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The ABCs of the Tabata Workout

The Japanese have given us many useful things over the years—Toyota, sushi, anime, calligraphy, origami, karate, and Marie Kondo.

Thanks to their speed skating team from the 90s, they also gave us Dr. Izumi Tabata, who studied a high-intensity interval training plan that is now aptly named “Tabata.”

Dr. Tabata, a former National Institutes of Health researcher and a professor at Risumeikan University in Japan, was brought in to improve the efficacy of the 1996 Japanese speed skating team’s training regime.

He didn’t create HIIT, but he identified, measured, and determined how it could be used for best effect through a 20-seconds-on, 10-seconds-off workout.

So, what is Tabata exactly?

It is short, intense spurts of exercise interspersed with even shorter rest periods that get the muscles burning, the fat melting, and the heart rate doing flick-flacks (in a good way).

You work to your absolute maximum capability for 20 seconds and then you rest for 10 seconds. You repeat this eight times, which brings you to four minutes. The most grueling four minutes of your life.

Why is it so effective?

Because the rest period is shorter than the work period, it activates both your aerobic system, which is responsible for endurance exercises like running, and your anaerobic system, which is responsible for short, sharp exercises like weight lifting.

As your body doesn’t have a chance to fully recover, it is forced to work at max capacity to get through the workout.

This means your heart beats faster and it can increase your resting metabolic rate (the rate at which your body burns energy when you are at rest—read: while you are sitting on the couch watching tv).

It also increases your VO2 max (the amount of oxygen your body uses during a workout) and burns through more fat than a 60min cardio workout. Pretty sweet, right?

Can anyone do Tabata?

Yes and no. Tabata, when done as it was originally designed, is intense and not for beginners. That doesn’t mean that beginners can’t do it but that you need to start slow and tailor it to your abilities.

So, maybe start with less intense exercises and only 5-6 sets and then build up from there. If you have a heart condition, this may not be the best for you. Always check with your GP before starting any new type of exercise, especially if you have pre-existing medical conditions.

PRO TIP: There are numerous apps out there for Tabata training. Tabata Timer allows you to pre-set your exercise times, load your music and the app counts you down, so at least you don’t have to think while you’re working your butt off.

What exercises should I do with Tabata?

Here’s a suggested workout, utilizing some classic exercises. You can tailor it to your ability and needs. Be sure to warm up before you start and stretch when you’re done.

(Please consult your GP before trying new exercises)

Exercise 1: “Jump Squats”

Work time: 20s

Reps: as many as possible

Sets: 8 consecutively for each exercise

Rest between sets: 10s

Modifications: If jumping is too much for you, you can just do normal squats without the jump.

Rest between exercises: 1 minute

 Exercise 2: “Mountain Climbers”

Work time: 20s

Reps: as many as possible

Sets: 8 consecutively for each exercise

Rest between sets: 10s

Modifications: If running your legs up is too much for you, you can rather step them up.

 Rest between exercises: 1 minute

Exercise 3: “Jump Lunges”

 Work time: 20s

Reps: as many as possible

Sets: 8 consecutively for each exercise

Rest between sets: 10s

Modifications: If jumping is too much for you, just do normal lunges without the jump.

Rest between exercises: 1 minute

Exercise 4: “Push-ups”

Work time: 20s

Reps: as many as possible

Sets: 8 consecutively for each exercise

Rest between sets: 10s

Modifications:  If you’re finding this too hard, you can lower your knees to the floor. Just remember to keep hips, knees, shoulders, and head in a straight line as you go down and up.

 Rest between exercises: 1 minute

Exercise 5: “Bicycle Crunch”

Work time: 20s

Reps: as many as possible

Sets: 8 consecutively for each exercise

Rest between sets: 10s

Modifications:  If this is too much for your back, put one foot on the floor and put your opposite ankle on your knee and crunch to one side. Then swap legs for the next set, and crunch to the other side.

If you’re a beginner, and still curious, here’s an easier workout we found:

 

Notes:

  • You can substitute any exercises you prefer. A good idea is to alternate between lower body, upper body, and abdominals.
  • Be sure to go at an intensity that is manageable for you. If you feel dizzy or ill, stop immediately and seek medical attention if necessary.

So, that’s Tabata in a nutshell. As satisfying as sushi, as tough as a Toyota, and as efficient as Marie Kondo, but perhaps slightly more exhausting.

-Lisa Parsons

Photo: Unsplash

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