The History of Tabata

If you’re at all into fitness, you’ve probably heard the word Tabata one too many times. At Grokker we’ve extolled its benefits here (blog link) and here (blog link), but have you ever wondered where the heck Tabata came from? Or why it’s always capitalized? I’ve done the research so you don’t have to, and the answers are pretty cool.

What does Tabata stand for?

Well it turns out that Tabata refers to Dr. Izumi Tabata! Dr. Tabata, a professor at Ritsumeikan University in Japan and former National Institutes of Health researcher, identified the health benefits of this 20 seconds on, 10 seconds off workout plan back in 1996.

Where did the idea come from?

Dr. Tabata was hired by the head coach of the Japanese speed skating team to analyze the efficacy of the teams training program, which was characterized by rotations between short bursts of high activity and short rest periods (the Tabata protocol we know today!). Funnily enough, Dr. Tabata didn’t design this exercise protocol; he simply showed how great it was at improving aerobic and anaerobic fitness!

Ok, so what was this study?

One of the best things about the Tabata protocol is that it has been tested in a rigorous, scientific setting. So many health and fitness trends are backed by unsubstantiated claims, but science has quite soundly demonstrated that Tabata is one heck of a good workout.

Dr. Tabata and his colleagues compared anaerobic and aerobic benefits between people who exercised at a moderate level for a continuous period of time and those that performed using intermittent high intensity bursts. Amazingly, the study found that intermittent exercise maximally works both aerobic and anaerobic systems, which couldn’t be said for those that exercised at moderate intensity! What was even better is that intermittent, high intensity exercise took a lot less time.

What’s next for Tabata?

The Tabata protocol is still being studied by Dr. Tabata. Firstly, he wants to identify the lowest possible intensity at which you can still get these incredible health benefits. Dr. Tabata doesn’t recommend Tabata for people that are new to exercise, but he wants to be sure that newbies and people with less mobility can reap the health benefits of this type of exercise.

Secondly, Dr. Tabata thinks his protocol might be able to treat certain chronic ideas. Preliminary research suggests that Tabata may improve sugar metabolism in diabetics. He is moving towards larger human studies to determine if this effect is real.


Interview with the Founder of the World-Renowned Tabata Protocol

Effects of moderate-intensity endurance and high-intensity intermittent training on anaerobic capacity and VO2max

Metabolic profile of high intensity intermittent exercises.