You may think that you can’t get something for nothing, but when it comes to exercise
, that may not be entirely true.
Imagine an exercise routine that could give you that toned, lean body you always wanted, but in less than a quarter of the time. That’s the promise of the Tabata Protocol, a form of High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) that can give you the benefits of weight loss, muscle strength, and cardiorespiratory health and endurance in…. just 4 minutes?!
If you haven’t tuned in until now, I promised to rate some of the popular exercises currently trending and give you my overall grade based on safety, accessibility, do-ability, cost, hormone benefits, as well as health advantages and risks. This is the final exercise grade card in this series. So far, I have covered barre fitness
, “chronic cardio”
For this article, I will be talking about the Tabata Protocol, not to be confused with The Gottfried Protocol (that’s mine).
Lose weight, gain muscle, build cardio endurance in just 4 minutes? Yes, please! (Hint: It's not what you think!)
Named after researcher and Professor Izumi Tabata, the Tabata protocol involves 20 seconds of high intensity exercises (think jump squats) followed by 10 seconds of “rest” (if you consider gasping for air as “rest”), which is then repeated 8 times for a total of 4 minutes. Of course, if you have more time, you can repeat the Tabata Protocol as much as your heart desires (and is capable of enduring) so that you perform 8, 12, or 16 minutes of Tabata. But I warn you, the end of those 4 minutes can’t come soon enough!
Now, for those type A’s that balk at the short exercise duration, this is NO joke. While the first one or two “30-second sets” may feel like a cinch, you will be watching that timer very closely come set five and six. And believe me, by the time you get to that eighth set, you will be ready to stop. This Tabata thing works! In fact 1 to 3 days of training with an HIIT protocol such as Tabata will improve aerobic and anaerobic endurance, increase fat burning, increase metabolic rate post exercise (continue fat burning after exercise), improve blood pressure, cholesterol, and insulin sensitivity as well as increase muscular strength and endurance. In 4 minutes 1 to 3 times a week. ((ACSM Information On High Intensity Interval Training” last modified on March 16, 2015, https://www.acsm.org/docs/brochures/high-intensity-interval-training.pdf
Sound Too Good to Be True?
Four minutes to fitness? Is this some kind of infomercial? It’s not. The science even proves it. Professor Izumo, former researcher at the National Institute for Health and Nutrition, found this protocol when serving as the Training Coach for Japanese speed skating. Asked to analyze effectiveness of high intensity interval workouts for the team, Professor Izumo found that 20 second bursts of high intensity exercise followed 10 seconds of rest (and repeated 8 times) can increase the anaerobic capacity by 28 percent in athletes. ((Izumi Tabata “Effects of Moderate-intensity Endurance and High Intensity Intermittent Training on Anaerobic Capacity and VO2max”, Medicine & Science in Sports Exercise
28 (1996): 1327-1330, accessed on March 16, 2015, http://journals.lww.com/acsm-msse/pages/articleviewer.aspx?year=1996&issue=10000&article=00018&type=abstract
)), ((Ritsumeikan University, Featured Researchers, Izumi Tabata, accessed on March 15, 2015, http://www.ritsumei.ac.jp/eng/html/research/areas/feat-researchers/interview/izumi_t.html/
What’s more, Tabata has been shown to higher caloric expenditure up to 13.5 calories per minute and increase metabolic rate (fat burning) for 30 minutes after the workout ends. ((Michelle Olson “Tabata Interval Exercise: Energy Expenditure and Post-Exercise Responses”Department of Exercise and Science, Auburn University, Montgomery, accessed March 15, 2015, http://www.lisajohnsonfitness.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/ACSM-Poster-OLSON-2013-PDF.pdf
.)) One study found marked increases in fatty acid oxidation after just two weeks! ((Talanian, J.L., “Two Weeks of High –Intensity Aerobic Interval Training Increases The Capacity For fat Oxidation During Exercise in Women”, Journal of Applied Physiology
, 102 (2007): 1439-1447, accessed March 16, 2015, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17170203?ordinalpos=6&itool=EntrezSystem2.PEntrez.Pubmed.Pubmed_ResultsPanel.Pubmed_DefaultReportPanel.Pubmed_RVDocSum
The American College of Sports Medicine also confirms that Tabata increases your caloric expenditure and meets the requirements for improving cardiorespiratory endurance. ((Talisa Emberts “Exercise Intensity and Energy Expenditure of a Tabata Workout” Journal of Sports Science & Medicine
, 12 (2013): 612-613, accessed on March 14, 2015, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3772611/
How Does It Work?
Essentially you can create a Tabata workout with any single or combination of exercises. You may choose to download a Tabata Timer on your smart phone (I use the one by Garaio Technology Lab) or use a stop watch. You can do a single exercise set where, for example, you perform jump squats for 8 “30 second’ sets or a combination of exercises such as jump squats with push ups—every other set. You can also apply it to your workouts in the pool, running, weight lifting, cycling, and walking. Just make sure that during your 20 seconds of high intensity that your heart rate at 75 to 80 percent minimum. If you type “target heart rate calculator” into your search engine you will find several options for calculating your heart rate at different intensity levels (or percentages).
What About Equipment?
That’s the best part. You don’t need any equipment. Of course, if you wanted to do a Tabata workout with some dumbbells or jump rope, you would need to have them available but you can get a great workout just using your body weight too. You can literally do this at home between your baby’s naps, on one of your 15-minute work breaks, or on the sidelines of your kid’s soccer game (of course they’ll be mortified). My point is . . . it’s quick!
Is Tabata for Everyone?
While this Tabata may indeed feel like you are getting something for nothing, you must put in the work to reap the reward. When you work at 75 to 80 percent (and upwards) of your maximal heart rate, you are working out your hard. It is always best to have a solid base of fitness before you begin any HIIT exercise programs. The American College of Sports Medicine describes a baseline as performing physical activity 3 to 5 days a week for 20 to 60 seconds at moderate to high intensity, consistently. ((“ACSM Information On High Intensity Interval Training” last modified on March 16, 2015, https://www.acsm.org/docs/brochures/high-intensity-interval-training.pdf
While most people can exercise safely without incident, some people must take a more precautionary approach. And with HIIT, such as Tabata, it’s always best to be safe. To find out if you are ready to get jumpin’, check out the American College of Sports Medicine’s (ACSM), Physical Activity Readiness Questionnaire or PAR-Q. ((Off the Couch: When to See a Physician Before Exercising”, ACSM Current Comment, accessed February 28, 2015. https://www.acsm.org/docs/current-comments/whentoseeadoctortemp.pdf
)) This is a very short questionnaire that will help you determine whether you have any risk factors. If you have diabetes, hypertension, joint problems, or other medical conditions it is best to check with your physician before starting any exercise program.
What I like most about Tabata is that I believe it’s more physiologic. It’s what our ancestors did in their daily movement. They would walk a lot, but then increase the intensity for a short duration, then recover back to baseline. That’s much better for your hormonal control system, your Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal axis, than chronic cardio, where you raise your heart rate to your maximal zone and keep it there for an hour, running or cycling or on the elliptical machine. That tends to cause more stress in your body, and most women that I work with need less stress.
As always, make sure that you spend at least 10 minutes warming up before you jump to it. Decide which exercises you are going to do and mimic these movements in a modified way (for example; if you are going to jump squats, do 10 to 12 regular squats first, and be sure to use good form with squats to avoid hemorrhoids and other untoward effects). If you have been sitting all day, make sure you stretch since your muscles have likely frozen in fetal mode from staring at the computer. Give yourself at least 2 days between your Tabata trainings. Even though it’s quick, it can be intense for your body, and you will need a few days to recover.
In Aggregate, I Give Tabata an A-
While the Tabata Protocol seems to offer the best bang for your buck, its super high intensity limits the number of people who can do it effectively, with pristine form and without injury. While I love the fact that it can be done in just 4 minutes, most people should get in the habit of exercising at least 20 to 60 minutes, 3 to 5 times a week. That being said, for those up for the challenge, mixing Tabata in with your regular aerobic and strength routine could be just what you are looking for to bring you to the next level of fitness.
To learn more about forms of fitness that work best for the female body, grab a copy of my new book, The Hormone Reset Diet
. It will help you discern the types of exercise that reset your hormones for the better.