Some of you may know him or his work already through fitness classes at your gym or a torturous workout. His name is Izumi Tabata, and he is the Japanese exercise physiologist who did some of the groundbreaking research that showed how you can improve your aerobic capacity (cardiovascular fitness) and anaerobic power (muscle strength/force) in just four minutes of training a day.
In his initial studies, Dr. Tabata had two groups of speed skaters exercise five days a week for six weeks.
Group 1 did an hour of moderate intensity exercise on a bike for each workout. Group 2 followed a protocol where they did a 20-second high-intensity sprint on the bike followed by a 10-second rest.
They repeated this eight times in the workout, for a total of four minutes. Group 2 did this high-intensity interval workout four days each week. The fifth workout was an one-hour bike ride at the same moderate intensity as Group 1.
At the end of the study, Group 2 (the four-minute workout group) improved their aerobic capacity (VO2Max) more than Group 1. And they improved their anaerobic power (how much and how fast their muscles could produce force).
So what does this mean for you?
This means that you can improve your fitness in less than a tenth of the time that most people think. It means that your cardio workouts will no longer be so long and boring that you need to watch a TV to get through it. It means that you can spend less time doing cardio and more time stretching, strength training, planning and cooking healthy meals.
Or, you can take that extra time that you aren’t spending doing cardio to take up a new hobby, spend more time with family and friends, learn a new language, or whatever else is on your to-do list.
Sounds great so far, right? Four minutes? Piece of cake!
But wait a minute (or four). As we all know, nothing worth it is free or easy. The key to the effectiveness of Tabata Training is intensity.
And when you use the words exercise and intensity in the same sentence, think burning muscles, lungs on fire and being exhausted enough that you can’t effectively count to eight.
If you’ve never done Tabata Training before, you’ll want to start off at an easier pace. But once you get accustomed to it, you will want to push the intensity. It helps a lot to have a trainer there to push you a little along the way. But if you can’t get in to the gym to see us, don’t worry. We’ll walk you through it step by step. Here’s what you’ll need to do:
Step 1: Check with your doctor to make sure your cardiovascular system is ready for this type of training. If you have any signs, symptoms or a family history of heart disease or high blood pressure, be sure to see your cardiologist and get his or her recommendations.
If you haven’t exercised in years, be sure to get a physical and let your physician know that you’re starting a new exercise program. If you’re just starting out, you’ll want to get in 4-6 weeks of moderate intensity aerobic exercise. (Try 3-5 days a week of 30-60 minutes.)
Step 2: Get some sort of timer you can set for alternating 20-second workout periods and 10-second rest periods. There are a slew of interval or Tabata timers that are available in your app store on your smartphone. If you cannot get a timer, make sure you have a watch or clock on which you can easily see the second hand.
Step 3: A stationary bike is a good place to start doing Tabata intervals. It’s easy to start and stop and change the resistance quickly.
Here is your Tabata workout:
Warm-up: Pedal easy for three minutes at a low level.
Tabata Intervals: Do eight rounds of 20 seconds of work and 10 seconds of rest. During the work intervals, try to keep your RPMs above 80. If you can’t maintain at least 80 RPMs for 20 seconds, then the resistance is too high.
During the rest intervals, drop the resistance down to 0, and pedal EASY. It helps if you’re using a bike that allows you to increase and decrease the resistance quickly and easily. You don’t want to spend the majority of your rest interval pushing one button or turning a knob to change resistance.
Cool-down: Pedal easy for two minutes, then get off the bike and get on with life.
But again, remember that intensity is the key. Through trial and error, you should work your way up to a resistance level that barely allows you to maintain 80 RPMs for 20 seconds.
Step 4: When and how often you do Tabata Workouts is important. You wouldn’t want to do this Tabata Bike workout and then try to lift weights (especially not lower body). If you did it right, your legs will be exhausted. Save Tabatas for after the strength training portion of your workout, or do the Tabata as its own workout.
Also, remember that Tabata Training is cardiovascular training and it’s strength training. You will be sore from it.
So just like with strength training, you need to give your body adequate time to recover from Tabatas. Give yourself 48 hours between Tabata workouts that use the same muscle groups. And if you’re new to this level of intensity, you should only do Tabatas once or twice a week.
If you’re more experienced, you can go for three or four times per week, but be sure to switch up what you’re doing for your Tabatas.