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slow and steady or 4 minutes Tabata high speed?

O.K. so I read that article Greenlegs posted (oh isn't Greenlegs brilliant by the way) about how we all might be going too fast and it really resonated with me. I realized I'm usually trying to push myself, and judge each run by looking at my average pace and feel like I've failed if it's lower than usual. So I tried running at easy pace and it was - well - easy - and I thought - light bulb moment! this makes perfect sense. Got home from a run, showered, made a coffee, picked up the paper and....... there's an article saying exactly the opposite.

A scientist called Izumi Tabata has done studies that show VERY high intensity for 4 minutes a day gets you fitter than much longer spells of less intense exercise (for runners this would translate to interval training where you did 8 x 20 secs sprint as hard as you can with 10 second rests in between). And it basically says high intensity means really high - if you're not feeling completely done in you're not doing it right.

OK so where does that leave me - apart from confused? Well curious mostly. Have any of you tried it? Presumably the downside would be injury risk, but does it get you fitter than slow and steady? Is there a difference between fitness and staying power? Thoughts please!

8 Replies

Yes, I read that (or a similar article) too - it's here for those interested - guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle...

Prof Tabata says though it's very intense. "If you feel OK afterwards you've not done it properly."

So for those getting back into exercise it would seem to me to be much too intense. But if you are healthy and fit and up for it then I'd be tempted.


Yes, HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) as it's called has been known to have very positive affects on fitness. There was a documentary (Horizon, maybe?) about it on the telly about two years ago.

However, although HIIT will increase your fitness, it will not condition your body for running for longer/further. For that you need to run for longer - slowly. That why many of us graduates doe a mix of runs each week, including one intervals training session and a long, slow run as well as steady (5K pace) runs.

Some of us also use other activities for our hit of HIIT. I know some here do intervals training in the swimming pool and I follow a sprint interval training plan on the exercise bike; yes, just 4 mins of very fast pedalling a day. (I actually found the training plan on a weight training site)

Further to the initial research on HIIT, I shared a link here a few months ago where researchers from Stirling University had reported that the optimum training schedule to improve performance consisted of a weekly ratio of 80% steady/slow exercise: 20% HIIT.


This seems to be a variation on HIT. There are two main versions of this - High-intensity Interval Training (HIT) and Reduced Exertion High-intensity Interval Training (REHIT). The REHIT system was the subject of a Horizon programme by Michael Mosely last year, and it got a lot of interest.

HIT is "a training model involving a series of 30-s ‘all-out’ cycling sprints (i.e. Wingate sprints) with 4 min of rest/recovery between each bout, that may provide a time-efficient strategy for inducing adaptations that are similar to traditional cardiorespiratory training"

REHIT is essentially the same, but the exercise in the study was compressed into 3 x 10 minute session per week (including warm-up!). The subjects undertook one print in their first session then three sprints in all other sessions. The duration of the sprints increased from 10 s in week 1, to 15 s in weeks 2 and 3, and 20 s in the final 3 weeks.

The end result was that the subjects in the REHIT programme achieved essentially the same benefits as those in the HIT programme. But they obviously did it within a much reduced period of time. The conclusion was that REHIT might be a good way to give busy people the benefits of exercise while getting round the main objection to exercise - that people just don't have time to do it. Having read the REHIT paper, though, I have my doubts - the number of people in the study was quite small and there were big differences between men and women which were explained away using dubious logic.

For more informaition on HIT, search for Gibala et al. 2006; Burgomaster et al. 2005, 2007, 2008; Rakobowchuk et al. 2008; Trilk et al. 2010. The REHIT study should also be online - look for "Towards the minimal amount of exercise for improving metabolic health: beneficial effects of reduced-exertion high-intensity interval training" by Metcalfe, Babraj, Fawkner & Vollard (although some of these spellings look wrong, they are correct).

Reading the papers can be heavy going but if you want the real story, there's no substitute for hearing it from the horses' mouths.

Hope that helps.


Oh, this is such a good site! I might do a lot of blogging, but I certainly don't know it all. But I'll accept being brilliant, thank you! :)

landesman, swanscot and malcy, thanks for all the extra information.

I've had a quick read of the guardian article, but it doesn't seem to say anything about the possibility of injury (or heart-attack!) or about older unfit people starting up with exercise, unless I missed that. Just had a quick look at the REHIT paper and that was with ''healthy but sedentary young men and women" - and only 29 of them. So maybe not so relevant to all of us? Very interesting though.


Good point greenlegs, I read the Guardian article & thought it sounded pretty much like the wisdom behind intervals, but can understand older/unfit people being wary of the high intensity.

Personally I am whacked after intervals but stick with them because I'm convinced they make my easy pace distance run easier. I don't actually want fat burning which is what this article seems to focus on (I tend towards low bmi) so whether it's a good idea for me I don't know.


Hi again

I think the weakness of all these methods (at least for those of us who run) is that, because it's short term high intensity, the benefits are all about getting as much oxygen through the sytem and presumably this results in a stronger heart etc. Running any kind of a distance doesn't depend on this so much as the ability to continue processing our energy at a lower intensity, but consistently over a longer period. We also need to build strength in our muscles and I guess the tendons etc. that give us problems if we start doing too much too soon. So it's a very different type of exercise that shares only some attributes.

I saaw the note about what some people are calling "afterburn" - "the Tabata protocol burns an extra 150 calories in the 12 hours after exercise, even at rest, due to the effect of excess post-exercise oxygen consumption. So while it is used by most people to get fit – or by fit people to get even fitter – it also burns fat." We runners benefit from this too, but not to the same extent. On the other hand, our type of exercise causes micro-tears in our muscles, etc. and these are healed in our rest days. That takes calories and thus we get the same "afterburn" effect.

I'm not a scientist in this area but .... isn't all this fascinating?


> I'm not a scientist in this area but .... isn't all this fascinating?

Yes, it is isn't it. This is the media report of the research I mentioned, but I haven't found the research paper on the net.


As with the other research it appears they only used small numbers of test subjects, but I'm quite happy to go along with this conclusion:

"We would suggest that, while high intensity is still important, it's the combination with low intensity which has the biggest impact."

It suits me, so I believe it! ;-)


I did HIIT last summer (well my version of it) I did it in the swimming pool and out running. By the end of August I had never been fitter in my life, I'm 63 this year!!

Swimming = warm up for 10 lengths

1 length as fast as I could (flat out)

2 lengths recovery (1 x breast stroke, 1 x front crawl)

3 faster front crawl but not sprint speed.

Then repeated this 4 length routine for as long as I could 6 - 8 times.

Finished with 5 - 10 lengths cool down.

Running I used lamp posts. After warm up of 5 minutes I sprinted to 1, then recovery run for 2.

Repeated for as long as I could, building up to 6-8 sprints in total, 5 minutes cool down.

Mixing this routine with one longer run and one hill work I went on to cover 10K in 1:06:38 (I think was my best time).

HIIT is fun, it can be short sprints or longer as you improve I also found it was best done on a flat route for obvious reasons. Its a workout that gives you a real feel good factor and sense of achievement at the end of it.


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