Is it possible to actually get fitter while only exercising 4 minutes per day?
According to the “Tabata study” it is.
The tabata study was conducted in 1996 at the Japanese National Institute of Fitness and Sports by Izumi Tabata, Ph.D and his team of researchers. Dr. Tabata took two groups of elite athletes and put them through 6 weeks of 5 days per week training.
The first group ran 60 minutes per day at about 70% of their work capacity (VO2 max).
The second group did sprints following the “Tabata protocol.” They would sprint 20 seconds all out (170% of their V02 max), rest 10 seconds, then sprint again for 20 seconds, followed by another 10 seconds of rest. Alternating 20 second sprints with 10 seconds of rest was done for a total of 4 minutes (8 rounds).
At the end of the 6 week experiment Dr. Tabata and his team discovered the following:
The group that ran for 60 minutes per day, 5 days per week increased only their aerobic capacity or how long you can run by 9.5% and their anaerobic capacity or how long you can run at a max effort by 0%.
The group that performed the Tabata protocol increased their maximum aerobic capacity by 14% and their anaerobic capacity by 28%
Note: The difference between the aerobic and anaerobic system is mostly related to the duration and intensity of the exercise being performed and the type of fuel (fat, carbohydrate, etc..) that the body uses.
That’s super Justin but how can this help me and what the heck does it have to do with me?
I’m glad you asked sir (or madam)
One of the most common excuses I hear for not exercising consistently is TIME.
- I don’t have enough time
- My kids take up all of my time
- Work is eating up my time
- School is killing me and studying is taking so much of my time
Well, it’s TIME (1) (see what I did there) to learn how you can maximize your workout time and get the most bang for your buck at the gym, at home, or wherever the heck you workout.
CREATING MORE TIME FOR YOUR HEALTH BY EXERCISING LESS (#HIIT)
In the article “How to Perform Cardio For Better Results” we discussed what cardio actually is and how you can use it to maximize your results. In that article you and I talked a lot about high intensity interval training (HIIT) and the importance of including it in your training repertoire.
For a quick refresher the benefits of HIIT:
- Increased fat loss
- Preserves lean muscle tissue
- Is more sport specific (better for athletes)
- Improves work capacity or ability to work at maximal efforts for longer periods of time
- Builds mental toughness and grit
- Is much easier on the joints
- Improves your bodies ability to oxidize fats and carbohydrates in muscles
- Uses both the aerobic and anaerobic energy pathways (improves your “cardio” and maximal efforts)
- Releases more fat burning hormones like growth hormone (GH), testosterone (don’t work ladies), and adrenaline.
- Requires less TIME then traditional longer bouts of cardio
- Burns more calories per minute when compared to traditional forms of cardio.
- Basically high intensity training offers you far more benefits in a fraction of the time.
- Instead of spending 60 minutes in the gym, running outside, or biking you can practice HIIT for 20 minutes (and often less than that) and still get results.
So let me get this straight. You’re telling me to workout less?
Well, yes and no.
The main point of this article is to show you that you don’t need to workout 60 minutes everyday in order to become the fittest version of yourself (2). This article is intended to remove the TIME excuse from your vocabulary.
If I asked you on a scale of 1 to 10 how confident you were that you could exercise 5 days per week every day for 60 minutes for the next 30 days what would you say?
Ok, now if I asked you on a scale of 1 to 10 how confident you were that you could exercise 5 days per week every day for 20 minutes for the next 30 days what would you say?
The 20 minutes right? It’s far less daunting of a challenge and easier to implement into your already hectic enough schedule.
Here’s where the good news gets even better!
I’m not even going to ask you to exercise for 20 minutes. I’m going to ask you to exercise for 4.
THE 4 MINUTE WORKOUT: TABATA PROTOCOL
So what exactly is the Tabata protocol?
It is 20 seconds of very high intensity work followed by 10 seconds of rest. This would be repeated for 8 sets (a total of 4 minutes).
There are a ton of ways you could do this but to name just a few:
- Jump roping
- Bodyweight movements (squats, push-ups, pull-ups, etc…)
You could also use “oxygen sucking” exercises like these:
- Kettlebell swings
- Wall balls
- Medicine ball slams
A few basic tabata workouts that you could try:
- To do a running tabata you could run at an all out effort for 20 seconds, rest 10 seconds and repeat 8 times.
- To do a bike tabata you could use a stationary bike at the gym or at home and bike all out for 20 seconds, rest 10 seconds and repeat 8 times.
- To do a jump rope tabata you could do as many double unders (or single unders) as possible in 20 seconds, rest 10 seconds and repeat 8 times.
- To do a burpee tabata (yuck!) you could do as many burpess (or speed burpees) as possible in 20 seconds, rest 10 seconds and repeat 8 times.
Give those a shot and let me know if that wasn’t the best (or worst) 4 minute workout of your life.
How confident on a scale of 1 to 10 are you that you could start your day with a high intensity, super effective, and borderline superhero workout like that?
I’M CONFIDENT I COULD DO THAT. WHAT ELSE SHOULD I KNOW ABOUT TABATA’S
Getting your workout swerve on tabata style is very demanding on the body. If you remember from this article on hormesis, exercise like this can send your body into crisis mode.
But don’t get scared. Not crisis like, “am I going to die crisis.” More like, “I can’t wait until this is over because I’m very certain I may throw up crisis.”
There is also a greater risk for injury when you’re working at such a high intensity. Form can often be sacrificed for speed during workouts like this so make sure to focus on doing all of the exercises correctly (this library should help).
I hope I didn’t scare you too much but that side effect is pretty common when trying tabata workouts for the first time. The reason this occurs is due to a few things:
- Your body temperature is raising extremely quickly
- Your body fluids are decreasing extremely quickly
- Your bodies source of fuel and energy is getting depleted extremely quickly
- Changes in your blood PH are happening extremely quickly
- It’s hard for your body to get enough oxygen to where it needs to be fast enough
Justin, I do not want to throw up! What should I do?
Start slow: Don’t do yout tabata’s at an all out effort at first. In order to maximize the benefits you will eventually need to but if you’re going from the couch to a full on sprint this might be difficult. Even if you’ve been working out regularly or running consistently workouts like this may still be very difficult. You’ll be using a new energy system and easing your body to do something very foreign to it.
- Do less rounds. Instead of 8 just try 6, 4, or even 2.
- Increase the rest. Instead of only resting 10 seconds try 20, 40, or even a minute.
Use easier methods: Running is very demanding on the body and there’s a high risk of injury. Also, if you’re using a treadmill to do your tabata’s you’ll have to get comfortable with jumping on and off of one while it’s moving.
Treadmills are also very deceiving. For athletes running at 10 mph is about a 6 minute mile (pretty fast) but on a treadmill will feel much easier then if you were to do this outside on a track.
Running on a treadmill also under utilizes the hamstrings. If you decide to do running tabata’s head outside if you can but if that is not an option use an incline to increase the level of difficulty.
I recommend using a recumbent or stationary bike instead. The risk of injury, especially for a beginner is much less and it will be far easier to adjust to your the work and rest intervals. When using a bike make sure to adjust the resistance based on your body size and level of conditioning.
WHAT TYPE OF PERSON SHOULD BE DOING TABATA’S
Anyone can do a tabata workout but be honest with yourself and your level of fitness. If you’re a beginner start slow and build up. If you’re an athlete or already fairly well conditioned you can probably step up your game a little and include a variety of exercises, increased sets, and intensity.
Beginners will need time to adjust to the intensity. 20 seconds at an all out effort with 10 seconds of rest for 4 minutes can be extremely uncomfortable. The workouts are extremely difficult and only get tougher the more sets, exercises, and variety in exercises you use.
Athletes will benefit from this style of training because as studies have shown their work capacity will improve both aerobically and anaerobically.
Those looking to burn fat will benefit from the increase of fat burning hormones and the sparring of lean muscle.
Those with limited time can make it easy on themselves to build a consistent exercise habit. Only dedicating 4 to 16 minutes of your day to exercise is far less intimidating then trying to create time for an hour.
WHAT DO I NEED TO DO A TABATA WORKOUT?
You won’t need a whole lot to get in a tabata workout.
- A timer: You can use your phone, a watch, a stop watch, or any of these cool apps. Tabata timer, tabata trainer app, tabata stopwatch, tabata pro
- A list of exercises: Like this DIY chart (use the bodyweight exercises) or use the cheat sheet below
- Your body: Equipment for tabata’s is a bonus. All you really are going to need is your body
Pretty simple right?
TABATA CHEAT SHEET
- Beginner – 8 sets of 20 seconds of high intensity exercise with 10 seconds of rest. Total work time would only be 4 minutes
- Intermediate – 16 sets of 20 seconds of high intensity exercise with 10 seconds of rest. Total work time would be 8 minutes
- Advanced – 16 to 32 sets of 20 seconds of work with 10 seconds of rest. Total work time would be a maximum of 16 minutes
- Jump rope
- Box jumps (or broad jumps)
- Kettle bell swings
- Ring rows
- Inverted rows
- Sit ups
- Jumping squats
- Jumping lunges
- Jumping jacks
- Wall balls
- Ball slams
- Mountain climbers
An effective way to combine exercises for a tabata workout is to alternate lower body with upper body exercises.
- Monday – Stationary bike sprints, 20 seconds on, 10 seconds rest x 8 sets
- Wednesday – Squats, 20 seconds on, 10 seconds rest x 8 sets
- Friday – Toe touch jump, 20 seconds on, 10 seconds rest x 8 sets
- Monday – Jump rope, 20 seconds on, 10 seconds rest x 8 sets. Right after you 8th set of jump rope rest 10 seconds and go right into push-ups (incline, knee, or wall) for 20 seconds on and 10 seconds of rest x 8 sets.
- Wednesday – Treadmill sprints (stairs at home or outside), 20 seconds on, 10 seconds of rest x 8 sets. Right after your 8th set of treadmill sprints rest 10 seconds and go right into pull-ups (or inverted rows) for 20 seconds on and 10 seconds of rest x 8 sets.
- Friday – Box jumps (or broad jumps), 20 seconds on, 10 seconds of rest x 8 sets. Right after your 8th set of box jumps rest 10 seconds and go right into speed burpees for 20 seconds and 10 seconds of rest x 8 sets.
Here is an example of how you can perform a Tabata workout in the comfort of your own home… wearing your pajama’s even.
- Squats: 20 seconds on, 10 seconds of rest x 4-8 sets
- pull-ups (or inverted rows): 20 seconds on, 10 seconds of rest x 4-8 sets
- push-ups: 20 seconds on, 10 seconds of rest x 4-8 sets
- star sit-ups: 20 seconds on, 10 seconds of rest x 4-8 sets
If you happen to have a kettle bell at home try substituting kettle bell swings for your pull-ups for a super intense workout.
LETS WRAP THIS UP TABATA STYLE IN 20 SECONDS OR LESS
For those of you that are struggling to build a consistent exercise habit give the tabata protocol a try.
In fact, I dare you…. no, double dare you…. no, double dog dare you to start your day with this routine.
- Monday: Tabata workout based on your fitness level
- Tuesday: Walk, play, yoga, active recovery
- Wednesday: Tabata workout based on your fitness level
- Thursday: Walk, play, yoga, active recovery
- Friday: Tabata workout based on your fitness level
- Saturday: Walk, play, yoga, active recovery
- Sunday: Email me and tell me how this experience was for you 🙂
Use the examples I gave in this article or check out some of these awesome sauce tabata resources for more examples of great tabata style workouts.
- Greatist: 11 Tabata move you must try
- Fitsugar: Printable tabata workouts
- Tina Reale: Full body tabata routine
- Tabata Exercise: 15 tabata exercises
Have you tried a tabata workout? What did you think of it? Post in the comments below.
P.S.: The LimitlessBODY Blueprint as some great HIIT training examples to help you test your limits and build a LimitlessBODY. Joing hundred of others building healthy habits and check out the program if you dare.
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