Home > Bodyweight training, Circuit training, Training > get fit in 4 minutes with tabata training

get fit in 4 minutes with tabata training

The title of this blog looks like one of those ridiculous claims that you would see on the front cover of Men’s Health.  But I stand behind it because it’s been proven that four minutes of Tabata training really is more effective than an hour of cardio training.

The Tabata method is becoming an increasingly popular form of high intensity interval training (HIIT).  HIIT consists of short bursts of intense activity at near max heart rate, followed by less intense exercise or rest.  For example, sprint 30 seconds, jog one minute, sprint 30 seconds, jog one minute, and so on until you can’t continue.

The Tabata method takes this type of HIIT as a template and turns it into an exact science to maximise anaerobic capacity and VO2max.  In other words, four minutes of Tabata training produces better fitness results than an hour of endurance training.

All the hype comes from a 1996 study by the training method’s namesake, Izumi Tabata, from the National Institute of Fitness and Sports in Tokyo.  In his six-week study, participants were divided into two groups.  The first group did one hour of moderate cardio (70% VO2max).  The second group did eight rounds of 20 seconds intense exercise (170% VO2max) followed by 10 seconds rest – equalling a total of only four minutes.  Here are the results:

  Group 1 Group 2
Exercise Moderate cardio Tabata training: 20 seconds of activity followed by 10 seconds rest for eight rounds
Time 60mins 4mins
Frequency Five days per week for six weeks Five days per week for six weeks
Increase in anaerobic capacity Not significant 28%
Increase in VO2max 10% 14%

And the winner is: Tabata training.  In just four intense minutes, Tabata training achieves greater aerobic and anaerobic capacity and more max oxygen consumption than an hour of cardio training.  This not only means higher levels of fitness and exercise tolerance, but even results in more weight loss than moderate cardio.  Time to get off that elliptical machine!

Here’s how you do Tabata training:

Tabata training can be done with any exercise, but I prefer body weight exercises because they allow you to easily stick to the 20sec/10sec work/rest split, they can be done anywhere and they are challenging.  If you’re doing Tabata for the first time, I recommend starting with air squats.  So you would do eight rounds of:

  1. As many air squats as you can in 20 seconds
  2. Rest 10 seconds

Record the lowest number of squats that you did in any given set and use this as your benchmark.  So, if the lowest number of squats you could do in any of the eight rounds was 15, then this is your benchmark to beat next time.  Make sure you have a stopwatch, because the timing is precise.

Want something more challenging?  Try ‘Tabata Something Else’, taken from the CrossFit website.  It’s the same 20sec/10sec x8 routine, but with four different exercises: pull ups, push ups, sit ups and squats.  You do a four-minute Tabata sequence for each exercise, totalling 16 minutes.

  1. Pull ups: max reps in 20secs followed by 10secs rest: x8
  2. Push ups: ditto
  3. Sit ups: ditto
  4. Squats: ditto

If you’re interested in keeping tabs on your progress, record the total number of reps you did for each exercise for the entire 16 minutes then try to beat this next time.

One final note: make sure you go all out in Tabata training.  You should be well outside of your comfort zone and feel exhausted when you finish.  It’s only four minutes, but it should be a very hard four minutes.

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  1. Stuart Downes
    May 13, 2010 at 9:34 am

    Great blog, man, really useful. Keep up the good work.

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