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Research Review: Tabata Revisited and the Reality of Core Training

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Chris Beardsley is a co-founder of Strength and Conditioning Research, a monthly publication that summarizes the latest fitness research for strength and sports coaches, personal trainers, and athletes. The views expressed herein are his and are based on the studies in the publication.

The fitness industry can be a confusing place, with many experts providing conflicting opinions. Scientific research is our best shot at providing objective and effective approaches to fitness. Studies likes these are essential reading for all strength and sports coaches, personal trainers, and dedicated athletes.

Strength and Conditioning Research is a monthly review service that covers new and interesting scientific studies on fitness topics. The studies included help answer difficult questions about optimal fitness, training, and body transformation.

Here are the summarized results of three recent studies that were covered in the review along with what these results mean for you.

Strength Training Improves Endurance Cycling Performance

Recently, a group of researchers led by Ernst Hansen from Norway found that strength training improves the 5-minute time-trial performance at the end of a long ride in national-standard competitive cyclists [1].

What did the researchers do?

Several studies have recently confirmed that strength training can be included in endurance-training programs without causing any interference to endurance sports performance in untrained and recreationally trained individuals. However, these researchers wanted to see whether strength training could benefit the endurance performance of national-level cyclists.

To study this, the researchers recruited 20 Norwegian national-level cyclists who had not performed any strength training in the previous six months. The subjects were divided into two groups: a strength-training group and a control group. The strength-training group performed 12 weeks of strength training in addition to their normal endurance training while the control group continued with their normal endurance training.

The exercises used in the strength-training program were the partial squat, a single-leg leg press, a single-leg hip flexion movement and an ankle plantar flexion movement. The program involved two workouts per week, using a periodized program that reduced volume and increased intensity from 10RM to 4RM.

What happened?

The researchers reported that average power output in the strength-training group increased by 7.3 percent, whereas the power output of the control group actually decreased, as shown in the chart below. Meanwhile, VO2-max remained constant.

What did the researchers conclude?

The researchers concluded that strength training led to an increase in pedaling efficiency and 5-minute time trial performance in well-trained cyclists as part of a concurrent training program.

What does it mean for you?

If you’re a competitive cyclist or triathlete and you feel your recovery can cope with two lower-body resistance-training sessions a week, a well-designed strength-training program could make a big difference.

Tabata Revisited: Is It the Solution to Quick All-Around Fitness?

A group of researchers led by Gill McRae from Queen’s University in Kingston, Canada recently revisited the Tabata protocol, using 8 sets of 20-second intervals with 10 seconds of rest in between to develop both aerobic and anaerobic fitness [2].

What’s the background?

In 1996, a researcher named Tabata performed an extremely low volume, high-intensity training protocol that was found to improve both aerobic and anaerobic fitness using very short workouts. Although his discoveries rocked the fitness community and led to many imitations, his experiments were not repeated until now.

While Tabata performed his protocol using a stationary bike, McRae et al. branched out and used a variety of exercises, including calisthenics or circuit-training made up of burpees, mountain climbers, jumping jacks, and squat and thrusts using a 2.25 kg dumbbell.

What did the researchers do?

The researchers recruited 25 recreationally active female students and divided them into three groups: an endurance group, the Tabata group, and a control group. The endurance group performed 30 minutes of treadmill running at around 85 percent of maximal heart rate, 4 days per week for 4 weeks. The Tabata group performed calisthenics or circuit-training in 8 intervals of 20-seconds separated by 10 seconds of rest, 4 times per week, using one exercise for each 4-minute session.

Before and after the 4-week period, the researchers measured muscular endurance (using various machine exercises and calisthenics) and aerobic capacity using two different incline treadmill tests.

What happened?

The researchers found that after the intervention, both exercise groups improved their time to fatigue during the aerobic treadmill test, both groups improved their VO2-max by 7-8 percent, and both groups improved on the muscular endurance tests, although the Tabata group improved in more of them.

What did the researchers conclude?

The researchers concluded that 4 days per week of whole body, Tabata-style training led to similar improvements in VO2-max and greater improvements in muscular endurance than traditional endurance training, despite each session only taking 4 minutes to perform instead of 30 minutes.

What does this mean for you?

Whole body, Tabata-style training lasting 4 minutes can lead to similar improvements in VO2-max and greater improvements in muscular endurance than 30 minutes of traditional endurance training. If you’re short of time, the Tabata protocol could be just what you need.

Core Training Improves Some Strength Exercises But Not Sports Performance

Recently, some researchers from the University of Southern Maine, led by Jim Schilling, found that two different core-training programs improved performance in other resistance training exercises but not in jumping or sprinting.

What did the researchers do?

The researchers wanted to investigate whether core training could influence upper or lower body strength, or jumping and sprinting performance measures. They also wanted to see whether traditional core exercises like sit-ups produced different results from more modern, static exercises like planks.

So they recruited 10 untrained college students and randomly assigned them to either a traditional core-training group or a modern core-training group.  Both groups then performed three exercises, twice a week for six weeks. The traditional group performed the bent knee sit-up, the cross curl-up and the trunk extension. The modern group used the curl-up, side-bridge and bird dog exercises.

Before and after the 6-week core-training programs, the subjects performed a vertical jump test, a pro agility test, a 10-yard sprint, a maximum strength machine bench press, a maximum strength machine back squat and three core endurance tests

What happened?

The researchers found that neither core-training group improved in any measure of sports performance, including the vertical jump, pro agility run, and 10-yard dash. However, each group improved some of the core endurance exercises, as you might expect, plus one of the strength measures, as the chart below shows.

What did the researchers conclude?

The researchers concluded that core training does not improve jumping, agility, and sprinting performance, although it can improve some measures of upper or lower body strength, depending on the exercises used.

What does it mean for you?

If you want to improve your bench press or squat performance, don’t neglect core training. However, don’t trust core training to help improve your jumping or sprinting for sports.

Will these findings impact your approach to fitness? Share in the comments below, and check out the latest from Strength and Conditioning Research!

Works Cited

  1. Cyclists Improve Pedalling Efficacy and Performance After Heavy Strength Training. Hansen EA, Rønnestad BR, Vegge G, et al. Center for Sensory-Motor Interaction (SMI), Department of Health Science and Technology, Aalborg University, Denmark. Int J Sports Physiol Perform. 2011 Dec 2.
  2. Extremely low volume, whole-body aerobic-resistance training improves aerobic fitness and muscular endurance in females. McRae G, Payne A, Zelt JG, et al. School of Kinesiology and Health Studies, Queen's University. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2012 Sep 20.