If you have been CrossFitting for a decent amount of time odds are you have done a Tabata or two. For those of you new to CrossFit, a Tabata is 20 seconds of work followed by 10 seconds of rest, repeated for 8 rounds. The beauty of this type of training is that you can do a Tabata interval with practically anything; air squats, pushups, hang power cleans, etc. You can also do Tabata mash-ups, which are 16 rounds of two alternating movements (usually, there are some variations out there). These are also great tools to have at your disposal if you are traveling or just short on time.
A quick bit of history. In 1996 Dr. Izumi Tabata et al. conducted a study involving two groups. One group performed steady state cardiovascular activity at moderate intensity (70% VO2 max) for one hour 5 days per week. A second group performed the Tabata Protocol. This consisted of a 10 minute steady state warm up, followed by 7-8 rounds of 20 seconds on a mechanically braked cycle ergometer at 170% VO2 max followed by 10 seconds rest. This protocol was followed 4 days out of the week and on the fifth day the group performed 30 minutes of steady state exercise at 70% VO2 max followed by 4 Tabata style intervals.
In this case VO2 max was determined by having the person ride the ergometer while measuring their oxygen uptake and gradually increasing the wattage until the person’s oxygen uptake no longer continues to rise. This is considered 100% of their VO2 max. 100% is usually associated with complete exhaustion or nausea/vomiting, so I can only imagine 170%. Now some people out there say that anything less than this exact protocol should not be called a Tabata, and that instead is some form of high intensity interval training (HIIT). Well, technically they are right. But that being said, “Tabata” has become commonly associated with any exercise performed at 20 seconds on 10 seconds off repeated for 8 rounds, and I think that is just fine. Really I think it just boils down to semantics and I would bet Dr. Tabata wouldn’t be too upset about it.
A few final things to consider the next time you see a Tabata on the white board. This type of training is very effective…if performed correctly. The goal here is to give maximum effort during each 20 second period of work (remember those who had to give 170% of their VO2 max). Obviously this becomes increasingly difficult as time goes on and requires some mental fortitude. And this is another reason why I like Tabatas; they help make your mind strong too. There are different ways to score Tabatas (total reps, highest/lowest reps, just the highest or lowest) but I think it is usually best to use the lowest. Using this method will force you to push throughout the entire interval. If you get 20 reps on your first round, you will likely fight as hard as you can to hit 20 reps or more on each of the following rounds. Dig deep; push yourselves; and Tabata on my friends.