Can Tabata Get You Fit In 4 Minutes?

A workout that promises to boost fitness levels in just four minutes may sound too good to be true, but when it comes to speedy results, the experts say Tabata really works. We spoke to three trainers to understand more – from how Tabata differs to HIIT to all the equipment you need, here’s what you should know…

First – what exactly is Tabata?

“Tabata is a type of HIIT (high intensity interval training) which follows a set structure: 20 seconds work, ten seconds of rest, repeat for eight times for a total of four minutes. It is especially effective for people wanting to maximise their training impact in a short amount of time. Tabata is named after the Japanese scientist Dr Izumi Tabata. In 1996, Dr Tabata and his team at the National Institute of Fitness and Sports in Tokyo conducted scientific research on the benefits and effects of HIIT. They found that a group who performed Tabata-style training (i.e. very high intensity for a shorter amount of time) increased their anaerobic fitness by 28% and increased their aerobic fitness more than the group who did more moderate intensity training for a longer amount of time.” – Alex Parren, certified personal trainer 

So, what’s the difference between HIIT and Tabata?

“In short, all Tabata is HIIT, but not all HIIT is Tabata. The idea behind Tabata is that the short intervals are done at peak intensity. The short rounds of four minutes are supposed to take you to your absolute limit in order to get maximum results in a short amount of time. Conversely, with HIIT, there is no set structure and a HIIT workout will generally be longer in duration and slightly lower in intensity. Plus, there are a lot of different types of HIIT – such as a CrossFit-style MetCon or a bootcamp-style circuit workout. The work and rest periods in these workouts are generally longer (usually between 30 and 60 seconds) and the overall workout lasts longer (between 45 to 60 minutes is standard).” – Alex 

What are the benefits of Tabata?

“Tabata doesn’t guarantee better results than HIIT – it’s only more effective in the sense that it feels harder because of the shorter duration of time and higher intensity. Tabata has never been scientifically proven to provide greater fat loss than HIIT, but studies also show Tabata can boost metabolism as well as aerobic and anaerobic fitness levels; increase lean muscle mass and raise heart rate.” – Mckenzi Sager, EXALT resident fitness specialist 

“Performing Tabata-style workouts will increase your lung capacity, your ability to work as hard as possible for longer and improve your ability to recover between bouts. The chemical reactions that occur within the body from such high intensity work have been shown to be a driving factor behind an increase in muscle mass. However, the results you see will always come down to the choices you make outside of the gym – think nutrition and recovery – as this is where you spend most of your time.” – Jonathan Dick, coach at Equinox

Does heart rate matter, then?

“Yes – heart rate does matter. If you are on a budget, a heart rate monitor is not essential, but it can be helpful to ensure you are working at Zone 5 (or 90-92% of your max heart rate). If you don’t have a heart rate monitor try and work as hard as you possibly can, and then try and work 15% harder. Your body will nearly always be more capable and be able to go for harder and longer than you think. A lot of the barriers are mental rather than physical (think of marathon runners ‘hitting the wall’). Working at what you believe to be your maximum is often below your body’s actual capability. But, always take the time after exercising to see how you feel and monitor the next day or so. Slowly build up the amount of sessions. You want to push yourself hard, but not overdo it either. It’s all about balance.” – Mckenzi 

Who is it best suited to?

“Due to the intensity needed for Tabata to be effective, it’s better suited to more advanced exercisers and those who are already at a good level of fitness. The original Tabata workout was designed for elite athletes and it’s clear to see why. If you’re just starting your fitness journey or haven’t exercised in a while, it’s advisable to stick with lower intensity, steady state training to build an aerobic base before you move on to more advanced workouts. For Tabata to be effective, you need to be able to perform the exercises with perfect form at a high intensity, so you should be experienced and comfortable performing a wide range of movements.” – Alex

“Tabata training is best suited to those who enjoy the intensity of demanding training, but it also suits those who are short on time. If you’re completely sedentary and a total beginner, you can always start with two minutes (or four cycles) and work your way up. Just remember to always do a light warm up pre-workout and cool down when you’re done.” – Mckenzi 

Tabata training is best suited to those who enjoy the intensity of demanding training, but it also suits those who are short on time.
Mckenzi Sager

Are there some people who should avoid Tabata?

“Anyone who is experiencing high levels of stress should be wary of Tabata. If you start to push the intensity too much when you are already stressed, you only end up piling on additional physical stress on top of an already growing mound of mental, and possibly emotional, stress too. This can be a recipe for disaster for any healthy habits you might be working on with regards to nutrition and sleep.” – Jonathan 

“Tabata works best with high impact exercises, meaning it isn’t suitable for those with underlying injuries or health conditions. It isn’t suitable for pre- or post-natal women due to the intensity and exertion. You shouldn’t do Tabata if you suffer from low blood pressure as it could cause light-headedness or dizziness and the same goes for those suffering from hypertension. If you fall into one of the above categories but still want to be able to do Tabata, a lower impact option is doing Tabata on an indoor bike, such as the Wattbike Atom. You can perform the work and rest intervals by sprinting or climbing in a high gear and still see great results without putting as much stress on your body.” – Alex 

What’s the biggest mistake you see people making with Tabata?

“The biggest mistake people make is manipulating the Tabata protocols into something they are not. By this, we mean taking a four-minute workout and making it 20-30 minutes long, thinking that more is better. If you are working as hard as you should be, then four minutes will be the most you’ll ever want to do. The other mistake people make is choosing the wrong exercises for the workout – isolation exercises such as bicep curls and calf raises won’t provide the same metabolic effect as using larger compound exercises, such as squats, deadlifts, kettlebell swings and medicine ball slams.” – Jonathan 

How to get started?

“Thanks to its easy-to-follow structure, Tabata is a workout that can easily be done at home or at the gym without the need for an instructor. Simply time the work and rest intervals on your phone or fitness watch and you can have the exercises written down to help you remember what they are. My top tip for sticking to the timings is listening to a Tabata song on Spotify. It’s a song that is specifically mixed to follow the timings of a Tabata workout so you don’t have to keep looking at the clock. Some even have a coach’s voice included to count down to the end of the round. As the goal is to work at the highest intensity possible, it’s best to use full body exercises and those which incorporate explosive movement and/or plyometrics. Moves like burpees, jumping squats, or box jumps fit this perfectly. The great thing about Tabata is you can do a wide range of exercises, whether they are body weight, functional, gymnastics, calisthenics, or using weights. Keep it interesting by mixing it up and achieve your specific goals by tailoring the exercises to you. For example, if you’re looking to improve your leg strength, use exercises like weighted squats and lunges; if you’re looking to improve overall cardiovascular fitness, go for body weight cardio exercises like burpees and skipping.” – Alex 

Where can you find inspiration?

“A good free option is the Tabata HIIT Interval Training app. The app includes training plans tailored to your objective — from lower and upper body to fat burning and core work — and includes a calorie counter, detailed statistics and syncs with your Google Drive and Apple Health which is handy if you are a data fiend. YouTube is also a great source of inspiration and has more options than Instagram.” – Mckenzi

What’s your favourite Tabata-style workout?

“My favourite Tabata workout is done on an indoor bike. It’s a classic eight-round Tabata session and is suitable for those with a medium to high level of fitness. This session will encourage fat burning and can increase your metabolic rate for up to 24 hours after the session is done. Start with three minutes of easy spinning to warm-up, and then do eight intervals, sprinting as fast as you can for 20 seconds, and then slowing down for ten seconds. The Wattbike Hub app is also a great place to source Tabata bike workouts – plus, they are produced by some of the world’s best coaches and athletes.” – Alex

“Pick four exercises, mixing full, lower and upper body. For example, do a combination of dumbbell thrusters, medicine ball slams, kettlebell swings and push-ups, all performed at a Tabata-style intensity. Try following @Variis on Instagram – we have a complete range of Equinox classes saved on the IGTV, including our Tabata class.” – Jonathan 

For more information visit Equinox.com and EXALT.co.uk
 

*Features published by SheerLuxe are not intended to treat, diagnose, cure or prevent any disease. Always seek the advice of your GP or another qualified healthcare provider for any questions you have regarding a medical condition, and before undertaking any diet, exercise or other health-related programme.

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