Tah-bar-whaaaa? Yeah, I hear you. When the word “Tabata” started floating around fitness circles recently, I had no idea whether it referred to a rare form of martial arts, a new style of yoga or an acronym for something torturous; I mean, you just never know these days.
I’m all for variety and adding something new to my workout schedule, so I decided it was time to find out what this Tabata training was all about.
Originally developed for Olympic speed skaters in 1996, the Tabata workout actually gets its name from the professor who created it, Izumi Tabata. It is a form of HIIT (high-intensity interval training) with the basic premise of exercising intensely for 20 seconds, recovering for 10 seconds and repeating continuously to make up 4 minutes, or eight intervals. Any workout that is 4 minutes long is doable — surely!
Tabata and other forms of HIIT training have seriously rocked our understanding of fat-burning exercise. Over the past 20 years or so, the mantra has been that slow and steady exercise for at least 30 minutes keeps your heart rate in the ultimate fat-burning zone. Recent studies have found that, while moderate-intensity workouts continue to demonstrate effective fat-burning during the activity, the real magic of Tabata is what happens afterwards. HIIT workouts like Tabata increase the body’s resting metabolic rate for up to 3 hours after the exercise, resulting in more successful and prolonged weight loss.
Lazy Girl Fitness-approved
Personal trainer and blogger, Jess, from Lazy Girl Fitness, is one of my online exercise gurus. She rates Tabata as one of her favourite workouts, “I find the Tabata training method an excellent one if you’re lacking in the self-motivation department. I love it for so many reasons, but if I had to whittle it down to just three, I’d say it’s time efficient, it’s simple and you can do it anywhere.”
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Don’t be fooled, though; Tabata is by no means an easy workout. Jess explains, “Because the intervals are short, it’s an easy session to wrap your head around psychologically, but during those intervals, you are working at maximum capacity, so it is not for the faint of heart or someone who is new to exercise.”
Fitting in with her philosophy that you should work smarter rather than harder, Jess suggests that, “The most effective way to use Tabata is to choose a compound exercise, like burpees or squat presses, and go hard. An easier (and I use the term loosely) way would be to choose an upper and lower body exercise and alternate between the two of them throughout the 4-minute set.”
Time to test Tabata
With my Tabata Timer app downloaded for free and the Lazy Girl Fitness website open at a workout called “Tabata of Terror“, I was ready to go and more than a little nervous. I liked that I recognised all of the exercises and I didn’t need any extra equipment. However, the little internal voice saying, “It’s only 20 seconds; you can do it!” was fighting to be heard over that increasingly-incredulous voice questioning, “Burpee? Burpee?” Oh well, here goes nothing:
- Set 1: My first set was high knees. Twenty seconds on, 10 seconds off. It was a great active warm-up, although I did struggle to get my knees high towards the end.
- Set 2: burpees. I was feeling warm and motivated at the start of this set, but it did nearly break me. Let’s just say my form was less than ideal by the end of 4 minutes and a shirt that kept riding up was a welcome excuse to miss a rep or two. I did survive, but I appreciated every second of that 2-minute rest.
- Set 3: mountain climbers. I was looking forward to an easier set after the burpees, but this was a surprisingly-strong cardio exercise that I felt in my shoulders and it kept my heart rate up.
- Set 4: squat jumps. I can squat and I can sort of jump, but combining the two, after all of the other exercises, wasn’t pretty. I worked hard to stay focused by trying to match or beat my reps in each interval and, after a lag in the middle, I finished the set off strong, with a healthy dose of lactic acid build-up to boot.
- Set 5: abs. It was a welcome relief to lie down and work a different area after all those leg exercises, but I still may have cheated by varying it up over the eight intervals.
Tabata: The verdict
I have done interval training before, but nothing quite like this. I liked how prescriptive the short and sharp format was and I also liked how versatile it was to work with lots of different exercises. I was definitely maxed out after 4 minutes, but it is amazing how quickly you forget (2 minutes to be precise — the rest period between each set) and are willing and motivated to go back for more.
My competitive side got an airing during this workout and I counted how many reps I performed in each interval, then I tried to match it or better it in the next one. It would be quite easy to gauge improved fitness by recording the reps or having a goal to work towards and that is an added incentive for me.
After the Tabata of Terror workout, it took at least 3 hours for my post-exercise happy endorphins to wear off and I totally believe the claims of prolonged fat-burning; it has now been 24 hours and I can still feel the burn in my legs.
Tabata is a winner for me. I am adding it to my list of go-to home workouts and I recommend it as a way to pump out a quick workout when you are feeling a bit lazy and add some variety to your exercise regimen. Of course, we recommend checking with your doctor before starting this or any exercise.