Tabata: Total Body Workout

July 2016 View more


If you’ve hit a slump with your fitness routine, it’s time to mix things up a bit. You may want to try Tabata. It’s a high-intensity, interval-training workout that was created in Japan.

High-Intensity Workout

When the head coach of the Japanese Olympic speed skating team wanted to design a high-intensity workout for his team, he turned to trainer Izumi Tabata for his expertise. Dr. Izumi Tabata is now a researcher and professor at Ritsumeikan University in Japan. He was a major player in the 1996 research study on the effects of moderate-intensity endurance versus high-intensity intermittent training (HIIT). His impressive findings created a buzz across the globe among the elite athletic community. Everyone started talking about Tabata—a short but high-intensity routine that lasts only four minutes. However, for some, it feels like the longest four minutes of your life.

Tabata Training

To begin Tabata, you work at the highest intensity possible for 20 seconds. Then you rest for 10 seconds. At this point, you’ve completed the first of eight sets. It’s nice to know that you get to choose the exercise. Think bicycle sprints, push-ups, running sprints, burpees, jumping rope, squats, basically anything that focuses on your large muscle groups. And correct timing is important. If you’re having a tough time counting in your head, use a timer app.

“A HIIT program like Tabata works because the exercises used can vary from cardio to strength so the whole body is challenged, the required intensity level is individually driven, and the exercise duration is short,” said Carol Teteak, fitness coordinator, Edward-Elmhurst Health and Fitness at Seven Bridges. “For maximum safety and effectiveness, one should warm-up prior to exercising, perform exercises properly, follow the intensity protocol, cool-down afterward and allow enough recovery time between workouts.”

If you really push yourself, you can burn about 300 calories during the 20-minute workout. “To reap the full benefits of a Tabata workout you’ll need to push yourself to about 80 to 95 percent of your maximum heart rate during each 20 second interval. A heart rate monitor is the best way to track this high-intensity work phase, however, you should feel like you’re exercising hard or very hard or at an 8–9 on a perceived rate of exertion scale of 1–10,” said Teteak. The higher intensity work phase creates greater energy expenditure which requires more oxygen. “In turn, metabolism remains elevated for a period of time after the workout and the body continues to burn fat. Over time, the body will become more efficient at using energy, burning fat and recovering,” said Teteak.

Research showed improvements with blood pressure, insulin sensitivity, and cholesterol profiles from the Tabata program. People also lost weight when a mix of cardiovascular and body weight strength exercises were performed.

Since Tabata puts great demands on your body, experts recommend you do this workout no more than three times per week with a 48 to 72 hour rest period for proper recovery. “Any type of HIIT workout is very challenging to the body and shouldn’t be performed unless the participant has established a good fitness base. A Tabata workout is even more grueling due to the extremely short recovery phase (10 seconds). Those not able to maintain the recommended intensity and/or not able to recover adequately enough to perform the exercises safely, put themselves at risk for injury,” said Teteak.

How to prepare your body safely and effectively before trying a Tabata Workout:

By Carol Teteak, fitness coordinator, Edward-Elmhurst Health and Fitness at Seven Bridges

• Decrease intensity

• Decrease duration of work phase

• Increase duration of recovery phase

• Modify/regress the exercise

• Allow the body 4–6 weeks to set a solid fitness base

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