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High-Intensity Interval Training

The Tabata Protocol

The High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), also known as the Tabata Protocol, was developed by the head coach of the Japanese speed skating team. It was named after Dr. Izumi Tabata because Tabata and his team (at the National Institute of Fitness and Sports in Kanoya, Japan) studied the speed skating coach's workout to determine the optimum protocol.

In their research Tabata et al. (1996)[1] showed that a 4-minute cardiovascular training routine improved fitness. The whole session last 14 minutes and comprises of a 5 minute warm-up, 4 minutes of intense exercise and a 5-minute cool down. The 4 minutes of intense exercise comprises of 8 repeats of 20 seconds of maximum effort work of your selected exercise followed by a recovery of 10 seconds.

Health warning

Before undertaking the Tabata Protocol it is recommended you see your doctor so as to ensure it is advisable for you to do so.

The Benefits

In Tabata's study, the researchers found that athletes who used the routine five days a week for six weeks improved their maximum aerobic capacity by 14% and improved their anaerobic capacity by 28%. A study of traditional aerobic training of running at 70% of aerobic capacity for 60 minutes for six weeks showed an improvement in aerobic capacity of 9.5% and no effect on anaerobic capacity.

Dr. Tabata's Team found that as well as improving your aerobic and anaerobic capacity it is very effective in lowering the ratio of lean body mass to fat without compromising your muscle size.


Whichever exercise you choose, it should use a large number of muscles to get the maximum benefit. Two good exercises are the front squats and the thruster. For both exercises maintain good posture.

The thruster is similar to the squat. Start by standing and hold two dumbbells at shoulder height. Squat down while keeping the weights level with the shoulders. As you stand up, press the dumbbells to the overhead position and return the dumbbells to shoulder height.



Thruster Thruster Thruster Threster

How to approach HIIT

The work to rest ratio of the original Tabata Protocol is 2:1, however, this was designed with Olympic athletes in mind. A gym user can still attain many of the benefits of the interval training with a change to the ratio. A beginner could start with a ratio of 1:3 and someone who goes to the gym on a regular basis may be about to handle a 2:3 or even a 2:2. Here is an example of a 2:3 ratio Tabata Protocol on a static bike.

  • Warm-up - cycle at 50% max effort for 5 minutes
  • Sprint for 20 seconds
  • Easy spin for 30 seconds
  • Sprint for 20 seconds
  • Easy spin for 30 seconds
  • Sprint for 20 seconds
  • Easy spin for 30 seconds
  • cool-down - cycle at 50% max effort for 5 minutes

A professional athlete or an athlete with a number of year's experience of training (3-5 times a week) should aim to actually do the original form of the Tabata Protocol. This interval training is incredibly difficult to complete 8 repetitions so for the first time an athlete should do it for 4 repetitions and see how they feel. An athlete can repeat cycles of the intervals a certain number of times. Here is an example of a football player doing the Tabata Protocol at a ratio of 2:1 for 6 repetitions with 3 cycles and 1-minute rest between cycles:

  • Warm-up - Jog at 50% max for 5 minutes
  • 6 x (Sprint for 20 seconds + 10 seconds rest)
  • 1-minute rest
  • 6 x (Sprint for 20 seconds + 10 seconds rest)
  • 1-minute rest
  • 6 x (Sprint for 20 seconds + 10 seconds rest)
  • 1-minute rest
  • cool-down - Jog at 50% max for 5 minutes.

The Tabata Protocol can be adjusted to anyone's level and activity (cycling on a static bike, running on a treadmill or track, swimming etc.).


  1. TABATA, I. et al. (1996) Effects of moderate-intensity endurance and high-intensity intermittent training on anaerobic capacity and VO2 max. Med Sci Sports Exerc., 28 (10), p. 1327-1330.

Related References

The following references provide additional information on this topic:

  • FORTNER, H. A. et al. (2013) Differential Response To Tabata Interval Versus Traditional Kettlebell Training Protocol. In International Journal of Exercise Science: Conference Proceedings (Vol. 9, No. 1, p. 21)
  • MCBRIDE, G. et al. (2014) Effects of a Short Term, Short Duration, high-intensity Exercise Intervention on Body Composition and Intra-Abdominal Fat
  • MCRAE, G. et al. (2012) Extremely low volume, whole-body aerobic–resistance training improves aerobic fitness and muscular endurance in females. Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, 37 (6), p. 1124-1131

Page Reference

If you quote information from this page in your work, then the reference for this page is:

  • MACKENZIE, B. (2008) HighInten-sity Interval Training [WWW] Available from: [Accessed

Related Pages

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