Tabata intervals can bring amazing results in less time than most people spend at the water fountain in their gym. They are not the be all and end all of short duration workouts though, as they have some limitations. So what are they? A Tabata interval is 20 seconds of work followed by 10 seconds of rest, repeated 8 times for a total of 3:50 seconds (or 4 min if you count the last 10 seconds of rest). The protocol was developed by Dr. Tabata a Japanese exercise physiologist working with their Olympic speed skating team. He found that they were able to increase their VO2 max more with 3 Tabata workouts and 1 45 min tempo workout than with 5 1 hour+ workouts each week. The protocol is simple, and profoundly effective, so why isn’t it the best and only way to train? Primarily due to the intensity involved. As you all know, I love high intensity workouts, I’m always going on and on about how we need to work smarter and harder, not longer. But in order for Tabata intervals to be effective, they must be performed at 95%+ or greater intensity. We are talking all out I think I’m going to puke and die but a rabid bear is chasing me hard core intensity. You simply won’t get the same level of results if you’re dogging it, or if you finish the workout and your hair and makeup are still perfectly in place. Working at that level of intensity is really hard for most people to do, especially on their own. If you are self motivated enough to do it – Tabata’s are a great fit for you, if not either find a group to work with that will motivate you, or choose one of the other options I’ll outline below. Just to be clear – I WANT YOU TO DO TABATA’s I just want you to do them RIGHT.
20 seconds of work, followed by 10 seconds of rest doesn’t seem that hard until you get going, then the 20 second work intervals seem to stretch on forever, and the 10 second rests seem to end before they’ve started. Ah Tabata’s are so much fun =) You can do Tabata workouts with any functional movement, but I recommend that you start off with cardio type movements (Running, Rowing, Cycling, etc) or resistance movements you are very comfortable doing high reps with (I mean 150 reps in a set unbroken). Otherwise you run the risk of injuring yourself, and that never improved anyone’s fitness.
Eventually you can progress to doing more than one set of Tabata intervals per workout, and even vary the exercises between sets. Typically you do want to stick with one exercise per 4 minute interval however.