing intensive stimuli on both systems.

Notes (1] In the initial study, all participants in both groups had started with 6 weeks of training, where they each had 5 training sessions of 60 minutes at 70% of VO2Max - that is, the same as group 2 in the test period and was their basic training prior to the study.

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