Tabata: Is it too good to be true?

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Certified Personal Trainer Andrea Coulis tells you what you need to know before diving into the “four minute workout”

“Train like an athlete!” We’ve all heard this at one point or another from trainers urging us toward our fitness goals. Want defined quads? Train like a soccer player. Want chiseled shoulders? Train like a boxer. Train like a gymnast, a swimmer, a… Japanese speed skater? Not exactly something you hear every day, but you may already be training like one and not even know it!

Tabata was implemented by Japanese Olympic speed skating coach Irisawa Koichi as a time-efficient way to burn fat and build endurance without compromising muscle and reached a widespread audience thanks to the extensive research of Dr. Izumi Tabata, the protocol’s namesake. Here are four key reasons why people around the world are incorporating Tabata into their fitness regimens:

1. It only takes four minutes (yes, you read that correctly)

Tabata only requires 4 minutes

The Tabata protocol is generally described as “20 seconds all-out effort, 10 seconds rest, repeated 8 times.” If you’ve got a jam-packed schedule and are looking for a way to optimize your training time, Tabata may be an excellent solution. One catch: this time frame includes no warm-up or cool-down, which should both accompany each workout to prevent injury and optimize effort.

2. It revs your metabolism during and after your workout

Tabata burns major calories not only during your four minutes of work, but also throughout a substantial post-training window. In a study of metabolic rates surrounding Tabata workouts, participants’ metabolic rates were observed to be double their pre-training levels after 30 minutes of rest post-workout.

3. It requires no equipment

Theoretically, the moves that can be incorporated into Tabata workouts are limitless, as long as they bring you to 90-95% of your max heart rate. Tabata is flexible enough to do anywhere, anytime, with virtually any (or no) equipment. For busy professionals, parents, and travelers, that is truly a beautiful thing.

4. It burns fat without compromising muscle

Implementing restrictive diets or extensive cardio to lose weight often comes with the unintended consequence of losing muscle along with fat. The Tabata protocol generally places enough intense stress on muscle tissue to generate similar effects on muscle mass as resistance training, allowing for retention or even growth of muscle strength and size along with improved cardiovascular fitness, two objectives difficult to achieve simultaneously.

It all sounds like the perfect workout, right? Not so fast. Just like any other exercise methodology, Tabata comes with its own set of disadvantages. Here are three to keep in mind before you get started:

1. Max effort is just as hard as it sounds

Measured in heart rate terms, max effort is generally defined as 90-95% of your maximum heart rate. Most people have never experienced max effort in their entire lives. If you’re unwilling to exert enough to reach this level, Tabata training will not bring the advantages it touts. More importantly, elevating heart rates to such a high level can be dangerous for those with cardiovascular issues. Max effort is not for the faint of heart, both literally and figuratively.

2. Beginners, beware

The effectiveness of Tabata training is drawn largely from forcing the body into extreme conditions, so it is generally inappropriate for beginners. Modified Tabata inspired workouts can help beginners build endurance and familiarity, however, but participants should recognize that training with reduced exertion will not proffer the results anticipated from true Tabata training.

3. Your workout probably doesn’t end here

Tabata is a calorie-incinerating workout on a minute-by-minute basis, but it is risky to undergo more than four minutes of Tabata training per day or more than two training days per week. You’ll have to combine Tabata with other workouts to achieve optimal results, particularly for weight loss. Consider it a boost to a relatively advanced existing routine, not a full regimen itself.

Generally speaking, no one exercise is best for everyone, and Tabata is no exception. However, if you’re already an avid exerciser seeking a fun, time-efficient way of enhancing your current regimen, you may have found your perfect match! Ready to give it a try? Here’s a no-equipment full-body burner to throw you right into Tabata training – by the end of these four minutes, you just might be feeling like a Olympic speed skater:

  • 0:00 – 0:20: Power Air Squats
  • 0:20 – 0:30: Rest
  • 0:30 – 0:50: Burpees
  • 0:50 – 1:00: Rest
  • 1:00 – 1:20: Switch Kicks
  • 1:20 – 1:30: Rest
  • 1:30 – 1:50: Mountain Climbers
  • 1:50 – 2:00: Rest
  • 2:00 – 2:20: Switch Lunges
  • 2:20 – 2:30: Rest
  • 2:30 – 2:50: Pushups
  • 2:50 – 3:00: Rest
  • 3:00 – 3:20: Pike Sit-Ups
  • 3:20 – 3:30: Rest
  • 3:30 – 3:50: Forearm Plank Jacks
  • 3:50 – 4:00: Rest

~Andrea Coulis, Certified Personal Trainer with LulaFit

Sources:

  1. Halvorson, Ryan. “Tabata Training Proves Effective,” IDEA Health & Fitness Association, 2013. (https://www.ideafit.com/fitness-library/tabata-training-proves-effective)
  2. Mateo, Ashley. “How Many Calories Do You Really Burn,” RunnersWorld, 2018. (https://www.runnersworld.com/nutrition-weight-loss/a20843760/running-v-walking-how-many-calories-will-you-burn/)
  3. Nelson, Monica. “Why You Should Try Tabata Training,” US News & World Report (https://health.usnews.com/health-news/blogs/eat-run/2013/09/30/why-you-should-try-tabata-training)
  4. Shirey, Wayne. “The Benefits of Tabata,” Live Strong. (https://www.livestrong.com/article/521329-the-benefits-of-tabata/)
  5. Tabata, Izumi & Nishimura, Kouji & Kouzaki, Motoki & Hirai, Yuusuke & Ogita, Futoshi & Miyachi, Motohiko & Yamamoto, Kaoru. “Effects of Moderate Intensity Endurance and High-Intensity Intermittent Training on Anaerobic Capacity and V02 Max,” Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 1996. (https://www.researchgate.net/publication/14310387_Effects_of_moderate-intensity_endurance_and_high-intensity_intermittent_training_on_anaerobic_capacity_and_VO2max)

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