Workouts

20 Seconds to Triathlon Fitness

Add Tabata intervals to your swim, bike, and run workouts for a boost.

Plugging away at a moderate pace in the pool won’t make you any faster, and neither will leisurely rides or runs. To get faster, you’ve got to go faster – 20 seconds at a time.

Tabata training, developed by researcher Izumi Tabata at the National Institute of Fitness and Sports in Tokyo, alternates between 20-second intervals performed at maximum effort with 10-second rest periods. By compressing intense effort into bite-sized pieces, an athlete can boost performance in more manageable fashion.

“Athletes love efficiency and results,” says Mike Volkmar, strength and conditioning coach and author of The Tabata Workout Handbook. “The Tabata program, in only 16 minutes, will push your body to its limits to get the results you want while avoiding stress-based injuries and unwanted setbacks.”

Unlike other High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) workouts, which can vary widely in the duration of work and rest, Tabata uses the same rules, regardless of activity. A Tabata interval is always 20 seconds of maximum effort, followed by 10 seconds of active rest, repeated 8 times. Commonly, Tabata workouts combine four exercises for a total workout time of 16 minutes. The simplicity of Tabata is its biggest appeal, as there are no complex intervals to remember in the pool or during a run.

The key to a successful Tabata workout is intensity, not duration. The objective is to put forth a true “maximum” effort for each 20-second interval. A person should not be able to sustain the effort intervals for more than the allotted 16-minute time frame.

But when done correctly, those 16 minute workouts provide athletes with a host of benefits: Researchers have found Tabata workouts yield greater anaerobic fitness, increased endurance, and improved VO2 max for athletes at all levels, from beginner to elite.

Tabata Workouts for Triathletes

Developed by Michael Volkmar, author of The Tabata Workout Handbook, Volume 2 

Tabata for Cyclists
“This 16-minute set combines full body strength, treadmill sprints, and bike sprints for appropriate cross-training,” says Volkmar.

Warm-Up:
2 sets of 15 reps for each exercise

Exercise 1: Overhead Squat
Exercise 2: Active Kneeling Hip/Quad Stretch
Exercise 3: Downward Dog Push-Ups

Tabata Workout
Working at maximum capacity, exercise intensely for 20 seconds. Active rest for 10 seconds. Repeat each exercise interval 8 times before moving to the next exercise in the workout.

Dumbbell Walking Lunges
Incline Treadmill Sprint
DB Incline Bench Press
Trainer/Stationary Bike 

Aquatic Tabata
“This Tabata set combines power, conditioning, and upper-body strength both in the water and on the pool deck,” says Volkmar. 

Warm-Up:
500 yards

Tabata Workout:
Working at maximum capacity, exercise intensely for 20 seconds. Active rest for 10 seconds. Repeat each exercise interval 8 times before moving to the next exercise in the workout. 

Water Dumbbell Shoulder Fly
Breast Stroke
Push-ups (on pool deck)
Wall Flutter Kick 

Tri-Tabata
“For those who have access to a trainer/stationary bike, treadmill, and pool, this is the ultimate Tabata built for the triathlete,” says Volkmar. “The flow of this workout is designed to maximize an efficient transition to each event.”

Warm-Up:
2 sets of 15 reps for each exercise

Exercise 1: Overhead Squat
Exercise 2: Active Kneeling Hip/Quad Stretch
Exercise 3: Downward Dog Push-Ups

Tabata Workout:
Working at maximum capacity, exercise intensely for 20 seconds. Active rest for 10 seconds. Repeat each exercise interval 8 times before moving to the next exercise in the workout.

Exercise 1: Treadmill sprints at neutral angle
Exercise 2: Treadmill sprints at incline
Exercise 3: Trainer/Stationary Bike sprints
Exercise 4: Freestyle swim

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