Tabata Protocol — Shortest Workout System

A woman working out very hard on a bike

Tabata workout is very hard, but it will give you a great cardio benefit in the shortest time.

We are all busy; we don’t have 3 hours a day to work out. That is why Tony Horton’s 10 minute Trainer DVD is one of most popular home workout DVDs. Even in a gym, short and intense circuit training exercises and interval training based workout systems are pushed as “the best fat burning workouts.”

Many people are still skeptical about the effectiveness of these short workouts, but more and more studies are indicating that shorter workouts are more effective than the longer workouts.

For example, In a University of Copenhagen study, researchers divided overweight people into two groups and asked them do either a 30 minute daily workout or a one hour daily workout for three months. Amazingly, a group who exercised only 30 minutes a day lost 30% more body fat than the group who worked out one hour daily!

One of the extremes is Tabata protocol. Although the original study was done back in the mid-90s, Tabata protocol has gotten really popular the last couple of years. The charm point is that you can finish the cardio workout in 4 minutes and it gives far more benefits than longer cardio workouts! In the original study, those who did a 4 minute extremely hard workout increased cardio capacity more than the people who did 60 minutes of a moderate cardio workout.

The workout system works like this: after a couple of minutes of a warm up, you do any types of cardio workout exercises as hard as you can for 20 seconds, then take a 10 second break. Repeat this for 8 times; for a total of 4 minutes of workout.

The key is “as hard as.” If you don’t push till the edge, you don’t get the benefits. You need to reach your maximum heart rate (and beyond!). This is quite hard, especially if you are working out just by yourself. Most people cannot push without a personal trainer watching you and screaming at you to push harder.

If you are a total beginner, you may not want to try this one for a while. You also should consult your doctor before doing this as it is very taxing for your heart. You don’t want to get a heart attack from the workout.

If you think that you are ready, the first thing you need to do is to get a good timer, because timing is critical; you must observe 20/10 second intervals strictly. There are so many free Tabata timers available for smartphones; you should get one as your cardio trainer. There are some apps that give you a workout, too, but you don’t need them (they charge money for that).

I personally recommend using a spinning bike or a stationary bike, at least at beginning. It is easy to control the hardness and it is less stressful for your joints. If you have access to these bikes, set the resistance to high medium to high, and then do the Tabata workout.

If you don’t have any access to a spinning or a stationary bike, you can do a vertical jump, a side jump, and running on the spot. These are probably most popular Tabata workouts at home, though you need to watch your knees. The advantages of this one are that you can rotate the workout from vertical jump, side jump, then to running on the spot, one interval to the next. You can use slightly different muscles groups and you may be able to push harder than just by using the same muscle groups on a bike.

There are some draw backs, too.

Although Tabata protocol will boost your metabolism and help you to burn more calories throughout the day, it is not enough to burn the desired amount of calories if your main goal is to lose weight. I recommend doing muscle toning workouts before the Tabata workout. If you can do Horton’s 10 minute workout then a Tabata workout immediately after, probably you can burn quite a bit of calories and still you can finish your entire workout in less than 30 minutes.

Another possible problem is for a competitive sport participant. If you are a competitive runner and use only a spinning bike, even though your cardio capacity is up, your running muscles may not be stimulated enough. You need to include some running time in your program to avoid that problem.

Note for an advanced exerciser. Although I found Tabata protocol works really well for the heart function, I also found that my lung capacity did not improve while using it. You may want to use a lung exerciser to strength your inhaling capacity.

Effects of Fractionized and Continuous Exercise on 24-h Ambulatory Blood Pressure Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2012 Jul 6
Body fat loss and compensatory mechanisms in response to different doses of aerobic exercise – a randomized controlled trial in overweight sedentary males. AJP: Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology, 2012
Effects of moderate-intensity endurance and high-intensity intermittent training on anaerobic capacity and VO2max. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1996 Oct;28

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