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I came across this article while searching for workout tips, with the main claim being:

This training method is so simple, yet so incredibly difficult, that athletes tend to try it once, acknowledge its greatness, and then vow to never speak its name again. What is it? It's simple: take one exercise and perform it in the following manner:

1) For twenty seconds, do as many repetitions as possible.

2) Rest for ten seconds

3) Repeat seven more times!

That's it! You're done in four minutes! Oh, and that thing you're trying to brush off your face? That would be the floor.

When I looked for the original claims, I found this paper by Tabata et al, with the abstract claiming:

...this study showed that moderate-intensity aerobic training that improves the maximal aerobic power does not change anaerobic capacity and that adequate high-intensity intermittent training may improve both anaerobic and aerobic energy supplying systems significantly, probably through imposing intensive stimuli on both systems.

However, the number of subjects for the study were 7. A later study published in 1997 by the same group showed the 20s/10s protocol was effective, but now with N=9:

IE1 consisted of one set of 6-7 bouts of 20-s exercise at an intensity of approximately 170% of the subject's maximal oxygen uptake (˙VO2max) with a 10-s rest between each bout. ... this study showed that intermittent exercise defined by the IE1 protocol may tax both the anaerobic and aerobic energy releasing systems almost maximally.

Is this a generally effective exercising technique? Have there been studies where N is at least greater than 10 showing it?

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Are you asking if it's "generally effective" (because that's trivial) or that it's "more effective than other forms of exercise" (which is a much stronger claim)? Or are you just looking for studies with larger N? –  Dave Liepmann Apr 24 '12 at 2:46
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This exercise describes interval training. The claim that it is so incredibly difficult that athletes try it just once is incredible hyperbole. Interval training (in a myriad forms) is a popular method of increasing performance and fitness that is used by athletes everywhere, throughout their careers. Those who balk after one time are not really athletes. –  Kaz Apr 24 '12 at 2:53
    
The question is, is this particular kind of interval training (20s,10s, for 4 minutes) effective interval training? Other interval training techniques suggest longer training regimens (according to wikipedia (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interval_training)), so is this shorter one as (or more) effective at building aerobic and anaerobic ability? ie, should I be doing this? –  mmr Apr 24 '12 at 3:10
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Better for what? It is effective, but as always depends on your goals. –  Wayne In Yak Apr 27 '12 at 19:50
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migrated from skeptics.stackexchange.com Apr 26 '12 at 21:41

This question came from our site for scientific skepticism.

2 Answers

Wikipedia has a great article with some good studies referenced about High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). Tabata is a form of HIIT. It's very close in method to "Fight Gone Bad", which has a high popularity among several UFC fighters.

According to the Wikipedia article, HIIT burns fat more effectively than long aerobic workouts. It also cites studies showing that 2.5 hours of sprint interval training have similar benefits in endurance and bio-mechanical muscle changes as 10.5 hours of endurance training.

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If we take Tabatas specifically, I'm not sure there's been anything large studied showing 20/10 to be superior to other methods of HIIT. I think the Tabata name is a red herring though, as interval training was done long before Tabata conducted his study, and if you look at the history he didn't discover anything new. So the 20 seconds on, 10 seconds off isn't a magical number or ratio, it was selected to keep the study controlled. More than half a century ago, several track and field world records were set by athletes using high intensity interval training. I'm lead to believe Lance Armstrong also does interval training. I'd think its use by some of the world's best athletes for at least the past 75 years would be more of an endorsement than a study involving even 50 or 100 people. I'm not sure about doing exclusively HIIT, but I think it's a safe bet that including it in your training regimen is better than not including it.

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