If you've never heard of the Tabata Protocol, here's a great little article from Men's Fitness Magazine that explains the basics and a little bit of the history. Crossfit utilizes Tabata intervals in their workouts, and originally the Tabata Protocol was developed for speed skaters, but very few triathletes I know have ever heard of them. I did find an article on Active.com's triathlon section on utilizing Tabata intervals with a bike trainer, which is a good way to ease into trying Tabata, if such a grueling workout could ever be "eased" into. Though it only lasts 4 minutes, the puke-factor is really high with this workout. It's Intense, with the capital "I".
The Tabata basics: 6 - 8 intervals consisting of 20 seconds going ALL OUT followed by only 10 seconds of rest. Yeah, it's a killer. But Izumi Tabata, Ph.D., a researcher at Japan's National Institute of Fitness and Sports studied the effects of this workout and discovered that not only are those 4 little minutes of extreme workout effort and minimal rest better than traditional intervals (with their 1:3 workout-to-rest ratio), it's better than aerobic conditioning itself at improving your aerobic condition.
I decided to try to have a little fun with Tabata intervals in the pool and my Master's swimmers this week. Whenever I decide to unleash something new and different on them, I always try it out myself first (see, I'm not totally heartless), so I did this workout myself last week, and with my Master's folks on Saturday. Tabata intervals lend themselves pretty easily to most sports, everything from bodyweight exercises to punching bag workouts to running on the track can be done Tabata-style. But swimming is a little different because it's hard to stop quickly and you have to keep turning around. With 4 - 5 swimmers in a lane, logistics were the hardest thing to overcome in planning this workout.
What I decided to do was just have each swimmer start in a different part of the lane, and have everybody circle-swim. I was the whistle-blower for the 20 seconds on, 10 seconds off routine. Now with swimming, I wouldn't try this workout unless your technique is already good. The main reason is that speed and endurance in swimming, unlike almost every other exercise you might do, is about 90% good technique. So swimming Tabatas with poor technique might improve your aerobic conditioning, but it also might make you slower in the pool. If you're already a reasonably good swimmer though, give this one a go.
In the warmup of this workout, and the earlier intervals, focus hard on good, good, good form. That way when you get to the Tabatas, you're set up to keep form and add power.
Warmup: 8 x 100 Odd Free, Even Choice
4 x 75 25 Drill, 50 Swim
2 x 100 Powerup
50 Swim Golf
6 x 200 Desc. x 3 Int. = 1st 200 + 15 s.
6 x 100 Desc. x 3 Int = 1st 100 + 1- s.
Tabata Swim x 8
Tabata Kick x 8
Tabata Pull x 8
Tabata Swim x 8