One of the most common excuses I hear for not having enough time to work out is lack of time to train. What this usually really means is “I’m not motivated enough” or “I can’t be bothered”. Whilst it’s everyone’s personal decision whether to train or do exercise it’s better to be honest with yourself so that these barriers can be overcome by making workouts more fun, training with friends or by taking up a sport you enjoy, to name but a few ideas.
HOWEVER, if you want to keep super fit but genuinely do not have enough time to do a solid workout and you want to keep your fitness levels high and your body challenged, Tabata Training could be for you!
In a nutshell, Tabata is a super high-intensity circuit workout that lasts 4 minutes. Now, I imagine you’re thinking that 4 minutes doesn’t sound all that bad, but it’s 4 minutes of the highest intensity possible – 10.0 on the intensity scale. This maximum intensity is coupled with the 2:1 work:rest ratio, which makes it is an EXTREME workout. Please bear in mind that this was designed for Olympic athletes competing at the top level to shock their body so it’s not for the faint-hearted.
The circuit is broken down into:
20 seconds work (maximum 10.0 on 0-10 RPE intensity scale i.e. as many reps as possible, as fast as possible)
10 seconds rest
Repeat 7 times to make a complete 8 circuits (using one exercise or a mix of different exercises)… and there’s your complete Tabata workout that Dr Izumi Tabata himself would be proud of (yes, he invented it).
At the bottom of this post is the best example of Tabata I could find on YouTube, which uses the TRX training system.
Now we should be clear that Tabata training is not for beginners. The Tabata Timer app on the iPhone has a rather daunting warning that I quite like:
Tabata training is very intensive training and can lead to loss of consciousness.
So not for everyone. It is a favourite amongst combat athletes, MMA fighters, Olympic lifters and sportsmen because it hits both your aerobic and anaerobic systems, which means it improves your sprinting/explosive movements as well as your CV endurance – perfect for sportsmen and sportswomen who compete at a high level!
Other benefits include the ‘kick-start’ it gives to your metabolism, which means you burn calories for hours afterwards as your body recovers from the high levels of intensity. It’s also, as mentioned before, great for those who don’t have much free time. Even if you work 12-hour days you could still squeeze one of these into a 15 minute break.
I feel that another big benefit is that because it is such a gruelling workout it prepares weight trainers for hardcore exercise in a way that not many other types of training can’t. It really pushes you physically and psychologically and that can only be good for getting yourself to go that little bit further, to get one more rep out.
What type of exercises should I use with Tabata?
A few things to bear in mind – big compound exercises should be used and not isolation exercises that work one muscle, like bicep curls. A few examples are:
- Squat jumps
- Clean & jerks
- Press ups
- Pull ups
- Kettlebell swings
- Military shoulder press
- Jumping jacks/star jumps
You should also be careful with the amount of weight used – after 3 or 4 sets of these you’ll be feeling it, so if you overestimate your weight you may not finish the 8 circuits or your form could be compromised which can be dangerous with movements such as deadlifts. So keep your ego in check when selecting weights at the beginning.
Last word – if you don’t work at 100% during the 20 seconds work phase and if you cheat and have more than 10 seconds rest then you’re not Tabata training. Simple as. That’s not to say that you’re workout won’t be effective because it will, but it will not be nearly as effective as Tabata performed properly.
If Tabata is a little beyond your fitness levels, a Tabata-style circuit workout with, for example, longer rest periods, can still be squeezed into a short time frame and will still be great.
Be careful, and enjoy!