What is Tabata, a seriously efficient 4 minute workout

i amIt’s easy to pass your four minutes doing absolutely nothing. You can look at the clouds, ponder the meaning of life, count your freckles, let your mind wander. They’re great uses of those few free minutes since, generally speaking, we don’t spend enough time doing anything. But if you’re doing Tabata, a form of high-intensity interval training or HIIT, four minutes is all you need for a kick-ass workout.

Besides being an incredibly effective exercise, this type of quick HIIT workout can instantly energize your system like a cup of coffee. Like all high-intensity strength and cardio, Tabata’s benefits include boosting your mood, lowering your blood sugar, improving your cognitive health, and more.

So why does Tabata get its own special name? Where did the name come from in the first place? And how is it different from other types of HIIT? It’s kind of like a square is a rectangle, but a rectangle is not a square. The difference is all in the details.

So, what is Tabata?

As mentioned earlier, Tabata is a type of high-intensity interval training, meaning you go all-out during each exercise, then try to recover your heart rate as much as possible during the rest period.

Specifically, Tabata involves performing eight rounds of 20-second work intervals with 10 seconds of rest for a total of four minutes. Often trainers will stack Tabata workouts to create longer sweat sessions, with 20 minutes (40 rounds) being a typical duration for this type of exercise. But if you’ve ever tried it yourself, you know you’ll feel recharged and working just four minutes later.

Where does the name Tabata come from?

“There is a bit of disagreement as to who actually pioneered this method, but most sources will tell you that Japanese university professor Izumi Tabata is the originator of this method,” says instructor Jacey Cunningham. Hence why the workout bears its name. Dr. Tabata developed the method to help train Olympic speed skaters.

What makes Tabata different from other HIIT workouts?

Tabata is a form of HIIT, but Cunningham says what sets it apart is its “duration and intensity.” Strength and conditioning expert Charlie Atkins, CSCS, adds that its “defined structure” makes it stand out from the pack of interval training options.

“Tabata is considered short-duration, high-intensity training,” she says. Its work-to-rest ratio is always 20 seconds on, 10 seconds off. Interval durations can vary during a typical HIIT workout, with 15 to 60 seconds of work being common and rest periods typically lasting from 10 seconds to two minutes, depending.

What are the benefits of a Tabata workout?

Major gains in efficiency with Tabata. “Along with all the other benefits of HIIT, such as increased endurance and strength, the primary benefit of Tabata is getting a lot done in a short amount of time,” says Atkins.

Cunningham agrees, and adds that “some of the other benefits include increased fat burning and metabolism.” Fat only stores energy, which is why your body draws on it more for fuel than other workouts because Tabata expends such energy that your system has to replenish its reserves on its own. And your body will continue to burn calories at a higher level after a HIIT workout (called the afterburn effect or EPOC). In fact, Tabata creates the most ideal conditions for afterburn.

So when you’re short on time, but still want to do some physical activity, Tabata is your best bet. But as Atkins points out, just because it’s short and sweet doesn’t mean you’ll skip your warm-up or get cold. So make sure you’re still doing some dynamic stretching and taking time to get your heart rate back to normal after some static stretching and even slow walking.

If 20 seconds on, 10 seconds off sounds like a workout plan you can get behind, we’ve got you covered. You can bang out a four-minute segment or do more, time permitting.

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