Tabata protocol training in the martial arts

This “Tabata protocol training in the martial arts” post can be placed in the “Get off my lawn!” category as I increasingly become a grumpy, old Personal Trainer. Go here to read my previous one.

For years, I’ve seen people claim they do, and worse, actually teach their version of interval training as Tabata protocol. Some people don’t know any better, but others should. Especially if they claim all the benefits of Tabata training, but can never deliver these with what they have you do. Then they’re just ordinary snake oil salesmen. It’s one of the many reasons I dislike the fitness industry I’ve worked in for several decades now:

  • Discover something excellent and effective.
  • Distort it into something it is not.
  • Sell it to people who want to believe there are magical shortcuts.

Unfortunately, the same is true for the martial arts community I’ve been in even longer: people claim they are doing Tabata but they’re not even close. At best, they’re doing some form of high-intensity interval, and though that is worth doing in its own right, that *doesn’t* make it Tabata. In fact, Dr. Tabata has expressed his concern about the incorrect use of his research in the past.

People don’t care…

Tabata protocol training: what it is not.

For the record, none of these videos here below qualify as Tabata training:

None of the exercises are able to generate the intensity required.

Not only lacking intensity but Tabata is a) not a beginner’s protocol and b) not something pregnant women should do. Unless you think risking miscarriage is a good idea…

Not even close to the VO2 max requirements…

Slow-motion kicking… I’ve got nothing.

Leg scissors?  Pointless for Tabata.

Aside from the poor technique: Anything that takes 30min. to complete has cannot be Tabata training by definition.

I could go on and on and show you many more examples, but you get the point.


What is Tabata protocol training?

Short explanation: after a light warm-up of about 10min. you do 7-8 sets of intense exercise with 10sec. rest breaks inbetween.

When it comes to what intense exercise means, an easy rule of thumb to see if something is Tabata protocol or not is:

If they are still standing and can easily talk at the end, it isn’t.

Dr. Tabata used world-class speedskaters and put them on a bicycle for his original test. They were exhausted at the end of it. As in: couldn’t do anything else but try to breathe and recover. None of the people in these videos are in that state, far from it. So all their claims of Tabata protocol are nonsense.

The intensity requirements are clear: approx. 170% of VO2 max. And you have to hit that every single set. Not just in the last one, every single one. That means you push yourself hard for each set, despite the fatigue building up exponentially.

For an idea of what that looks like, check out the last few seconds of my training session here:

To be clear: the reverse-pyramid interval training I do here is not Tabata protocol either. But the point is that none of the people in the above videos are coming anywhere near my level of intensity. So they’re full of it if they claim they’re doing Tabata.

Doesn’t mean that what they’re doing is not worth it. It only means they don’t know what they’re talking about or are lying to you on purpose. Neither one of these is a good thing.



Words matter. Definitions matter. Even if you don’t fully understand or even know them. This applies everywhere.

E.g.: would you buy a car from a manufacturer when their interpretation of “quality control” is to drive the car for a few minutes and if it doesn’t break down, it’s good to go?  I doubt it. “Quality control” means something specific in that industry and you expect that standard to be met when you buy a vehicle.

Why would you expect anything else from coaches, trainers, and teachers?

In my previous rant, I mentioned that I read a lot of studies. Like, tons of them. If you make any claims about Tabata protocol, I suggest you do the same. Start by reading the original research here and here. And then read this overview here. Then at least you will have some basic understanding of what Tabata training actually is and if you even want to use it for your martial arts practice. Perhaps you will even become a better trainer or coach by applying it as originally intended. At the very least, your own training sessions will improve as there is more to Tabata training than just doing the workouts correctly. What’s more, there are many other high-intensity interval protocols that are perhaps more interesting for you and/or your students. So you might end up looking into those as well.

It gives me a small measure of ironic pleasure to finally be able to use one of the most obnoxious things young people say nowadays:

Educate yourself…




Reverse Pyramid Interval Training on the Heavy Bag

I just uploaded my video called “Reverse Pyramid Interval Training on the Heavy Bag”, which is part of the training I’m doing to keep in shape.

I’ve been doing a lot of this type of training lately both in class and by myself. The main reason is that I don’t want to burn out. Here’s why:

As the Tabata Protocol on the heavy bag is my benchmark for my personal conditioning, I need to work on anaerobic conditioning. This is fine, because I enjoy that a lot more than aerobic training. However, doing Tabata too often wipes you out. It’s so intense that you need a long time to recover 100% from it. If you don’t take that time (and especially if you have a high training workload), you head straight into overtraining and injuries. And that’s where I was almost at after four weeks of increasing my training sessions in both volume and intensity.

I felt tired a lot and started having excessive tension in my legs, aches, and other pains. Stretching didn’t help, neither did sleeping more. In other words, I was overdoing it. So I decided to take a different approach. Enter reverse pyramid interval training. The concept is relatively simple:

  • The work-rest ratio is 1:1. This means that each round, you work just as long as you rest.
  • Duration per round starts at 15sec and then you add 5sec every round until you hit one minute. So round one is 15sec work/15 sec rest. Round two is 20sec work/20sec rest. And so on until you do a 1 minute round.
  • Intensity is around 80% of your perceived maximum. Tabata protocol means going at 100%, no holding back. Here, you try to go at around 80%, maybe even 85% of that. If you crank it up more than that, you’ll look like crap after five minutes of working out and then you’re not even halfway through. Now’s not the time to do that this is sub-maximum interval training, not maximum.
  • Be consistent. “Work” means you consistently work as if you’re sparring or actually fighting in the ring or cage. Rest means just that: resting. Personally, I prefer to go relatively easy in the first couple rounds to avoid injuries and I crank it up near the end, but that’s just me. However, I don’t take breaks during the work part, nor do I waste too much time running around the heavy bag. I imagine I’m fighting a tough opponent who keeps me busy.


There are other ways of doing this type of interval training but this is the way I like to do it. Here’s what it looks like: [Read more…]