What is Tabata?
Tabata is an exercise protocol designed by Japanese exercise researcher Dr. Izumi Tabata at the National institute of Fitness and Sports in Tokyo, Japan.
The original study that Tabata training is based on, showed that short, sharp, intense periods of exercise, interspersed with very short rest periods drastically increased participants’ aerobic and anaerobic work capacity – in other words, they got fitter and stronger.
From the study, the exercise protocol that we now recognize as Tabata was developed. A Tabata workout comprises eight rounds of very high intensity exercise, each lasting 20 seconds, with 10 seconds of rest between rounds. In total, one Tabata lasts three minutes and 50 seconds.
Can Tabata Build Strength?
As so often is the case with these kinds of questions, the answer is “It Depends”. In this case, whether or not tabata can develop strength depends on what definition of strength you look at.
You have three types of strength.
Maximum strength is all about the absolute maximum weight you can lift once. Imagine a powerlifter, grinding out a heavy squat or deadlift for his single repetition maximum – this is maximum strength.
Elastic, or speed strength refers to moving a weight at speed. This applies to Olympic weightlifters, and other power athletes such as shot putters or discus throwers – they have to move heavy objects, but they need to move them quickly.
Finally, strength endurance is the ability to exert force many times over, such as performing as many pushups as you can, or lifting fifty percent of your one rep maximum on the bench press.
Due to the high repetitions required for a tabata training session, it won’t do much for improving your maximum strength. The weights you use are too light to effectively hit the muscle fibers needed for heavy lifting, and you’ll do far too many reps to stimulate the nervous system for strength gains.
Tabata may have some carryover to elastic strength, especially for beginners, although it does depend on your choice of exercises. If you perform more “explosive” movements in your tabatas, such as cleans, jump squats, or push presses, then there will be some carryover to improving your elastic strength.
Tabata is most beneficial though, for strength endurance. Considering that during a full eight rounds of tabata, you’ll probably perform anywhere between 60 and 200 reps, again depending on exercises, your strength endurance will be severely tested.
How do I Ensure Strength Progressions?
Tabata is very similar to density training, in that you have an exact timescale in which you work in. Quite simply, to ensure progress, you have to make sure that in every workout, you do more work in the same amount of time.
Let’s take squats as an example.
In your first workout, you might choose to do just bodyweight squats, and get 120 reps. In your next workout, you can either stick with bodyweight, and aim to do more reps, or add some weight – either with a light dumbbell or kettlebell, or by wearing a weight vest, and try to match your reps from last time. Either way, you’re progressing, and boosting your strength endurance.
Sample Tabata Workout
Try this workout for a full body, strength-building, session. Do one tabata (eight rounds), on each exercise –
– Squats – if you’re a beginner, just use your bodyweight or a light dumbbell/kettlebell. More experienced trainers may like to experiment with barbell squats, or wear a heavy weighted vest.
– Push Presses – Use either dumbbells or a barbell.
– Inverted Rows – Similar to chin ups, but slightly easier. Set a bar at chest height in a power rack, sit on the floor, grab the bar with both hands, and pull yourself up.
– Crunches – Hold a weight plate to make them harder if you need to.