While humans have intuitively understood the benefits of exercise for ages, it’s only recently that we’ve begun to underpin these understandings with solid science.
The field of exercise and sports science began in ancient Greece, but the number of advancements added in the recent years as our understanding of human anatomy has increased.
In this article, we discuss a famous study on exercise training by the Japanese scientist Izumi Tabata. First, we give a brief overview of the science behind exercise training before discussing the particular details of this landmark study and some arguments against it.
A Brief Overview of Exercise Training
The science behind exercise training is simple. There are aerobic forms of exercise and anaerobic forms of exercise. The best training regime involves a combination of both, but each has its own unique set of benefits.
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This type of exercise involves a lower-intensity workout that is sustained over a longer period of time. Due to its relatively lower level of intensity, the oxygen intake of the athlete is sufficient to meet the demands of the body. Thus, the body does not have to draw on its energy stores to meet its current energy needs.
Examples of this kind of exercise include light jogging, walking, or any kind of movement that can be engaged for a long period of time.
Aerobic exercise is lauded for building endurance, boosting metabolism, and increasing cardiac strength.
Anaerobic Exercise, on the other hand, is a much higher-intensity form of training and as such, can only be sustained for short period of time, usually between 30-45 minutes. During this type of exercise, the oxygen intake of the athlete is not sufficient to meet the demands of the body, thus forcing the body to burn stored sugars.
Examples of this kind of exercise include any kind of high-intensity interval training, like sprinting or weightlifting.
Anaerobic exercise is especially notable for helping athletes build muscle mass. Also, depending on the intensity and duration of the workout, anaerobic exercise can help burn considerable body fat.
The Tabata Protocol Study
Izumi Tabata first began his landmark study in 1996 using two groups of Olympic speed skaters.
One group of speed skaters engaged in a high-intensity anaerobic exercise in which they exercised intensely for 20 seconds, and then rested for 10 seconds over the course of 4 minutes. The exercise consisted of cycling on a stationary bike and was performed 4 times a week, with an additional day of aerobic, consistent exercise.
The other group of speed skaters engaged in lower-intensity, aerobic training 5 times a week using the same stationary cycling bike.
After studying the results over a 6-week period, Tabata was able to conclude that the high-intensity group had achieved more gains over the period than the lower-intensity group even though the latter had ended with a higher-performance capacity.
The Tabata Protocol
The results from the study have been cited repeatedly by athletes and scientists as proof that extended periods of exercise do not necessarily result in greater health benefits. Instead, gains and improvements can be made if a higher intensity interval training is utilized.
In common language, the term “Tabata Protocol” is used to refer to the specific proportion of high-intensity training to low-intensity training in any interval regime. As stated above, Tabata initially had his focus group engage in 20 seconds of high-intensity training with 10 seconds of low-intensity training, spread out over the course of 8 cycles.
Arguments Against the Tabata Method
Many critics note that Tabata used Olympic speed skaters who were already in superior shape. Thus, it could be argued that Tabata’s conclusions do not apply to non-professional athletes who are not in as good of shape. Some critics argue that it is easier to improve your performance when you are already an elite athlete and that for most people, aerobic exercise is still superior.
Many critics also claim that the kind of exercise that was studied was unrealistic, as biking on a stationary bike is an unrealistic form of training that most athletes and people do not engage in.
Our Final Thoughts on the Tabata Protocol
We think that any form of exercise, whether aerobic or anaerobic, is healthy in today’s increasingly sedentary world.
We also think that each athlete has a specific set of needs that are unique to his body type and that no one style of training is right for everyone.
This includes the Tabata training method, which we think might be best for superior athletes looking to increase muscle mass and peak performance. For lower-intensity athletes, we think simply exercising and moving for a period of time is the best antidote against disease and illness.