Athletes work tirelessly to have the slightest edge. They ceaselessly pursue sharpening their skills, speeding their minds, and being in peak physical condition. Once an athlete reaches peak physical form, it can be extremely difficult to gain the upper-hand when it comes to speed, endurance or strength. But there is a tool to continually push this peak: tabata intervals.
If a pro-fighter has an extreme cardio regimen, is it likely his opponent does as well? A football player has an all-out weight-lifting routine; doesn’t he have numerous opponents that are busting their asses to be the strongest as well?
There is no quick shortcut when it comes to building muscle, losing fat, or increasing cardio. In order to look leaner, stronger, and be more agile, hard work in the gym, on the field, or at the track must be done.
BUT there is ONE thing that does exist that will help athletes searching for the cardiovascular edge attain it. If you’re already putting in hard work, this ONE protocol 1-3 times a week will help you gain an edge in 4 minutes.
You may have seen those infomercials about an easy work-out in 10 minutes or less-those are an absolute lie. This is no easy 4 minute workout. It’s the Tabata Protocol, and it will make a man out of you. This is High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT).
Created in Japan by Izumi Tabata, Tabata Intervals are easily the greatest supra-aerobic cardiovascular workout discovered.
You will push yourself to your absolute limit for merely 20 seconds at a time. Then rest barely long enough to push yourself to your absolute limit again. And again. And again. 8 times in the span of only 4 minutes.
*Disclaimer: I’m not a doctor or even a personal training in training, even if I am a master at googling and diagnosing the strangest of ailments. Please consult your doctor for any concerns you have related to intense exercise, including Tabata Intervals.
What makes Tabata Intervals work:
I. Creating oxygen debt: Heavy breathing/Panting.
A. What’s happening in your body during tabata intervals: burning up glycogen (glucose in storage form) at an IMMENSE rate. Once you’re burning up glycogen, your body is also burning up a higher amount of stored fat as energy.
B. Your body must replace this energy very quickly before your next interval.
C. According to a small study by M. J. Gibala, short-term sprint-interval training had similar results to traditional endurance training.[i]
RMR (resting metabolic rate) is raised over the next 24 hours. Meaning you’re burning more calories as your body is recovering from the intense afterburn, aka “excess post-exercise energy consumption.”[ii]
How to do the original Tabata Intervals:
- 20 seconds of all-out intensity
- 10 seconds of rest
- Repeat: 8 total intervals = 4 minutes
Tabata Interval Examples
There are endless exercises you can do for 20 seconds at a time. But which really bring out maximum exertion for a full 20 seconds?
I. Bungee Ropes:
My absolute favorite. These create tension the entire time you are during the exercise. The harder you’re working the harder these are working against you.
You’ll need two bungee ropes. Snake each hand through the end-loop of a bungee. Your starting position will be far enough back from wherever the bungee is attached to leave no slack in the line. I suggest four movements for the first four intervals, then repeat. During the 10 second rest cycles, step forward a few feet to let off some slack while resting.
Interval 1: Dual-Arm Slaps. Raise both arms high above your head and “slap” the floor with the bungees. Do this from a semi-squat position as you’re moving the ropes up and down.
Interval 2: “Crazy Monkey” (Alternating Arm Slaps). Same as above, but one arm is coming down as the other arm is returning up.
Interval 3: Twisting Pulls. Pull both ropes to your left side, then your right side quickly. Don’t turn so hard and so fast as to injure yourself.
Interval 4: High-Lat/Trap Pulls. Stand up straight, leaning slightly back. Pull both ropes up high. The inside of your wrists should nearly touch your shoulders.
II. Heavy Ropes
Most gyms have thick ropes you can do similar tabata intervals with as above. I’m currently doing Tabata Intervals 2-3 times a week with these ropes at my gym. I do Dual-Arm Slaps, Crazy Monkey, and then I get a little lower and slap the ropes down on my far left and far right. I repeat these 3 sets for 8 total tabata intervals.
III. If you don’t have ropes or other equipment
Choose 3-4 high intensity exercises. I like to rotate through push-ups, squats, burpees, and tuck jumps depending on how my knees are feeling.
Here’s a site with six more great Tabata Interval rotations.
One of the advantages of Tabata Intervals is you’re not required to do high-impact running or jumping to get excellent cardio results. But if you want to mix it up without equipment, trying sprinting full-speed for 20 seconds, then jog into a walk for your 10 second break between intervals. Make sure to warm-up and stretch for no less than 10 minutes if you choose to do this.
Tabata Interval Timer
Assuming you don’t have a workout partner with a stop-watch but you do have a smart phone, I suggest buying a Tabata Timer or Round Timer app.
I don’t keep my earbuds in while using this-I’m afraid I’d tear them out crazy monkey style. The round timer I use changes the color of my screen from green (Go), to yellow (warning point), to red (rest). I like to sit it on the ground so I can see the colors change out of the corner of my eye.
My old martial arts instructor introduced me to Tabata Intervals. It helped me catch up to other students that had much better cardio than me. Now I’m not doing any martial arts. And I have an old ruptured ankle injury and pinched nerve (in my spine!) that really slowed me down. But Tabata Intervals let me increase my cardio and accelerate my fitness recovery without having to do high impact running. The cardiovascular results-and calorie burning-is so fast and rewarding I know I’ll retain Tabata Intervals as my favorite way to end a workout for years to come.
[i]M.J. Gibala (July 6, 2006). Short-term sprint interval versus traditional endurance training: similar initial adaptations in human skeletal muscle and exercise performance. Retrieved May 15, 2012.
[ii]T.P. Smith (2003). Optimising high-intensity treadmill training using the running speed at maximal O2 uptake and the time for which this can be maintained. Retrieved May 15, 2012.