Is Longer/Break-Free Tabata Exercise Better?
June 3, 2011 10:09 AM   Subscribe

In regard to the Tabata exercise method, i.e., eight cycles of 20 seconds of super-intense exercise and 10 seconds of rest, would there be any benefit (or harm) in either a. skipping the 10 second breaks, so you'd be doing four minutes straight of (actual) super-intense exercise, or b. doing more than eight cycles, so you might be exercising for six or eight minutes (including the breaks)? Thanks much.
posted by whitebird to Health & Fitness (19 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: The idea is that you're doing a burst of activity that you're physically unable to sustain for 4 minutes. If you're doing the same exercise for 4 min, then it's insufficiently super-intense.

At least i think that's the idea.
posted by GuyZero at 10:21 AM on June 3, 2011 [12 favorites]

Essentially you would just not be doing Tabatas.

4 minutes straight would be in the vO2-max range, whereas 20-second bursts are intended to be neuromuscular.
posted by Ygduf at 10:27 AM on June 3, 2011

Guy Zero is right - the intensity is the key, and that intensity can only be kept up, theoretically, for very short intervals for a brief period of time.
posted by hepta at 10:28 AM on June 3, 2011

I agree with GuyZero. I am doing HIIT, 15 second high intensity and 45 seconds low. I find that I can barely make it to the 15th second because I am going at the top of my limit in a way that would be unsustainable continually. You shouldn't be able to keep it up for 4 minutes continually.

(totally not an expert here...)
posted by Vaike at 10:29 AM on June 3, 2011

If you're able to sustain it for four minutes straight, or if you can continue beyond four minute cycles, you're not outputting maximum effort and not doing the Tabata protocol.
posted by Sternmeyer at 10:39 AM on June 3, 2011

The original Tabata protocol called for the work phase to be at 170% of VO2-max. That means you're using more oxygen than you process in a sustainable way. Because you are essentially going in to oxygen debt during the work phase, it is literally impossible to do a real Tabata workout without the rest phases. If you actually sustained the correct level of effort, you'd pass out before you made it to 4 minutes.
posted by 0xFCAF at 10:39 AM on June 3, 2011

If you can go for 4 minutes at full blast, you need to recalibrate what full blast is. We're talking running like you're being chased by a cheetah fast.

The thing about exercise is you can modify things since no one is the same. So if want to make a routine where you have 4 intervals of intense exercise followed by a brief break, you can. But it wouldn't be Tabata and it may not have the same results. I'll sometimes add HIIT to my StepMill workouts. Run up those goddamn stairs for 2 minutes or until my heart explodes. Then I rest. Repeat. Search el internet for HIIT for different examples.
posted by birdherder at 10:39 AM on June 3, 2011

Good advice above -- perhaps think of yourself as a sprinter in the Olympics or a cyclist nearing the finish line. If Usain Bolt could sprint as hard as he does in the 100 for 4 minutes, he would run about a 2-1/2 minute mile. Likewise, while a sprinter can often break away from a peloton, if you've ever seen the intensity of the pack closing in on a breakaway in cycling or the speed of the final sprinters, you will see a much higher level of intensity for a brief burst.

You could also read some of the studies on why those intervals were selected. Different intensities produce different results for the CNS, aerobic capacity, etc.
posted by This_Will_Be_Good at 10:43 AM on June 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

The real issue is not about extending the interval, but really about limiting your rest time. If you've ever done swimming training a common exercise is to do laps on set intervals that include rest time, so if you're slow you get less of a rest. Ugh. I feel sick just thinking about them.
posted by GuyZero at 10:55 AM on June 3, 2011

Your body has three different metabolic pathways it relies on for energy, as well as a number of other general adaptation mechanisms it employs depending on the intensity and type of exercise.

The idea behind Tabata is to develop a very specific response that is hit maximally during intense bursts of energy. Your maximal intensity for bursts of 20s is much higher than the same intensity you can maintain for four minutes. You'd be getting a workout but it would be in a different way and you'd be training something else.
posted by Anonymous at 11:40 AM on June 3, 2011

The answers above cover it. I'll just add this analogy:

Suppose you could lift 100 pounds 5 times and someone suggests that you do 4 sets of 5 reps of 100 pounds. You ask, "Why not just do one 20-rep set?" The answer, of course, is that you couldn't do 20 reps without resting. Maybe you could do one set of 20 reps of 50 pounds, and that might be a good idea, but it would be a different type of exercise than 4 sets of 5 reps of 100 pounds.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 12:14 PM on June 3, 2011

Response by poster: Wow. Thanks for all the great responses.

It seems to be the consensus, starting with GuyZero, that those breaks are inherent/vital in a super-intense routine.

But would there be a benefit in continuing those cycles past eight?
posted by whitebird at 12:19 PM on June 3, 2011

It seems to be the consensus, starting with GuyZero, that those breaks are inherent/vital in a super-intense routine

Actually, I think you're reading the consensus wrong. It's not that the breaks are essential, but that if you're not working hard enough to need the breaks, then you're not working hard enough.
posted by brozek at 1:19 PM on June 3, 2011

Response by poster: Sorry, I wasn't clear.

I meant that in an intended super-intense workout, it'd only really contain the level of intensity you want if you require breaks.
posted by whitebird at 1:37 PM on June 3, 2011

Response by poster: Which is what you were saying.
posted by whitebird at 1:38 PM on June 3, 2011

Again, it should require all the will you can muster to do the 6th set. You should basically do the 7th and 8th sets only out of a pre-determined commitment to them. You should regret the 8th set and not want to do it.

I mean, you could do 9 or 10 or 22 but the idea is to drive at a crazy level of intensity that's literally (literally!) unrecoverable-from.
posted by GuyZero at 1:46 PM on June 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Got it. Thanks, again!
posted by whitebird at 2:08 PM on June 3, 2011

But in fairness the # of reps is pretty arbitrary and doing 7, 8 or 9 isn't a huge difference. YMMV based on how fine-tuned your ability to push hard is.
posted by GuyZero at 3:58 PM on June 3, 2011

nthing hating 7th and 8th sets. the hate tells you that you are doing it right. ;)
posted by screamingnotlaughing at 8:41 PM on June 4, 2011

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