Tabata is the most neglected workout that can improve your performance.

With the ever-changing trends of the fitness world we tend to try new things and forgot about the proven methods. Nowadays athletes seem to forget that more is not better…better is better. They say you need to spend at least 10.000 hours doing something to be great but they forget to mention that most of those hours need to be time well spent and you need to focus on quality over quantity.

When was the last time you did a Tabata style workout? And we mean a true Tabata workout. Yes, that is 8 rounds of :20 on/:10 off protocol for a total of 4 minutes of working out. Note: we suggest to properly warm up so you can perform the intervals at maximal effort and we also suggest to cool down afterwards.

The Origins of Tabata

The Tabata method name after Dr. Izumi Tabata who was a coach under Irisawa Koichi, the head coach of the Japanese Speed Skating team in the 90s. They were looking for the most effective training program to improve the performance of their athletes. Later on, Tabata wanted to test it among athletes in different levels. For 6 weeks he tested 2 groups, one with 5 times a week of one hour of steady state work and the other with 4 times a week Tabata protocol training.

Impressive Changes

After 6 weeks, the Tabata group saw 28% improvement in their anaerobic capacity and 15% in their aerobic performance. The steady state group also improved their aerobic capacity by 10% but they made no changes in their anaerobic performance.

What this means to the layperson: the Tabata group performed better with 15 times less training.

Tabata in CrossFit

Dr Izumi Tabata published his study about the efficiency of the :20 on/:10 off intervals in 1996, the same year Coach Glassman started to train people with the CrossFit methodology. Since starting in 2001, 121 Tabata workouts showed up in CrossFit programming. More than 50% of these workouts were published in the first 3 years of the company’s online presence and in the past 10 years only an average 4 workouts showed up yearly.

How to perform a successful Tabata

  1. Choose the right exercise: sprinting, biking, swimming and rowing are ideal exercises. The goal is to produce maximal effort with minimal resting in between. Other movements like burpees and kettlebell swings have some rest in the movement that can make the effort submaximal
  2.  4 minutes is enough. Don’t feel bad about only working out for a short period of time. Of course, with warm up and cool down you can reach 20 minutes but the effects of a Tabata workout will show with only one 8 round set of intervals
    Depending on your goals you can change how many times you apply the Tabata protocol in your training. If your training is strength bias you may only use it 2 times a week but if you are trying to improve your endurance 5 times a week is more suitable.
  3.  Separate your conditioning from strength training. Tabata is not the way to build strength and although it helps improving it instead of doing max effort of squats or pullups your ROI is the biggest if you do conditioning type (running, rowing, biking, swimming) exercises Tabata style.
  4.  Intensity is key, not the duration. You shouldn’t be able to go for more than 4 minutes performed at maximal effort. The high intensity :20 “on” intervals should be near peak power output and the :10 “off” intervals should be 50% of maximal effort. (For Example, if you are rowing a 1:40.5 average during the :20 Intervals your :10 pace should be 2:06.7)

How you should feel

If you feel like you can do more after the 4-minute session you have not done it right. The first half should feel fairly easy and the last 2 sets should feel nearly impossible. You should find hard to talk and breathe since you have a major oxygen debt. You should definitely break a sweat and feel really hot. Your muscles should be “burning” from the lactate built up.

Tabata Rowing Workouts to Try

1. “1000m” challenge: Set the monitor to :20 On/:10 Rest intervals. Try to complete 1000m in 8 intervals (10 for Ladies)

2. “Custom Tabata by weight”:  To calculate the Base Wattage, use your body weight in pounds and add the Variable 10% for each interval. The following is based on a rower weighing 200 lbs. Base Wattage = Body Weight (200 watts) Variable 10%= 10% of Base Wattage (20 Watts)

Warm-up – 5 mins easy rowing
#1 20 secs at 200 – 10 secs rest
#2 20 secs at 220– 10 secs rest
#3 20 secs at 240 – 10 secs rest
#4 20 secs at 260 – 10 secs rest
#5 20 secs at 280 – 10 secs rest
#6 20 secs at 300 – 10 secs rest
#7 20 secs at 320 – 10 secs rest
#8 20 secs at 340 – 10 secs rest
Cool-down – 3 mins easy rowing

If this is too hard, start at a base wattage of 80% of your body weight in lbs. and add a variable 5% for each interval. Once you can manage the workout above, increase each interval by 15%, then 20%. Also try this workout at different damper settings to see your peak power output at different settings to find your ideal drag factor.

3. “Pace Tabata”: Focus of this workout is getting you comfortable at a cadence that you are not comfortable. Start with 5 minutes of easy rowing as a warmup then follow with 8 rounds of :20 on/:10 “easy”. Find a Stroke Rate that is hard for you to keep for instance 32 S/M. During the :20 intervals keep your stroke rate above the chosen “hard” Stroke rate and during the :10 “easy” period revert into a stroke rate that you feel comfortable, like 24 S/M. Maintain focus throughout all 8 intervals.

Since 1996 nearly every sport with endurance background saw improvements using the Tabata protocol. Adding Tabata to your training schedule, even for a short 4-6 week period, has been proven to show marked improvement in scores amongst athletes, from average to the most Elite. If you’ve hit a training plateau, we highly suggest giving Tabata a try – or at least attempt one of these workouts!


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