Plugging away at a moderate pace on the elliptical may be comfortable, but we all know it’s not effective. If you’re looking for real change, you have to work harder, not longer. In fact, perhaps the most effective workout only takes four minutes. It’s called Tabata. Before you get too excited about your new express workout, just know those four minutes will be the most heart-pounding, sweat-dripping four minutes of your life.
What Is Tabata?
Tabata is nothing new. It was actually developed decades ago by the now world-renowned scientist professor Izumi Tabata as a method of training Olympic speed skaters. Today, you’re probably familiar with a version of the training method: HIIT (aka high-intensity interval training). Tabata takes HIIT a step further. Tabata intervals are shorter (that means shorter rests, too) and more intense than the ones you’re used to. It’s intense in order to deliver results. Over the past 20 years, study after study has confirmed this type of exercise’s ability to improve cardiovascular fitness, boost metabolism, and change body composition. Research shows that Tabata burns over 13 calories per minute.
How It Works
Unlike traditional interval workouts, which may have you push yourself for 30 seconds to a minute and then rest for the same amount of time, Tabata sessions consist of 20 seconds of maximum-exertion training followed by 10 seconds of recovery. Repeat the process eight times for one four-minute Tabata. You can stop there or do up to five Tabatas for a 20-minute sweat session (you will be sweating).
The short recovery time is key (and what professor Tabata attributes the effectiveness to), which is while you’ll need a good timer handy—the interval timer does all the counting for you. But the real difference between Tabata and HIIT is the intensity. Rather than pushing yourself to eight or nine on the rate of perceived exertion scale, you need to max out your efforts so you reach an 11 (on a one-to-10 scale, by the way).
You can turn any workout into Tabata (as long as you’ve got your timer). Start with something you’re comfortable with, like running on the treadmill, and work your way up to incorporating different rounds. A truly body-changing Tabata workout will incorporate plyometric movements like burpees, jump squats and lunges, and mountain climbers along with body-toning moves like push-ups, crunches, and tricep dips. You can use gym equipment, weights (start light), and any accessories you want. Or just grab a jump rope for a mistake-proof Tabata workout.
Up next, learn about the effective workout experts say can reverse aging.
Emberts T, Porcari J, Dobers-tein S, Steffen J, Foster C. Exercise intensity and energy expenditure of a tabata workout. J Sports Sci Med. 2013;12(3):612-3.