A couple years ago I briefly mentioned the Tabata protocol and I thought it was time to bring it back. This time I’ll go in more depth and discuss how anyone can do some variation of it.
Dr. Izumi Tabata (University of Ritsumeikan, Japan) was studying the effects of an all-out, high intensity interval training program (on a stationary bicycle) that consisted of 8 rounds of 20 seconds of work followed by 10 seconds of rest, totaling a mere 4 minutes. The results were surprising in that the training improved participants’ VO2 Max (the efficiency of the body’s use of oxygen, typically achieved through longer cardio programs), their anaerobic or sprint endurance, increased their resting metabolism, and it also may aid in fat loss and in retention (even building) of muscle. Pretty darn good for only four minutes. This is why I actually use it with many of my clients, more bang for your time buck.
Now, the catch to this is that purists will say that for maximum results it has to be an all out effort and most people aren’t ready for that. This is true… for maximal results…, but maximal results doesn’t need to be the focus. How about good results, or even any results? Most people can wrap their minds around going a little harder than usual if it’s for only 4 minutes. Taking the Tabata protocol (20 sec work:10 sec rest x 8 rounds) and working even a little harder than usual will give better results and start you on the road of being able to handle higher level workloads. Bit by bit you can build that intensity to get even more out of your Tabata. You could also start with half a Tabata protocol (4 rounds/2 minutes) and build to 8 rounds.
Here’s a guideline to get started, start with 4 rounds of an exercise that you can last for 20 seconds with, say air or chair squats. At a nice even pace, not intense, do them for four rounds of 20 seconds. Then build to 5 rounds, then 6, then …. When you get to all 8 rounds, start counting repetitions each round. Next, try to add a rep or two to each round. Continue to increase the repetitions per round until you truly are pushing as hard as you can. This takes time to build up and you cut yourself some slack and let it be a very gradual progression. You will eventually get there and in the meantime you are increasing the results from each Tabata that you do.
As for the activity or exercises, almost anything that can be done at very high intensities and involves the large muscles of the body will work. Again, Tabata did it on a stationary bike. To keep it interesting, I will often pick 4 exercises and do 2 rounds of them (8 rounds total). i.e Build-a-burpee: Speed Squats, Squat Thrusts, Squat Thrust Jump, Squat Thrust Push Up Jump.
So, Tabatas are not just for the ultra fit. Anyone can start working their way to being able to work at higher intensities by giving yourself permission to start slower and build gradually.
BTW: there are all kinds of Tabata apps that you can use to keep the timing simple. I happen to use Tabata Timer