“It is only through labor and painful effort, by grim energy and resolute courage, that we move on to better things.” -Theodore Roosevelt
“Life grants nothing to us mortals without hard work.” -Horace
“No pain, no gain.” -Anonymous
Are you interested in getting maximum exercise benefit while minimizing the amount of time you spend exercising? Want to significantly build your aerobic and anaerobic capacity? Burn fat and lose weight? Jump start your metabolism? If yes, you need to check out the Tabata workout – a version of high intensity interval training that provides extraordinary benefits – all from a 4 minute workout.
What is Tabata?
Spoiler alert: there’s a catch. As the quotations above suggest, those 4 minutes are tough. The Tabata workout calls for 20 seconds of maximum intensity exercise followed by 10 seconds of rest, done 8 times without pausing – for a total of 240 seconds – or just 4 minutes.
The Tabata protocol is named for Dr. Izumi Tabata, a former researcher at Japan’s National Institute of Fitness and Sports. Tabata and his team studied this routine, originally developed by the coach of the Japanese speed-skating team, and compared its conditioning benefits to those obtained with 60 minutes of endurance training. (In both cases, test subjects performed their routines 5 days a week.) In a study published in 1996 in the journal “Medicine and Science in Sports & Exercise” (click here for an abstract of the article) the team’s conclusions were simply amazing:
- Test subjects improved their maximum aerobic capacity by 14% and their anaerobic capacity by 28%
- In contrast, the test subjects who engaged in traditional aerobic activity – running at 70% of aerobic capacity for 60 minutes – improved their aerobic capacity by 9.5% and saw no improvement in their anaerobic capacity!
Although the research conducted by Dr. Tabata and his team focused on the aerobic and anaerobic benefits of the workout, if you Google “Tabata” & “weight loss,” you’ll find a number of articles and posts on the fat burning and weight loss benefits of the workout. HIIT (high intensity interval training) tends to burn more calories and fat post-workout, than does lower intensity exercise. In addition, high intensity exercise will really boost your overall metabolic rate, meaning that your increased metabolism will burn more fat and calories during the day.
What type of exercises?
Tabata workouts can be conducted with body-weight exercises such as…
- Jumping jacks
- Heavy bag
- Stationary bike or elliptical trainer
…or with weighted movement:
- Kettlebell swings
How to do a Tabata workout
The workout itself is fairly simple: warm up by running, cycling or jumping rope for 4-5 minutes at about 40% of your full effort. For the intervals, use whatever exercise or exercises you’ve selected, and alternate 20 seconds of activity at full effort with 10 seconds of rest; repeat for a total of 8 intervals. Then cool down by doing some very low impact jogging or cycling. That’s it. In total, the entire workout takes at most 14 minutes, with only 4 minutes of genuine hard work.
I’ve been doing Tabata for the last couple of weeks and my routine is quite simple. I warm up by jogging slowly on a treadmill for about 4’15″. Stepping onto the side rails, I raise the treadmill to a 5° incline and adjust its speed to about 7mph. I then CAREFULLY jump on and off the belt, going 20 seconds on, 10 seconds resting, and so forth. The first interval is actually fairly easy. The second gets a bit tougher. By the fourth I’m in pain. At the 7th and 8th, I’m just focusing on having 60 seconds or less left. The burn stays for quite a while.
The 10 second rest periods are absolutely critical – they provide both a physical and mental break from the hard workout. Because the entire workout is only 4 minutes long, it’s more fun than getting on a treadmill or other piece of equipment for 25 to 30 minutes which, face it, is boring. True, the 4 minutes are tough, but because the regimen is both very short and very challenging, you’ll find yourself looking forward to your Tabata workouts.
I’m trying to lose 20 lbs. over the next 4 months, and plan on doing nothing but Tabata intervals to achieve the weight loss. (I’ll do some toning with weights, but this will be nothing approaching the intensity of my Tabata workouts.) It should be a good test of how effective the protocol is for weight loss, and I’ll report on my progress here.
There are numerous Tabata videos available on YouTube and other sites; this one provides an excellent look at how you can alternate different exercises during the 4 minute routine:
Who should NOT do Tabata?
Tabata is a tough, high intensity workout. If you are over 40, out of shape, smoke, lead a sedentary lifestyle, have a family history of heart disease, have high cholesterol or high blood pressure, PLEASE see your physician before attempting Tabata.
This workout is in effect one hell of a stress test and if you are in poor physical condition or have any of the risk factors listed above, don’t try it before getting clearance from your physician.
If cleared by your physician or if you are just getting back into exercising, you can always start out easy. Rest for longer than 10 seconds between your sprints; only do 3 or 4 repetitions at first, working up gradually to the full 4 minutes consisting of the 20/10 reps.
One final caution: make certain you cool down properly, slowly letting your heart and breathing return to normal. Abruptly stopping all activity after exercising vigorously can result in dizziness, muscle pain and cardiac arrhythmia. In short: use your head.
Other required equipment
I’ve been using a treadmill for by Tabata workouts, so I utilize its timer. If you’re doing some other form of exercise, you need to use an interval timer in order to properly time your Tabata workout. Friends swear by the Gymboss – check it out here (this links to their website & the page where they describe Tabata) – and it’s only $20 (I have no connection with Gymboss!)
The only other thing you might want to consider if you are getting back into shape after a layoff is a heart rate monitor. How to use a heart rate monitor – this is a good article which covers the basics including definitions for max heart rate, aerobic and anaerobic exercise, and the like.
If you’re looking for a great way to get in shape, maintain your fitness, lose some weight or inject some new excitement into your workouts, give Tabata a try. It’s a brutal four minutes, but I find myself looking forward to the workouts in a way I never did when I was just running on the treadmill for 25-30 minutes. In addition, my initial results in terms of weight loss are encouraging.
If you’ve tried or are using Tabata, please add to the conversation by commenting!
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