In the past month much of the MidStrong community, whether online or local, did a workout known as a Tabata. Sort of a funny name, huh?

Whenever a Tabata shows up in our programming, we often hear a bit of grumbling and occasional cursing.

“This sucks!”

Tabata’s often elicit that sort of praise and feedback.

Indeed, Tabata’s, and other Metabolic Monday workouts like them, often do suck… as in suck the air right out of your lungs! Haha!

They are hard. They’re intense.

But, that’s the point. They are meant to be!

High Intensity Interval Training

Our Metabolic Monday style of workouts are derived from a methodology called High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). For several years, HIIT training has been all the rage, wildly popular with trainers and in gyms all over the world, garnering volumes of articles in popular fitness publications.

For good reason. They are effective. They work. Really, really well.

Some might even argue that it’s THE most effective, and efficient, methodology to improve our overall fitness.

Had you heard of Dr. Tabata, before?

You may not be familiar with the eminent Japanese scientist, but at some point you will probably encounter his work in our workout programming.

The Research…

Dr. Tabata published a small study in 1996 that compared two groups of elite athletes using two rather different exercise methods. The first group, the control, did moderate intensity endurance training for 60 min on a stationary bike, five days per week for six weeks. The second group, the study cohort, instead did short but very intense bursts at maximal level of effort for 20 seconds, followed by 10 seconds of rest. They did 7-8 of those intervals of 20/10, like the control group, five days per week for six weeks.

Dr. Tabata’s findings were revolutionary. They turned the mainstream fitness industry on its head.

Prior to this, there was a great deal of interest and belief in the efficacy of long periods of steady-state cardio. Typically, these involved relatively long periods of time on stationary cardio machines, like treadmills, bikes, and ellipticals. The usual prescription was for at least 30 minutes at a moderate level of intensity, often in what was considered the “fat burning zone”, which was about 60% of our max heart rate. You still see vestiges of that pervasive “fat burning zone” myth on practically every standard piece of cardio equipment. And why wouldn’t you??? It helped to sell millions of cardio machines throughout every gym in the world.

The Big Discovery

What Dr Tabata’s research discovered that was so stunning was that an exercise protocol that included a total of four minutes of intense effort produced the same aerobic conditioning (cardio) as an hour of steady-state effort at moderate intensity.

Also rather interesting were the findings that the short-burst high-intensity protocol improved anaerobic capacity (exercise in a state of inadequate oxygen for cellular level energy production) too, while the steady-state moderate effort did not.

So, what’s it all mean?

Translating all that sciencey sounding jargon…

When we do short bursts of very high intensity exercise, with intermittent rest intervals, we gain as much and more than long periods of traditional “cardio” style exercise.

Which begs the question, why would we want to spend an hour on an elliptical or a treadmill, if we can get the same benefit and likely quite a bit more in about 20% of the time? Seems like a pretty straightforward choice to me.

But, allow me to clarify something… there’s nothing “wrong” with steady-state cardio training or using treadmills and other machines like them. It’s neither good nor bad. It’s just a different approach. You may find that it works for you. Excellent!

Now, if you’re a runner or some other sort of endurance athlete, it’s actually necessary to train with long periods at moderate intensity in order to prepare for competitions.

Dr. Tabata’s original study only compared the two groups’ aerobic and anaerobic conditioning. Since that landmark publication, a deluge of other research has corroborated and expanded upon the value of HIIT training.

Here are a few of the additional benefits conferred by HIIT:

  • We burn more calories during and after our workouts than steady-state cardio. There’s a lot of sciencey jargon like EPOC, excess post-exercise oxygen consumption, that explains this. It is sometimes referred to as the “afterburn effect.” If you’re interested in learning more, please reach out and I’ll explain in more depth.
  • HIIT induces the secretion of helpful hormones such as Human Growth Hormone and Testosterone that not only make us stronger, slow the aging process, and add lean muscle mass, but also help metabolize fat faster.
  • It helps to better manage our blood glucose levels. Good news for those who are living with metabolic syndromes.
  • Higher intensity intervals increase our muscular endurance, or what’s often referred to as “stamina”, better than traditional cardio.
  • Some recent research from the Mayo Clinic suggests that HIIT can reverse signs of cellular aging. This occurs through improved production and synthesis of proteins which in turn can slow certain of the typical  aspects associated with aging.
  • A recent study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology, found that people living with Parkinson’s Disease saw improvements in strength, muscle size and power, balance and muscle control, and also saw improvement in cognition, mood and sense of well-being.

Hence Metabolic Monday’s

It’s no wonder why we always kick off every week with Metabolic Monday and why Dr. Tabata’s handiwork cycles through our regular programming! The benefits of high intensity training are numerous and pronounced.

If any of this piques your interest and you’d like to learn more, please touch base with me. If you’re not currently working with us at MidStrong and any of the above enumerated advantages seem like something that you’d like to pursue, we would consider it a privilege to work with you. Just give us a call at 508-329-1163 and we’d be happy to set up a private consultation with you to see if we’d be the right fit for your fitness goals.

Works cited:

  1. Kelly, Neil, et. al. (2018). Effects of aging and Parkinson’s disease on motor unit remodeling: influence of resistance exercise training. J Appl Physiol. 2018 Apr 1;124(4):888-898. doi: 10.1152/japplphysiol.00563.2017. Epub 2017 Dec 21.
  2. Paoli, A., et. al. High-Intensity Interval Resistance Training (HIRT) influences resting energy expenditure and respiratory ratio in non-dieting individuals. Journal of Translational Medicine. 2012-10:237
  3. Tabata I., et. al. (1996). Effects of moderate-intensity endurance and high-intensity intermittent training on anaerobic capacity and VO2 Max.” Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1996 Oct;28(10):1327-30.


Paul Reilly

Paul is the Owner and Founder of MidStrong. He created MidStrong in 2017 to train men and women in midlife who are busy with work and family to build muscle and burn fat so they can look and feel better than they did in their 20’s. MidStrong is making Functional Fitness training safe and fun, and inclusive. He and his wife, Julie also own and operate MidStrong locally, their bricks and mortar business, previously called ACCELERATED Strength & Balance. It is a boutique fitness center specializing in training folks in and around Westborough through the challenges of midlife for more than five years.