Tabata Workouts for High School Athletes

What is Tabata Training?

If you are looking for a fast and efficient way to train for endurance, look no further than Tabata training.  Tabata workouts are an ideal way to get a very intense training session is a short amount of time.

Dr. Izumi Tabata is credited with developing the tabata protocol while researching the effects of differing work-rest ratios.  His research for Japan’s National Institute of Fitness and Sports concluded that repeated intervals (6-8x) performed for 20 seconds at maximal effort, followed by 10 seconds of rest was optimal for develping improvements in both aerobic and anaerobic capacity.

Tabata workouts follow this structure:

  • Set/Interval 1 : 20 seconds
  • Rest: 10 seconds
  • Set/Interval 2: 20 seconds
  • Rest: 10 seconds
  • Set/Interval 3: 20 seconds
  • Rest: 10 seconds
  • Set/Interval 4: 20 seconds
  • Rest: 10 seconds
  • Set/Interval 5: 20 seconds
  • Rest: 10 seconds
  • Set/Interval 6: 20 seconds
  • Rest: 10 seconds
  • Set/Interval 7: 20 seconds
  • Rest: 10 seconds
  • Set/Interval 8: 20 seconds
  • Rest: 10 seconds

If you do the math, that ends of being 8 sets in four minutes!  When I use Tabata workouts with my athletes and teams, I will give a short break after the first completed segment. Afterward, I switch to a different exercise for the next segment.  We usually do four different segments in a full workout.

Adding Tabata Workouts to Your Program

Exercise Selection

The beauty of this workout, is that any mode of exercise or movement can be used for this protocol – cardio or weighted resistance.  Anything can work, as long as you are going as hard as you can for those 20-second intervals.

Examples of cardiovascular exercises could be sprints, any cardio machine like a bike or rower, jump rope, line jumps, or even jumping jacks.  Any weight training exercise can be used so long as the weight is kept extremely light.  Even 30% of a 1-rep max will be getting difficult partway through.  Easier bodyweight exercises, like inverted rows or bench push-ups, will work too.  TRX suspension systems also are a very good option for Tabata workouts.  To summarize, pick movements than can be easily repeated with quality technique.  Your athletes will be performing a lot of reps so it’s important to ensure you’re not sacrificing form for intensity!

When choosing four exercises to use, I try to mix up exercise types and muscles groups that are being used.  The Tabata protocol is very intense and very taxing.  When one 4-minute segment is completed, it will be almost impossible to do a second exercise or movement that uses the same muscle groups because of the high fatigue levels.

Here is how I usually break up my Tabata workouts:

  • Legs: back squat, goblet squat, sandbag squat, lunges, step-ups, or deadlifts.
  • Upper Body Press: bench press, bench push-ups, TRX push-ups, or standing shoulder press.
  • Jumps: line jumps, tuck jumps, hurdle hops, or squat jumps.
  • Upper Body Pull: inverted rows, TRX rows, band face pulls, or upright rows.
  • Other exercises that I have used that work well: DB lateral raises, DB bicep curl to overhead press, planks, med ball slams, bar hangs, plate stacking, DB/KB swings.  Using these replace something that is listed above.

Breaking Down

I’ve found there are two excellent methods for running your team through a Tabata workout.

  1. All athletes performing the same exercise: If there is enough of one type of equipment, then I will have the entire team doing the same exercise at the same time.  When set #8 is completed, then they will all switch to the next exercise on the list.
  2. Separating athletes into stations: If I have a large team and we are limited by equipment (racks, benches, bars, etc) then I will split the team up into four different groups.  Each group will start at a different station. When they’ve completed 8 rounds (4 minutes) at one station, they’ll move on to the next station. When all is said and done all athletes get all four stations and a great workout in less than 20 minutes of workout time!

Here’s an example of a large group in our weight room using the station protocol.

I highly recommend including Tabata workouts every once in a while for a great change of pace from your regular workout program.  The options are limitless and it’s a great way to add in a new and unique endurance workout, every time that you do it.

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