Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Programming the Tabata Timer and Other Intervals

Programming with the Tabata Interval sequence has gained some enormous popularity through it's use in CrossFit®, but it's roots go even deeper than we would have guessed.  While researching the popularity of the tabata timer, we discovered that there are a few other popular timing sequences that focus on intervals as well.  This timing pattern is part of a larger group or theory called High Intensity Interval Training or HITT and it's been under some serious study by high level athletes and their coaches for years.

Interval training is simply explained as alternating periods of work and rest.  The work periods have proven to be most effective when programmed as short bursts at very high intensity.  They are followed by a short rest period before the next work period begins.  The shortened work period allows the athlete to keep intensity levels high and the rest periods, although lasting only a few seconds allow for ample recovery time.

Much of Professor Tabata's reputation was gained through the research he conducted while a part of the coaching staff for the Japanese Olympic Speed Skating team.  We found out that the timing sequence he is so widely known for was actually pioneered by the Speed Skating Coach he was working with.
Professor Izumi Tabata
During my time working with the Japanese speed skating team, the head coach, Mr. Irisawa Koichi, had me analyze the effectiveness of his training regime that involved a rotation of short burst of maximum effort followed by short periods of rest. Although Coach Irisawa pioneered the idea, somehow it became named after me (laughs). The current regime consists of repetitions of 20 seconds of intense work, followed by 10 seconds of rest. This means that, excluding warming up and cooling down, the exercise can be completed in only 4 minutes if repeated 8 times, more than enough to make even a fit person exhausted.
     - See more on the Tabata Timer sequence from an interview with Profressor Tabata here

The Tabata Time sequence is normally used in CrossFit programming for body weight movements such as the Pull Up, Push Up, Sit Up and [Air] Squat.  Because the work period is only 20 seconds long, the most effective way to use this sequence is with short, quick movements.  To further add intensity to the workout, it is programmed as 8 rounds of each of four exercises for a total of 16 minutes.

Less known, but just as interesting was what we found out about Peter Coe, the father of Sebastian Coe. While his son was training in track and field, his father was dissatisfied with the long distance training his son was being coached on.  He thought that long slow training would turn his son into a long slow runner.  Instead of following the programming he was sure was doomed to failure, he had his son train in sessions of 200 meter sprints followed by 30 seconds of rest.

As a middle distance runner, [Sebastian] Coe [#254] won four Olympic medals, including the 1500 meter gold medal at the Olympic Games in 1980 and 1984.  He set eight outdoor and three indoor world records in middle distance track events - including, in 1979, setting three world records in the space of 41 days - and the world record he set in the 800 meters in 1981 remained unbroken until 1997.  Kudos to Peter Coe for stepping out against the norm and contributing to the 'revolution of fitness'.

- from Wikipedia


Yet another pioneer in the field, Professor Martin Gibala of Canada has been studying the benefits of interval training for years at McMaster University.  In 2009 he conducted a particular study with students performing 3 minutes of warmup then 60 seconds of intense work followed by 75 seconds of rest for 8-12 cycles.  Those students who followed this training three times per week had gains similar to those who trained five times per week of steady state training.

A 2008 study by Gibala et al.[15] demonstrated 2.5 hours of sprint interval training produced similar biochemical muscle changes to 10.5 hours of endurance training and similar endurance performance benefits.

The old adage of 'slow and steady wins the race' might just be bunked by these experts.  Challenging the widely accepted and pushing the envelope in fitness and nutrition is bringing out the athlete in every one of us.  All we need is the willingness to apply what we see brings about the change and to keep an open mind when new discoveries are made.  

Much of today's high intensity workouts are done under the watchful eye of the gym timer and many are now gauging success not just on how many reps or how much weight, but also on the level of intensity achieved.  The shorter, intense workout fits in well with the busy lifestyle and it's effectiveness can't be denied.

Because of the importance and effectiveness of incorporating interval training in your programming, we've designed both of our Hammerhead Gym Timers to be able to accept virtually any interval timing sequence [along with all the other popular modes].  One of our customers asked us if we would shoot a video explaining how to program our timer for intervals.  We thought that was a great idea!  Have a look below and be sure to subscribe to our YouTube channel to get in the know on all things Hammerhead.