Dr. Izumi Tabata is rocking my world lately — even though we’ve never actually met.
If you haven’t yet heard about Tabata training, it’s a versatile, efficient mode of interval training. Developed by Dr. Tabata to improve the performance of Olympic speed skaters, this form uses a cycle of 20 seconds of maximum effort and 10 seconds of rest, alternated eight times and flanked by a warm up and cool down. (See graphic to the right.)
“Twenty seconds — easy-breezy!” That’s what I said when I first heard of it. “Twenty seconds — surely that was twenty minutes!” is what I said after trying it for the first time. It sounds deceptively easy.
What I love about Tabata training:
1. It’s lightning-fast. In less than 20 minutes, I’ve had a kick-butt workout for both aerobic and anaerobic performance.
2. It’s versatile. Almost any drill or exercise can be shaped into Tabata intervals. Do it with equipment or without; do it in the gym, at home, while traveling — wherever, whatever, whenever.
3. It works. Just try it; you’ll see what I mean. Wear a heart monitor and you’ll even get tangible proof. Every one of my monitor measurements top the charts on Tabata days.
4. It keeps working. Tabata keeps your internal calorie furnace burning for hours after your workout ends, while a lower-intensity and/or steady-state cardio workout typically burns out around 30-60 minutes after stopping exercise.
5. When I’m done, I feel like I’ve just conquered the world.
6. It works your brain. To do this and make it work, you must commit to it. When you’re entering the 6th or 7th round and you can’t catch your breath, you need your mind to take over and stick to the 20-10 interval. I’m not a “play through the pain” sort of trainer, but I do believe in a healthy dose of discipline (barring injury).
What challenges me about Tabata:
1. See number 6 above. It’s really tough to finish the drill sometimes. Some days, it’s hard to get started because you know that it’s going to be tough. Other days, it’s even tough to start a different kind of workout because you feel like you just nailed it with your Tabata training yesterday. And yet, pushing through the challenge is somehow part of the fun.
2. It’s not for everyone. Wouldn’t it be nice to find a “one-size-fits-all” solution that’s this effective? But it doesn’t work that way — Tabata is for experienced exercisers and people who want to push themselves.
3. You need a timer. Remember how I said you don’t need equipment? Not quite true: you do still need some sort of timer. There are great apps for this; I use Impetus for Android.
4. It might make you look nuts. If I’m on a Tabata run through my Atlanta-area neighborhood, I can almost feel people peering through their curtains to look at the lunatic who runs as fast as she can for a few seconds, and then slows down. Yeah, you get some really odd reactions. (On the other hand, maybe that’s a safety “plus”: the true lunatics tend to leave you alone that way.)
So, there — I’ve said it. I’m pledging my undying love to Dr. Tabata, and I don’t care who knows it. In fact, pass it around to your friends, will you?
*Note: always check with your doctor before beginning any exercise program.