There’s increasing research focused on the value of exercise, from its protection against many chronic illnesses to reducing stress and lengthening telomeres: the DNA structures linked to biological and aesthetical ageing (see SB13/1 p54). Collectively, these numerous studies demonstrate that exercise is one of the biggest contributors to longevity and wellbeing.
This knowledge has encouraged a growth in science-based exercise protocols with measurable health outcomes that make them suitable for spas. Some of the most interesting are focused on high intensity interval training (HIT) – vigorous exercise systems which claim to deliver the same, if not better, results than traditional workouts in a much shorter time (see SB12/4 p84).
Tabata™ is one of the more radical forms of HIT: its four-minute session is designed to get you fitter than an hour’s moderate bike workout. It’s been created by a Japanese scientist, professor Izumi Tabata, who’s collaborated with fitness programme producers Big Shot Productions and global distribution company Universal Pictures Entertainment International to adapt the protocol into a group exercise format and license it to fitness facilities worldwide. The classes, which are also ideal for small group training programmes, debuted in 50 Fitness First clubs in London, UK in September and a US launch is imminent.
With more science coming into exercise, and the public increasingly in-tune with lifestyle and health choices, spas need to make sure their fitness offering is up to date.
Jane Irving, owner of Big Shot Productions, tells us more about Tabata, the exciting new protocol that’s hailed as an “exercise superbrand”
What is Tabata?
Tabata is a clinically proven way to get fit in just four minutes. The protocol consists of 20 seconds of intense exercise followed by 10 seconds of rest, repeated eight times. It’s scientifically proven to be a highly effective way to increase both aerobic and anaerobic fitness.
Where did the idea come from?
The system was developed by a Japanese scientist, professor Tabata, while working as an advisor for the Japanese Olympic speed skating team in the early 1990s. The head coach had developed a training technique that involved the athletes exercising in short bursts of high intensity; professor Tabata was asked to analyse the effectiveness of this training regime. He compared various HIT systems and found this technique to be the best at improving fitness levels.
What’s the science behind it?
Research suggests that just one four-minute workout results in better fitness levels than an hour’s moderate training session on an exercise bike.
Professor Tabata’s original research involved two different trials. The first was conducted among reasonably fit young students majoring in physical education and playing university sport. One group cycled at a moderate speed for an hour and at 70 per cent of their maximal oxygen uptake (VO2 max). Another group took part in the so-called Tabata Protocol: 20 seconds of high intensity exercise, then 10 seconds of rest, repeated eight times and lasting a total of four minutes. This group cycled at 170 per cent of their VO2 max. Both groups carried out their routines five times a week.
By the end of the six-week trial, fitness levels in the four-minute group had improved more markedly than in the hour-long group. Both groups saw an improvement in aerobic fitness, however, while the hour-long group saw no improvement in anaerobic fitness levels, this went up by 28 per cent in the four-minute group.
In a second experiment, he compared the Tabata Protocol with another form of HIT involving 30 seconds of even higher intensity – 200 per cent of VO2 max – with two minutes’ rest in between. Again, the Tabata Protocol improved both aerobic and anaerobic fitness, whereas the other HIT system saw no significant improvement in either measure.
Although the two studies were carried out over a number of weeks, results were actually seen in participants after just one week of doing the Tabata Protocol.
Professor Tabata has also conducted a new experiment – due to be published this year – with results indicating that Tabata continues to burn up to 150 calories in the 12 hours after a workout.
How can spas get involved?
Fitness instructors will be taught by highly qualified Tabata master trainers. This will ensure the protocol can be delivered correctly – while trainers can use the Tabata moves in any order they like, it’s imperative that they don’t adapt them as they’ll no longer bring about the benefits clients want.
No special equipment is required, although there are plans to add small hand weights to the programme at some stage.
This is the first fitness system born in a lab, not a gym. It hasn’t been made up by a fitness instructor or dancer – it’s the result of an internationally renowned scientist’s clinical findings. Professor Tabata has also approved all of the exercises in the programme.
How does the Tabata class work?
The group exercise classes will go on for 20 minutes, but to stay true to the authentic Tabata methodology only four minutes will be all-out. There will also be a 10-minute warm-up – four minutes of mobilisation and then six minutes to run through the Tabata exercises that will follow in the main four-minute section. Finally there will be a six-minute cool-down and stretch.
Two classes could easily be scheduled in the space of one hour, or they could work as an express session in lunch breaks.
Team Tabata has worked for over a year to create exciting new body weight moves for trainers and fitness operators to take back to their clients: moves like the ‘skiva’, which is adapted from capoeira, or the ‘cockroach’, which is a take on primal training.
The key is to make sure these moves are being performed at the correct intensity level to have a true Tabata effect.
Who’s the target market?
Tabata is fast, effective and credible, hence our key message: ‘four-minute fitness, scientifically proven.’ In a time-pressured society, that’s a great hook to get people interested.
The great benefit of Tabata is that people of completely different fitness levels can share a class and reap benefits from it. Team Tabata has developed a system of levels in the workout, with adaptations of exercises to suit beginners as well as advanced clients. Many of the body weight moves, for example, will involve jumping for the fit, but not for the beginner. Every class will have an easier option for less fit participants.
While we’ll focus on rolling out the system in health clubs and gyms, we see no reason why Tabata couldn’t run in spas like any other fitness class – provided that the consumer isn’t expecting a relaxing experience. So maybe operators would like to advise that a session comes before a massage or facial!
Why is Tabata really only now coming to the forefront?
Professor Tabata has never given his backing to an official Tabata exercise system before. Until now, it has just been gyms interpreting his research – and getting it wrong a lot of the time.
He wants to see his clinically proven research used in a way that will really benefit the population. He’s already been approached by the Japanese government to help tackle the obesity epidemic there, and is keen to see Tabata used in other markets too – in the correct way – to help combat this growing global crisis.