The exercise science community loves to argue. If you ask five fitness professionals a question, you’ll get six different opinions.
But for several years now, we’ve all agreed on one thing: HIIT is the king of efficient cardio. Steady rate is out.
Of course, people still run and bike and swim, but if you’re trying to burn fat and spare muscle, you can’t be running marathons (or even too many 5ks). But even within this tiny topic, there are still different strains.
One style of HIIT training that’s gained a lot of popularity is called Tabata.
Tabata training a form of ultra-high intensity intervals that was developed by Izumi Tabata, a scientist from Japan. There are some people that argue against it, but for the most part, it’s regarded as a useful tool for high performance athletes.
What Is Tabata Training?
Tabata consists of eight rounds of 20 seconds of high intensity and 10 seconds of inactive rest. That differs from traditional HIIT, which is high and low (i.e. active rest) activity, keeping the low period longer than the high.
So essentially, you’re creating a rest deficit, which is exactly why you only need four minutes.
Don’t go out and try it just yet. Chances are, if you do HIIT training, your high periods are no where near intense enough for Tabata.
If you’re going hard enough, 4 minutes should be all that you CAN do. A good Tabata session should leave you lying on your back, gasping for air.
However, most of us either can’t, or don’t want to push ourselves that hard. You’re not an Olympic athlete, and you don’t need to train like one.
Often when implementing it in the weight room, you can lower the intensity and do 2 to 3 different Tabata sessions.
But you need to still make sure you’re pushing your limits. You should give yourself enough time to recover between sessions, but you should still feel beat up after a few minutes of rest.
If you don’t need more than a minute between, your first round was basically just a warm up. Pick up the pace, and start over.
Programming a Tabata Workout
Typically, a session revolves around a single exercise. While you can definitely use something like sprints or a row machine, Ibiza liked to use exercises like front squats.
The movement itself is what we think of as “high intensity,” but once you knock out 12 of these, you’ll feel it.
If you’re looking for something more traditional, pick a movement like burpees. Go for explosive, full body movements.
If you’re going for multiple sessions, vary between body parts.
Three full sessions of burpees is a death sentence.
Pick a layout like row machine, then mountain climbers, and close it out with burpees.
That way you aren’t burning out one muscle group before exhausting the rest of your body.
The final way to do it is to actually disregard the whole “one movement per session” rule.
You can either pick 8 different exercises, alternate between one upper body and one lower body movement, or even just have a modification in mind for when you run out of steam mid session.
When I’m doing burpees, I’ll switch to jump squats when I get to beat up.
Tabata is risky. You can over do it and hurt yourself, or you can under do it, tricking yourself into thinking your 4 minutes of moderate intensity was good enough.
It’s good to do Tabata with a workout partner that can push you harder and pull you back when you need it. We don’t want any injuries in the weight room, but we also don’t want lightweights.