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The Fitness Zone

Is Tabata Safe For My Clients?
March 21, 2013 | by Tallan Ames

Tabata training is a high-intensity interval workout that is growing in popularity, but is it effective, and is it safe for all of your personal training clients? Tallan Ames, Australian Institute of Fitness WA Training Team Captain, provides some answers.

The Research

Tabata was founded through research conducted by a Japanese scientist named Izumi Tabata and fellow colleagues at a department of physiology in Japan. The research, published in 1996, showed that athletes training at extra high intensity over a short period of time not only experienced greater anaerobic threshold improvements, but also improved maximal aerobic power (VO2 max).

Izumi and his fellow scientists conducted a study to compare moderate-intensity training with very high-intensity training using a mechanically braked cycle ergometer as follows.

Group 1 moderate-intensity training: the athletes trained at 70% VO2 max five days a week for a total of six weeks with each training session lasting an hour.

Group 2 high-intensity training: the athletes trained at 170% VO2 max (yes, extremely high) for four days a week for a total of six weeks; the actual HIIT (high intensity interval training) bout lasted 4 minutes consisting of 20 seconds intense training (170% intensity) and 10 seconds of rest.

What Were the Results?

Group 1 had a significant increase in their aerobic capacity (increase of 5 ml/kg/min in VO2 max) but no significant improvement in anaerobic capacity. Group 2 showed significant increases in both; 28% improvement in anaerobic capacity and an impressive increase of 7 ml/kg/min in VO2 max.


Not only did high-intensity interval training have an impact on anaerobic fitness, it had more of an impact on the aerobic system than purely doing MVO2 training (moderate-intensity endurance training). Hence, if athletes and clients have the fitness and are ABLE to train at very high intensities, it is likely that Tabata-inspired interval training will improve both anaerobic and aerobic energy supplying systems. The benefit being that these training adaptations can occur in just four minutes of high-intensity training rather than hours and hours of exercise.

Back to the World of Personal Training

We know that most of your personal training clients are unlikely to be able to work at this extreme high intensity, however the principle can be applied. Clients with a known cardiovascular or musculoskeletal contraindication should be appropriately health screened and cleared by an allied health professional before undertaking Tabata training. By motivating our clients to work as hard as they can at a given exercise for 20 seconds, with 10 seconds rest for 8 repeats they may experience anaerobic threshold gains appropriate for their personal or performance goals.

For example, in a 60-minute session after a comprehensive warm-up, your client could complete Tabata-inspired intervals totalling 4 minutes on a bike. This could be repeated several times provided the client had adequate time to recover.

It is important not to underestimate the fatigue following this style of training. If you wish to do this with a client, make sure they are a low-risk exerciser and capable of advanced conditioning. If your client is at the opposite end of the spectrum, you can still use Tabata-themed training but adjust the working intensity appropriately e.g. moderate-risk clientele or those with lower levels of cardiovascular fitness.

So what does a basic Tabata training bout look like?

  • 4 minutes long (plus time for warm-up and cool-down)
  • 20 seconds of high intensity training
  • 10 seconds of rest
  • Total of 8 repeats or rounds

Putting Tabata Training into Action

Using the above information on Tabata training, choose three of the following exercises sprints (bike, treadmill, rower), push-ups, chin-ups, jump squats and create three Tabata-inspired training sessions. Now jump into the gym and put them into practice! Make sure you have a timing device, e.g., stopwatch, GymBoss Timer or smart phone application, e.g., Tabata Pro, to keep track of work and rest periods. When performing your Tabata session, be suitably attired and wearing enclosed footwear, have a water bottle and sweat towel on hand, make sure you have checked your exercise equipment prior to using it and if choosing resistance exercises, ensure good technique if working at speed.

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Tallan is the Training Team Captain at the Australian Institute of Fitness in WA. He has been in the fitness industry for over 11 years, and has had over 200 WAFL games for Swan Districts Football Club, as well as appearances for WA.

This content is not intended to be used as individual health or fitness advice divorced from that imparted by medical, health or fitness professionals. Medical clearance should always be sought before commencing an exercise regime. The Institute and the authors do no take any responsibility for accident or injury caused as a result of this information.

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