The science

Who is Professor Tabata?

Professor Tabata is the pioneer scientist behind the Tabata protocol and the clinical trials which proved that Tabata™ is THE best way to get fit, fast. A world renowned expert on exercise physiology, responsible for ground-breaking work on diabetes prevention, his most famous discovery is the one that bears his name – the Tabata Protocol.

Now Head of the Sports and Health Science Faculty at Ritsumeikan University Japan, in his 35 year career he has regularly worked as an advisor to the Japanese government on public health issues. He continues to research the effects of exercise on calorie consumption, and how Tabata™ can benefit victims of heart disease and strokes.

The Science

Professor Tabata conducted a pioneering piece of research on the effectiveness of a short but gruelling workout with the Japanese Olympic speed-skating team. Professor Tabata’s original research involved two different trials. The first group was asked to cycle at moderate intensity five times a week for 60 minutes. The second group took a more radical approach: alternating between 20 second bursts of maximum effort work and 10 second rest phases for a total of four minutes or eight rounds four times per week plus one 30 minute moderate intensity cycling session once a week.

Experiment 1 The Tabata Protocol (20 seconds/10 seconds)

Using a group of young athletes, they worked out (on a bike) to exhaustion at 170% of their VO2 max (how can you have more than 100% of VO2 max? Because 100% is reached when you are still in the aerobic zone – literally ‘with oxygen’, so breathing easily. Above that and you hit the ‘anaerobic’ zone – literally meaning ‘without oxygen’, so using oxygen stored in the muscles rather than through breathing.) for 20 seconds, then rested for 10 and repeated for eight bouts.

Experiment 2

Used the same group of volunteers, but this time the intervals were 30 seconds long and even tougher – pushing them to a VO2 max of 200%. They then rested for 2 minutes and repeated 4-5 times until they reached exhaustion.


The Tabata protocol produced much better improvements in fitness – even though the subjects worked out for less time and at a lower intensity. It improved both aerobic and anaerobic capacity, whereas the second experiment did not. Professor Tabata concluded that it’s not the intensity per se that results in improved fitness but the shorter recovery time – and this specific system of 20 second/10 second intervals that is the most effective at improving aerobic and anaerobic fitness.