Tabata, anyone?

 Allow me to first make a disclaimer regarding exercise – I know most of us feel good enough to just jump into things, but I have to say this: See your physician before starting any kind of exercise routine. It is best to work one-on-one with a professional to have your exercise plan tailored just for your needs, abilities, health, and limitations. Use the info at your own risk 😉

Tabata: it’s a modification of the popular High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), a training type that bodybuilder.com calls “the best, quickest way to get in shape, lose fat, and annihilate your competition.” Whoa! Well, I’m not trying to annihilate any competition that I know of!

Many personal trainers and coaches will encourage HIIT training to help maximize cardio time. Basically, you do small bursts of exercise, followed by a short rest period (“intervals“.) For example, sprint (“High Intensity”) for 10 seconds, walk 10 seconds, repeat these intervals multiple times. Or, use a bike, and do the same idea – power pedal 15 seconds, cruise for 10. Or use the stair stepper, or rowing machine, etc. (You may want to skip the treadmill, though, as usually changes in speed are lengthier to respond while the belt has to gradually slow.)

There are many different ratios for the bursts-to-rest durations, but all HIIT plans share the same philosophy:

Seriously vigorous activity utilizes extra oxygen as you pant harder and get your heart rate up even higher, and creates an “oxygen debt” – which triggers different mechanisms in your body than when you have ample oxygen to use.

This helps burn off the stored sugars you have in your blood and muscle, and will then utilize fat for energy. Since people are not likely able to sustain this very intense level of activity of prolonged heart rate and full-lung breathing – doing it in spurts is the next best thing.

In theory, you don’t need to do a long, steady workout to burn the same calories – plus, you get an “after burn” even once the exercise is finished, continuing to utilize fat stores for energy for some time after you have stopped.

Post-workout metabolism is boosted for a time as you experience EPOC (Excessive Post-exercise Oxygen Consumption), that time where, even after finishing, you walk around gasping and drooling for the next few hours 😉

In 1994, a group of scientists published a study in the journal Metabolism. They compared a group of people doing typical endurance training (ET) to those doing some HIIT. They found “the HIIT program induced a more pronounced reduction in subcutaneous adiposity (body fat) compared with the ET program” even though less energy was needed. When they corrected for energy costs (ie: if each group were to use the exact same amount of energy for their exercise), they saw that the loss of body fat was nine times greater in the HIIT program than the ET program!

Sounds good, right?

You can see Subcutaneous is the outer layer of fat. But visceral fat is some of the more dangerous fat!

So what specifically is the Tabata Protocol? I am not sure how this is different than any other ratio of HIIT exercise, other than it incorporates a whole plan of building up time and keeping track of heart rates. But I figured it only takes 8 minutes, so I’d give it a try!


The Tabata Plan:

 5 minutes of warm-up
8 intervals of 20 seconds all-out intensity exercise followed by 10 seconds of rest
2 minutes cool-down

So I hopped on an elliptical machine, turned on the ipod to psych me up, and gave it a go! The first 4 sets – not too bad! Panting hard, quads burning, and lungs really working! But I was enjoying the speed. When you’re watching the timer tick for a mere 20 seconds, that’s mentally easier to deal with that seeing it slowly plod along to the 30 minute goal… all 1800 seconds of THAT exercise!

The recommendation is to just start with 2-4 intervals, and gradually work up – but I did the first 4 and just felt like going through all 8!

So I kept pumping – push 20 while I bump the resistance to level 13-15, then cruise for 10 seconds at resistance level 2-4…

By set 6, it was getting tough! But I’d come this far, by golly, I was going to make the last 2 minutes!!

*Pant pant, puff puff, BURN!* Gahhhhh!!!!!

And then… ahhhhh, cruising for the last 2 minutes at level 3… peace. When I finished, my thighs felt like I’d done a pretty decent workout focused on the quadriceps! Wow! And I was shocked how long it took for my heart rate and breathing to return to normal. (Guess I gotta work on that recovery health!) But it felt good!

You want to “feel the burn”? Try some ratio of interval training! Push yourself, dig in, and see what you’ve got! (*Note: but not if you’re new to cardio! This is better for people used to regular cardio work already!)

But don’t forget that any activity is healthy, and all forms of exercise are beneficial – strength training is good for the muscles and bone density. Cardio in steady rates is good for endurance of the heart and lungs – plus helps you sweat out those toxins! 😉 And don’t forget stretching! Flexibility is important for keeping a healthy range of motion, preventing injuries, and keeping circulation moving.

So whatever method you choose – get moving! Even if it’s as simple as a walk at lunch. Or hey – next time you come to read a post here, stand up and do some stretching while you read. Just get that blood moving, and take care of your body. And be excited – you can get a decent workout in 8 to 10 minutes if you really need to! (No, that won’t totally make up for an otherwise chip-eating couch-potato existence… but baby steps to health can be addicting.)



Published by Kate Cline, RD

Registered Dietitian with a focus on Gut Health, Inflammation, and Functional Nutrition. Personal Trainer with a focus on corrective exercise. Yoga teacher, traveler, empowerment coach.

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