What if you could get into cardiovascular shape by doing only 4 minutes of exercise? Sound like a pipe dream? Not with Tabata training. Tabata training is a short but very intense type of workout protocol that improves aerobic capacity.
What is Tabata Training?
Tabata training is named after Dr. Izumi Tabata, the head coach of the Japanese speed skating team. He developed his own intense 4-minute training protocol and tested it out on two groups of athletes. One group did moderate-intensity cardio for an hour 5 days a week for 6 weeks. The second group trained only 4 days a week for 4 minutes using the Tabata protocol.
The results? The Tabata participants boosted their V02 max, a measure of aerobic capacity, by 14% and their anaerobic capacity by an impressive 28%. Not bad for a 4- minute workout. The group that did moderate-intensity cardio showed less measurable improvement in their V02 max, and they experienced little or no increase in their anaerobic capacity. This is good news if you hate long cardio workouts. On the other hand, a Tabata workout is no walk in the park. It’s Super-high-intensity exercise that gives new meaning to the word intense if done correctly.
Tabata Training to Get a Fast Workout
When you include a 5-minute warm-up, 4 minutes of intense intervals and a 5-minute cool-down, a Tabata workout lasts about 14 minutes. To work out Tabata-style, begin by doing a 5-minute warm-up. Once you’re warmed up, do your chosen exercise for 20 seconds at an all-out effort. Then give yourself 10 seconds to recover. Repeat this sequence a total of 8 times. End with a 5-minute cool-down.
The Tabata Protocol was the basis for my HiiT 40/20 workout. Because it is difficult to obtain a true Tabata workout in a home gym environment because of the maximum intensity needed, I increased the length of the work intervals from 20 seconds to 40 seconds, but still maintained the 2 to 1 work to rest ratio used in Tabata training.
You can use almost any piece of exercise equipment to do a Tabata workout – or no equipment at all. You can Tabata train using a jump rope, do it on a treadmill or exercise bike, sprint on a track or use burpees or plyometric exercises. The key to success with this type of super-short workout is to exercise at maximum intensity during the 20-second intense intervals. You should feel completely wiped out at the end of the 20 seconds and unable to go another second. If not, you’re not really doing a Tabata workout. When you’re only doing a 4-minute workout, it has to be challenging to get benefits.
Of course, this isn’t a workout for beginners and you need to be in good health to do it safely, but it gets results. After doing a workout of this intensity, you’ll get a significant after-burn effect where your body will burn more calories for hours afterward as it tries to return to its pre-exercise state.
Based on the additional calories you expend after a workout this intense, some fitness gurus believe it’s better than steady-state cardio for melting away body fat. It’s true that the after-burn effect should be greater with this type of intense training, but the fat-burning benefits of Tabata training haven’t been studied since it’s a workout designed for performance, not fat loss. You also have to remember that you’re only working out for a very short period of time and you will not burn a lot of calories in just 4 minutes.
The Bottom Line?
Tabata training is a way to improve cardiovascular fitness without spending an hour or more on the treadmill or elliptical machine. It’s an intense workout that may not be suitable for everyone. You should already have a certain level of fitness before attempting it. It’s best to start out doing only half the number of intervals at first and gradually add more.
Med Sci Sports Exerc 28 (10): 1327-30. doi:10.1097/00005768-199610000-00018.
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