There is much data and research available to us now on how higher intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts can get us just as fit, in a shorter amount of time, as lower intensity and longer workouts can.
HIIT workouts have been proven to: increase our human growth hormone (our anti-aging hormone), decrease our body fat, improve our blood pressure, blood sugar regulation and triglycerides, as well as improve our muscle tone and aerobic endurance.
In fact, I am almost ready to give up my one long run every week due to these studies.
I mean, who wouldn’t want the same effects that a long cardio session can produce, but in half the time? But, alas my 4-legged running partner would be very upset if I stopped.
WHAT THE HECK IS A TABATA?
To write about shorter and more intense workouts you need not to look too far before your come across the name Tabata.
He conducted a study using an interval-based workout to see if athletes would see the same gains from a shorter training program as they do with a longer duration one.
His initial study used the Japanese Olympic Speed Skating team as his test subjects and the workout consisted of 20 seconds intense work, followed by 10 seconds of rest, for 8 rounds on a stationary bike. The whole workout took 4 minutes for the athletes to complete.
In just 6-weeks of training his subjects improved their anaerobic capacity (the ability for the body to work without oxygen, which in turn promotes speed, strength and power) by 28%, and they increased their VO2 max (the maximum amount of oxygen the body can use, which improves endurance) by 14%.
While this is a pretty cool study, it is used with elite athletes as the test subjects. Would this type of training work for us mere mortals, as well?
In 2013 the American Council on Exercise enlisted a research team of their own to gauge how effective a Tabata-style workout really is – with normal people.
They took a group of 16 men and women who were deemed healthy and either moderately to very fit and between the ages of 20 to 47 years. After their initial treadmill test (to assess their starting VO2 max, maximal heart rate and ratings of perceived exertion – RPE) they had the participants perform 8 rounds of 4 different exercises, using the 20 seconds hard and 10 seconds rest interval for a total of 20 minutes.
The participants used full-body calisthenics with exercises such as: push-ups, mountain climbers, high knees, split squats, box jumps, burpees, jumping rope, side skaters, plank and punch, lunges, squats, high-knees and Russian twists.
The subject’s heart rates were monitored throughout the workout, while their blood lactate levels were tested with a finger prick blood test and RPE was evaluated after every four-minute segment of exercise.
Immediately following the sessions, the researchers crunched the data and on average showed that during a Tabata workout their subjects averaged 86 percent of HR max and 74 percent of VO2 max —both of which meet or exceed established industry guidelines for improving cardio fitness and promoting fat loss.
As for calorie burning, the 16 subjects burned between 240 and 360 kcals during the workout, for an average of 15 kcals per minute burned.
Again, Tabata met established guidelines for calorie expenditure for improving health and facilitating weight loss.
I love this study due to two reasons:
- They used body weight exercises (instead of a stationary bike like Dr. Tabata used), and they used exercises that can be easily replicated at home.
- The researcher’s also increased the total workout time from 4 minutes to 20 minutes. You see what a lot of people don’t understand is that the intensity that Dr. Tabata used on his athletes was extreme. Even the most fit person would most likely puke at the 2 minute mark. So, by increasing the time of the workout, and dropping the intensity, it makes this type of workout a lot more doable for the average person.
THE WORLD DOES TABATA
While Dr. Tabata’s study was done in 1996, almost a decade later the fitness industry has embraced it. I don’t know why in the last few years his protocol has gotten so much attention. Interval-type training is nothing new, but now you can find Tabata-type training in almost every gym.
I’m happy that people are embracing this type of training, though. It gives people who are short on time a workout option, while providing us trainers some fresh ideas on how to keep our clients motivated.
THE RULES OF TABATA
When performing a Tabata-protocol on your own make sure that you use whole body movements and that you train at an intensity that leaves you unable to talk! Anything less will not put you in your “anaerobic threshold” and will therefore not give you the same results.
A true Tabata is also 8 rounds of one exercise for 20 seconds, with 10 seconds rest in-between. I quite often teach my Tabata workouts using 4-6 exercises, cycling through these exercises, one after another, instead of performing 8 sets of lunges and then 8 sets of push-ups, etc.
The workout below uses 4 exercises, for a total of 40 rounds (exercise #3 is done with the left leg stepping out and then the right leg).
WHO SHOULD DO TABATA?
Who should do a Tabata-type workout? This is a question that many of us in the fitness industry are struggling with. Clearly this type of training is intense and is not for everyone.
There are three types of people that I feel should avoid Tabata training until they get their doctor’s clearance:
- Anyone with a history of heart disease and/or that check “Yes” on any question on a Par-Q
- Anyone with a injury
- Anyone just starting out with fitness
30-Minute Dumbbell Tabata Workout
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