Q: Hi Kat. Do you ever incorporate Tabata into your Kettlebell training? I’ve recently added KB swings with this protocol. Great for increasing VO2 max .
A: Hi Andy,
I have used Tabata before. Mainly because I had to, back in the CrossFit days, and also because I didn’t know any better as a trainer. I don’t use it now, and especially not with kettlebells.
Tabata, when done correctly, is very high intensity protocol (170% of VO2 Max intensity for 20 seconds, times 8!), majority of movements people use for Tabata (swings, burpees, squats etc) are not appropriate as they don’t generate enough intensity.
Tabata also allows very little recovery after all that intensity, its work:rest ratio being 1:0.5 which makes it extremely fatigue-inducing. As a comparison, a regular interval training work:rest ratio is 1:3 or 1:2, at most 1:1, with intensity dropping as rest decreases. Sprint training, which is very high intensity, has at the very least 1:5 work:rest ratio, often more.
This combination of high intensity and little recovery lead to a rapid accumulation of fatigue and lactic acid, which together interfere greatly with the quality of movement. This, when combined with complex movements can lead to injury or the formation of dysfunctional movement habits. You can often witness this deterioration among people who do bootcamp and Crossfit, where Tabata features a lot.
Since kettlebells involve complex motor skills, and I value quality of movement very highly, I don’t use Tabata with kettlebells.
Instead, to improve one’s conditioning, I recommend:
– running, 20-30 minutes 1-3 times per week is enough
– sprints (with 1:5 or more work:rest ratio), or hill sprints which are safer on the knees and better for glute strength, once every 7-10 days
– hiking, once or twice per week for a couple of hours, preferably with a backpack and on hilly terrain.
– kettlebell EMOMs and complexes, 1-3 times per week
– regular interval training (1:1 to 1:2 work:rest ratio).
Those options are just as good at increasing VO2 max while maintaining technique integrity, are less risky, less exhausting and more sustainable in the long run.
My personal preference is that I’m not into high intensity training in general, as I don’t like to suffer 🤪 However, I know many people who do and while I would still recommend the alternative methods above, the Tabata protocol might be useful for the more… erm … masochistic individuals, in small doses.
So, for that, I would recommend using simple cyclical ‘cardio’ exercises like jump rope, stationary bike, rower etc so as to avoid the fallout from technique breakdown and achieve necessary intensity.
I hope this helps!