And now for something a little different……
At Sneak Punch we aim to promote exercise to get you super ‘Fighting Fit’. Your goal might be to lose weight, tone up, train hard or just learn new techniques. Through boxing fitness training everyone can achieve this.
We are always thinking, researching and listening to the latest theories and developments within the fitness world. Tabata is all the rage at the moment, so we thought a quick run through of what’s what? would help you understand the pros and cons. So keep reading!
TABATA – High Intensity Interval Training – More pain – less time?! Worth the trade-off?
High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) has received a substantial amount of press recently. It’s proponents claim that very short intense workouts – literally a few minutes worth – can provide the same health benefits (improved glucose metabolism, fat burning, aerobic & anaerobic capacity) as traditional longer periods of exercise.
What is Tabata? What is HIIT?
A HIIT session is basically an extreme version of interval training – intense exercise interspersed with less intense exercise. Sounds like interval training as we know it. However, with HIIT the intense bits are really intense – running away from a lion/ survival of the fittest kind of intense. We’re talking Maximum intensity – beyond what you imagined possible. Ok, so we’ve got the idea.
There are many different formulas of HIIT and at this stage no-one seems to know the best combination. A HIIT session can take from 10 to 30 mins depending on your chosen timings and ratios of effort-recovery. So you can see this is a significantly shorter amount of time than a traditional exercise class or training session would normally take.
You may have heard of ‘Tabata’ training in the context of HIIT. Tabata is an exercise ‘protocol’ and early version of HIIT that was developed in Japan by Dr. Izumi Tabata in 1996. During their studies, Tabata et al. (1996) found that as little as 4 minutes of seriously intense exercise improved fitness by the same amount as traditional aerobic training (consisting of running at 70% aerobic capacity (VO2 max) for 60minutes).
The Tabata HIIT routine in this study took a total of 14 minutes, but the actual intense exercise was only 4 mins long! The routine consisted of a 5 min warm-up, 4 mins intense exercise (8 cycles of 20 seconds effort followed by 10 seconds of recovery), finally followed by a 5 min cool down. The Tabata group used this method 4 times a week and the traditional training once a week. The traditional aerobic group did their 60 min running session 5 times a week.
After 6 weeks, the people in the Tabata group had improved their aerobic capacity by 14% and their anaerobic capacity by 28%. The traditional training group improved their aerobic capacity by 9.5%, but reported no change to their anaerobic capacity.
Whilst this may seem incredible, it is important to stress that this study was conducted using professional athletes, namely the Japanese Olympic Speed Skating Team and that the exercises used were incredibly intense. However, the results were significant and and have been widely reported as providing evidence supporting the benefits of HIIT.
Why is this important?
The high interest in HIIT is simple – if it’s possible to achieve the same fitness results with a much quicker workout, this is big news, and could be crucial in our global fight against obesity. Many people feel that they simply don’t have enough time to exercise. If this time factor could be reduced then maybe more people will choose to exercise.
So what is Interval Training and where does Boxing fit into this?
Interval training means just that – exercising with intervals or breaks then starting again. During a fight, boxers don’t literally punch each other non-stop until the bell rings. They move around, shifting their weight and moving their upper and lower body at the same and different times. They may pause – for a split second – then they’re on their toes, stopping, starting, throwing punches, combinations of punches are thrown, received & retaliated. Boxing, and in particular boxing training, could be described as an original kind of interval training – without the label. During boxing training, many different exercises are used, aerobic and anaerobic training is involved, improving the aerobic capacity of the fighters, increasing their endurance strength and also increasing quick-fire muscle power which is necessary in order deliver punches with maximum impact.
Actually being in the ring provides a workout like no other – and is possibly the nearest to a life or death situation that most people could ever possibly experience. In the wild, animals sometimes need to use every ounce of strength, power and speed they have, when hunting prey for example. With Tabata training, like being in a boxing ring – people are trying to emulate this level of output – like they’ve never done before!
HIIT differs greatly to other slower, continuous kinds of exercises, such as running, walking or riding a bike. Running can seem very intense, but for those who are used to it, once the technique is honed and perfected, a runner, for example maintains a steady pace, rather than performing bursts of activity. A runner needs to be able to keep running for a particular period of time, at the same level, without experiencing a burn-out.
HIIT training on the other hand actually strives for that ‘burn-out’ feeling during each cycle! It is the very act of reaching one’s maximum output, then keeping it up for those few more crucial seconds that makes HIIT so hard, yet so effective.
The Science Bit
So How does HIIT work?
HIIT requires maximum effort – or as close to maximum as possible. This means that after a short time of really intense training, the body actually runs out of oxygen and has to switch from normal ‘aerobic’ respiration to ‘anaerobic’ respiration. This happens because the oxygen intake no longer meets the demand from the muscle cells (in terms of energy being provided with the use of oxygen).
Respiration is the way in which the body provides energy for every cell. This process involves the release of energy from glucose. When oxygen is available aerobic respiration takes place. Glucose plus oxygen = energy (plus carbon dioxide & water).
When the oxygen runs out – then our body cleverly switches to another system – anaerobic respiration. This is the production of energy, without the use of oxygen. It isn’t as efficient, but it does the job – for a while at least. Without oxygen the process involves energy being released from the glucose, so this part of the process seems the same as before. However, there is a side effect due to the lack of oxygen. The disadvantage of this system is that lactic acid is produced when the glucose isn’t broken down properly due to the absence of oxygen. As we all know – lactic acid means pain and muscle fatigue and results in an ‘oxygen debt’. This results when the glucose isn’t broken down completely to form Carbon dioxide and water. Instead it produces lactic acid which then needs breaking down with oxygen post-exercise. An increased heart rate after exercise will help the blood carry away the lactic acid to the liver (where it is broken down).
So if there is a large oxygen debt, then the body will have to keep working after the HIIT finishes, to repay this as such. Any extra work needed means more calories burned, even after the exercise has stopped.
Interestingly, a study by King in East Tennessee State University found evidence to support this. King found that in obese Pre-Menopausal women, doing HIIT increased their resting metabolic rate for the following 24 hours, due to the excess post-exercise oxygen consumption. (source – Wikipedia)
Other research into HIIT
In 2008, Gibala et al. found that 2.5 hours of sprint interval training resulted in similar biochemical muscle changes and endurance performance benefits as doing 10.5 hours of traditional endurance training! That is a quarter of the amount of time to get the same results!
Martin Gabala, (Professor of Kinesiology at Mcmaster University in Ontario, Canada) has been researching a lower intensity version of HIIT because for the majority of people, working out at 100% effort might be unachievable.
He developed a modified version of HIIT , which involves working out at approx 90% of maximum heartrate (subtract your age from 220 to get your maximum HR). This lower intensity HIIT involved working out for 1 minute at a time, followed by 1min recovery, – repeated 10 times. Total workout time being 20 minutes.
In this study there were two groups of people – one contained out-of-shape middle-aged men and women, the other had middle aged and older people with cardiovascular disease. They used a stationary bike for their modified lower intensity HIIT workouts, and both groups found significant improvements in their health and fitness. It may seem risky to expect cardiac patients to embrace strenuous exercise of any kind, but Dr MacDonald (associate Professor of Kinesiology at McMaster) said that ‘It appears that the heart is insulated from the intensity……. because the effort is so brief’ (taken from well.blogs.nytimes.com).
Interestingly the cardiac patients actually said they enjoyed their interval training more than longer continuous exercise routines.
Research also suggests that HIIT can improve performance in well-trained athletes. This is important because this can be hard to achieve once a high level of fitness is attained. Driller et.al (2009) found that 4 weeks of HIIT in rowers improved their speed by 2% in just 7 sessions.
It has been suggested that one of the reasons for the effectiveness of HIIT could be that in such intense bursts of activity, 80% of the bodies muscles are used, compared to just 40% during gentle jogging and cycling. (Timmons – Professor of ageing biology at the University of Birmingham – Wikipedia). Traditionally longer workouts have been assumed to be best for burning fat because scientists found this starts to occur after at least 30 minutes of training. HIIT relies on much shorter periods of training, but has been shown to burn fat more effectively (Boucher 2011 – High-intensity intermittent exercise and fat loss – Wikipedia).
In addition to this, research conducted at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh found that HIT training reduced glucose and insulin levels in sedentary men, after just two weeks – much faster than seen from traditional endurance training.
Future for 5:2
So should we all be doing HIIT?
What we have seen is that some scientists have found that HIIT can achieve the same or better results than traditional, longer training, in a significantly reduced amount of time. If this really is true, then it’s rather amazing and could change the way we exercise forever! The reduced time needed for all kinds of HIIT could be its unique selling point for a generation that is time-deprived. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Whilst many studies have shown significant benefits to HIIT programmes, this doesn’t mean we should all stop our current exercise regimes and reduce our workouts to a few minutes a week.
It must be acknowledged that HIIT may not be for everyone, and that vast bodies of research still indicate that moderate exercise a few times a week is a great way of maintaining fitness and encouraging good health. Exercise, in all it’s forms produces ‘feel good factors’ within our bodies and releases positive neurotransmitters in our brain that change how we feel psychologically. Exercise keep us strong and supple as we age, and burns calories whilst encouraging our metabolism to increase. Personally, I think adding a HIIT session (or two) into an existing weekly exercise regime is a great way to see what difference it makes, and experience how it feels to exert such high levels of effort.
In terms of exercising for fat loss, we know that losing weight is achieved by a simple process of consuming less calories than one’s body requires. Maintaining body weight is achieved by eating the right amount of food for the energy required during each day. Eating when hungry and stopping when full is a very basic way of achieving this equilibrium. Exercising does burn calories, of course it does, and maybe HIIT burns more than traditional exercise, but our diets are also crucial to our health and longevity. Many of us are aware that too much sugar, salt and fat can play havoc with our metabolic processes, and maybe reduce our desire and ability to control what we eat.
One scary side effect of eating too much sugar can be a reduced ability to actually recognise when our stomachs are full (sounds simple, but without this basic ability we are on a dangerous road), but I digress – and this really is a topic for another day…….
Right now, we know that exercise is good for our bodies and minds – if we feel good we feel happy, and we can make healthier, better decisions in all aspects of our lives. Our fitness improves, our cardiovascular system works more efficiently, our muscles become stronger and we simply feel better.
If these things can be achieved in less time, albeit with a little more effort and intensity, a fitness revolution may be on our hands. I’d keep that Gym membership going for a little while yet though, go on, you might even enjoy it.
Wikipedia – High Intensity Interval Training. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High-intensity_interval_training
Runners World – HIIT: Train less for better results. Retrieved from
The New York Times – Health/Science. How 1-Minute Intervals Can Improve Your Health. Retrieved from http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/02/15/how-1-minute-intervals-can-improve-our-health/
BBC Website – GCSE Bitesize Science – Fitness and respiration. Retrieved from
The Guardian – Can you get fit in five minutes? by Sam Murphy (June 2012). Retrieved from http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2012/jun/10/can-get-fit-five-minutes
Tabata protocol – how to approach HIIT. Retrieved from http://www.brianmac.co.uk/tabata.htm
Further reading –
Evolution and History of Training – The Volume Versus Intensity Cycle. Source –
Written by Julie Phillips BSc. Member of the SneakPunch Team