What Is Tabata, the Seriously Efficient 4-Minute Workout

What Is Tabata, the Seriously Efficient 4-Minute Workout

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

In addition to being an incredibly efficient form of exercise, this type of quick HIIT workout can instantly energize your system the way a cup of coffee would. Like all high-intensity strength and cardio, the benefits of Tabata 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 does it differ from other types of HIIT? It’s kind of like how a square is a rectangle, but a rectangle isn’t a square. The distinction is all in the details.

So, what is Tabata?

As previously mentioned, Tabata is a type of high-intensity interval training, meaning you’re all-out effort during each exercise, then trying to let your heart rate recover as much as possible during the rest period.

Specifically, Tabata involves performing eight rounds of 20-second work intervals with 10 seconds of rest in between, for a total of four minutes. Often trainers will stack Tabata workouts to make a longer sweat session, with 20 minutes (40 rounds) being a common duration to do this type of exercise. But if you’ve ever tried it yourself, you know that you’ll feel recharged and worked after just four minutes.

Where does the name Tabata come from?

“There’s a little discrepancy on who actually pioneered the method, but most sources will tell you that Izumi Tabata, a Japanese university professor, is the creator of the method,” says trainer Jacy Cunningham. Hence why the workout bears his name. Dr. Tabata developed the method to help Olympic speed skaters train.

What makes Tabata different from other HIIT workouts?

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

“Tabata is considered shorter-duration, high-intensity training,” she says. It’s work-to-rest ratio is always 20 seconds on, 10 seconds off. Interval durations can vary during general HIIT workouts, with anywhere from 15 to 60 seconds of work being common and rest periods normally lasting from 10 seconds to two minutes, depending.

What are the benefits of a Tabata workout?

Efficiency is the main gain with Tabata. “In addition to all the other benefits of HIIT like increased endurance and strength, the primary benefit of Tabata is to get a lot of work done in a short amount of time,” Atkins says.

Cunningham agrees, and adds that “some other benefits include an increase of fat burning and metabolism.” Fat is simply stored energy, which is why your body pulls it for fuel more than with other workouts because Tabata  causes such an energy expenditure that your system has to tap its reserves to replenish itself. And your body will continue burning calories at a higher level after HIIT workouts (something called the afterburn effect or EPOC). In fact, Tabata creates the most ideal conditions for an afterburn.

So when you’re short on time, but still want to squeeze in some physical activity, Tabata is your best bet. But as Atkins points out, just because it’s short and sweet doesn’t mean you get to skip your warm-up or cool down. So make sure you’re still getting in some dynamic stretches beforehand and taking time to let your heart rate fully return to normal after with some static stretches and even slow stroll.

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 one four-minute chunk or do more, time permitting. 

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