As an athletic coach, nothing bothers me….OK, “ticks me off” more than when legitimate methods of training are misused.  It blatantly demonstrates a lack of knowledge and professionalism.  Unfortunately, this tendency is rampant in the fitness industry, which has thus spilled over into indoor cycling.

Professor Izumi Tabata — You are the Man!

Now before you think I”™m against Tabata training, I”™m not.  I think it is an amazing protocol, which was put forth with sound research. Basically, Professor Izumi Tabata performed studies where bouts of short, high intensity training was followed by short periods of recovery and repeated 8 times. In an interview with Professor Tabata, he laughs as he openly admits that the credit for the protocol goes to Japanese speed skating coach, Mr. Irisawa Koichi.  Professor Tabata was simply asked to analyze the effectiveness of Mr. Irisawa”™s training regiment.

The official, researched protocol is: 20 Seconds of intense work followed by 10 seconds of rest repeated 8 times.

Let”™s Beat Everyone To a Pulp Mentality

When the Tabata protocol was released into the public, fitness “professionals” began drooling and scheming with big smiles on their faces as they imagined people flailing away to utter exhaustion praising their names as the greatest trainers on earth just before limp bodies hit the ground.  Professor Tabata stated in his interview “This means that, excluding the 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”. So what does the fitness industry do?... THEY MAKE AN ENTIRE 60-MINUTE TABATA CLASS!!!!!  Total insanity.  It is the “more is better — bigger is badder” approach, which is void of both science and proper regard for safety.

Group Fitness Hell

Here is another quote from Professor Tabata: “Such high-intensity exercise is exhausting, so it”™s not good for those simply interested in general promotion of their health.”  I”™m trying to figure out how this statement translates into building Tabata-based group fitness and indoor cycling classes consisting of such a wide age and fitness-level demographic.  At least if you”™re working with a single individual, you can monitor their response to the training and adjust accordingly.  With classes upwards of 20+ people, this is impossible and irresponsible.

Tom, Calm Down — What”™s Going On?

I”™ve been in numerous conversations in recent months where indoor cycling instructors are throwing around Tabata training like salt at McDonalds.  They add it to everything with little to no regard for the focus of the class or the benefit to those participating.  Here are two examples:

(1) I”™m helping a group of indoor cycling instructors create a ride profile. We had decided that the focus was going to be on moderate, long climbs since it was early in the year and they wanted to help riders increase their muscular endurance.  We had designed a nice ride profile with 3 long climbs, but as we looked at the timing, we were short about 3 minutes.  Before I was able to suggest we adjust the length of one of the climbs or decent (recovery), one instructor said we could throw in some Tabata.  WHAT?!?!?  We”™re in the &$*W$ mountains on a long climb in the early part of the year and you want to “throw it” some high intensity intervals?!?!

(2) I just finished a ride that concluded with a 25-minute steady-state effort targeting Zone 3 (~75% perceived exertion). It was tough and people were definitely feeling it at the end.  After we completed the stretch and people were exiting the room, one rider was still on the bike working hard.  As I approached the rider, who is a seasoned fitness instructor, they told me how much they like the class.  They continued to say that it would have been nice to end the class stronger with some Tabata training.  I smiled and packed up.

A License to Kill

Training methods and protocols like Tabata are legitimate and effective ways to train in the appropriate environment.  Let”™s make sure we are doing our homework as fitness professionals and demonstrating the responsibility we have with those that will follow our example and passion.  Indoor cycling instructors have unfortunately used Tabata training, in particular, as a license to throw high-intensity into their classes whenever they want. “Oh, I”™m just doing some Tabata Training”.

For those of use who have taken the time to study, research and design classes built on sound training science, we see right through the smoke screen.


Here is the link to the interview with Professor Izumi Tabata -

Originally posted 2012-02-02 05:18:08.

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