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Tabata. Unbelievable fitness in four minutes

Tabata. Unbelievable fitness in four minutes

How do you fancy the worst four minutes of your life, followed by the best results you’ve ever seen? If you’re up for such a challenge, Tabata may be what you’re looking for.  The gruelling workout is rapidly gaining in popularity with professional athletes and amateurs. So what’s all the Tabata buzz about?

Many of you have heard of high intensity training. Well, if you’re impressed with the results from that, you will be even more convinced by Tabata. Taking a typical interval workout, Tabata condenses it down into a more specific workout and delivers results, fast.  

The four-minute challenge

Although there are increasing variations of Tabata, the ‘official’ system comprises of:

  • 20 seconds of intense exercise (any move)
  •  10 seconds of rest
  • Repeated 8 times.

 Including the rest periods, the workout totals 4 minutes. Even including the recommended warm up and cool down, you can consider the entire workout to be done within 10 minutes, whilst incorporating the benefits of a 30 minute workout. Any exercise can be used, popular ones being squats, lunges, press ups and sit ups, and it can also be done with cardio equipment such as exercise bikes, rowing machines, treadmills and skipping ropes. 

A simple routine to start with is press ups on intervals 1,3,5 and 7, squats on intervals 2,4,6 and 8. Or you could include more cardio by adding in jump rope and burpees. There are no rules except you must stick to the intervals!

The key is that exercises need to be done with 100% effort  throughout, head down and full commitment. Prepare to sweat! While this can seem manageable for the first two cycles, the following cycles can feel impossible and you may feel sick and dizzy after the last round. This is because the 20 seconds of exercise should push you into anaerobic mode which means basically you are demanding more energy than your body can supply. This is where it gets incredibly hard, but the greater physical benefits kick in. Tabata isn’t an easy way to train, but is extremely effective for those who are able to do it.

 What’s the science?

Tabata was originally developed by (and named after) Japanese scientist Professor Izumi Tabata who worked with the Japanese Olympic speed skating team in 1996. His training regime consisted of the 20 seconds exercise/10 seconds rest cycle for 4 minutes, performed 4 times a week. A control group performed 30 minutes of cardio exercise on a stationary bike 4 times a week.  The results were remarkable. The athletes following Tabata’s plan increased their anaerobic capacity by 28%, compared to no anaerobic improvement by the control group, while heart size was also increased. Convincing indeed.

Should I do Tabata?

As it can be performed in a short period of time Tabata is great for anyone with a busy lifestyle (isn’t that most of us nowadays?) The minimal equipment needed also means you can do a complete workout without needing to be at the gym. Some sports coaches actually recommend that Tabata is used as an add-on workout, not to completely replace another training method, especially as most of us enjoy our current training regimes whether it’s running, cycling or visiting the gym. The shortness of Tabata also allows our joints some time to rest from more lengthy workouts, such as training for marathons.

Those with extra pounds to shed will also find Tabata beneficial. A new study by Auburn University at Montgomery found the intense 4-minute training was as effective as 5 times the amount of conventional cardio workouts. Fat was burned at the higher rate of 13.5 calories per minute, with metabolic rates doubled for 30 minutes afterwards.

As it is quite an advanced training method, Tabata is best performed by those with reasonable fitness levels. In fact, you might struggle to get through the 240 seconds unless you’re already well-conditioned. But before you grab the chance to duck out, remember that Tabata’s versatility means it can be modified to suit most people.  Such modifications might include altering the work/ rest interval,  e.g. 20 seconds of exercise then 20 seconds of rest, or choosing less intense exercises. As you improve you can adjust it back to the ‘ideal’ intervals. Remember the aim is to see improvements on a personal level, not compare yourself to anyone else.

Tips for Tabata newbies

  • Get an app. You will find some excellent free Tabata apps which time your intervals for you, and allow you to adjust work/intervals as required.
  • Warm up and cool down. Although you may be tempted to get the whole thing done in 4 minutes, you need to treat this as a normal workout.
  • Work up gradually. Use your exercise commonsense and work at your own level. No one minds if you skip a move if your legs completely turn to jelly, and if something hurts, stop.