Dr. Tabata Meets the Russians

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Tabata Squats
  Rest 1 minute
50 Kettlebell Swings for time
Rest 1 minute
Tabata Squats

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In 1996, Dr. Izumi Tabata published the results of a study demonstrating, with speed skaters, that the aerobic and anaerobic pathways could be trained simultaneously (Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise 28). This was a significant finding, as most authorities had regarded the two pathways—and training for them—as compartmentalized. Aerobic training was largely long slow distance (LSD) work, and anaerobic training was typically regarded as some hard-to-measure dark component left to the explosion sports. 
Dr. Tabata examined several different protocols but settled on 8 sets of 20-second work intervals alternating with 10-second rest intervals as the most effective interval times for improving VO2 max. In the original study the intervals were performed at a quantifiable 170% of VO2 max. (Just think max effort.) In the field, where measurements are more subjective, the effort should be such that on the 8th set the trainee is nearing exhaustion. In the original study, the test subjects doing 4-minute “Tabata” intervals saw greater VO2 max improvement than the control group that did 60-minute sessions of moderate intensity exercise. Moreover, as Greg Glassman points out, these high-intensity efforts produce this dramatic aerobic benefit without the muscle wasting brought about by endurance training.
Dr. Tabata’s research tested subjects on stationary bikes, but in the CrossFit world his protocol is  applied to all variety of functional movements. The Tabata protocol is applied to exercises including squats, pull-ups, push-ups, sit-ups, rowing, and dumbbell moves.
We generally score Tabata intervals based on the lowest number of reps completed in any one of the eight 20-second work intervals. (For more on Tabata intervals and their relevance to aerobic  conditioning, see Glassman’s article “Metabolic Conditioning
” from the June 2003 issue of the CrossFit Journal.)   (this excerpt from CrossFit Journal #63, Dr. Tabata and the Dumbbell)

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Welcome to CrossFit, Mark!