TabataAim of Session

Multiple 15s efforts at MMP, ideal session for developing aerobic and anerobic ability in preparation for MTB, criterium and cyclocross racing.

Session description

WU: 15 minutes zone 2, included in session time

MS: Repeated 15s hard / 15s easy. Performed in blocks (start with 10 minutes, progressing to 20 minute blocks with training). 10 min spin between blocks.

CD: 15 minutes zone 2, included in session time


Research by Tabata and colleagues found that this workout requires an athlete to work at ~170% of their VO2max power. The session hits 3 important areas of physiology: firstly, the systems controlling oxygen uptake are switched on at the onset of exercise; secondly, the time lag between the onset of exercise and aerobic system kicking in leads to high accumulated oxygen deficit across the blocks; thirdly, the high peak powers in each 'sprint' means high torque requirements and therefore recruitment of a high number of muscle fibres. The research on this training has shown significant improvements to both aerobic and anaerobic fitness: VO2max increasing by 10% and anaerobic capacity by 28% over a 6 week training intervention. An additional, often forgotten benefit of high intensity training of this type is the associated higher metabolic rate post training (compared to more steady, continuous training).

Application for the Rider

The appeal of these Tabata intervals is that they are very effective and do not take a long time at all - indeed, in the original research, the Tabata sessions equated to 2 hours of training per week compared to 30 hours carried out by the research control group. The downside is that they are very hard work and it takes a highly motivated athlete to work at the high levels of intensity required! The most important factor for the athlete to keep in mind is that this session is all about applying training stress - do not worry if you see the peak powers dropping across the block - it is about going for maximum each 15s, even if the powers are slipping, you are still applying stress to the system.

Practicalities and tips!

  • This is a session best done on the turbo - in the main, because you need a consistent effort without disruption
  • You may want to set a timer to beep at you each 15s (so you know when to start, stop)
  • If completing on the turbo, keep your bike in the same gear and between 15s efforts, pedal backwards - this saves you changing gear (which takes time) but prevents the blood from pooling in the legs. Maintained blood flow will help recovery between efforts.

Evaluation of the session

  • Look at the spikes in power - were you committing fully to each 15s effort? How high were the peaks relative to your last measured maximal minute power (MMP)?
  • How did the peak power change across the block? Across multiple blocks?
  • What was the average power of the blocks? Where did the average power fall in comparison to race pace powers?
  • What was the peak heart rate in each block? Was it a steady heart rate? Or, did it continue to ride across each block?
  • What was your peak cadence in the efforts? Was the gear you used appropriate for the session? i.e. maximising peak sprint powers?