May 17, 2022

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Tabata training: How to do the short, fat-blasting HIIT workout

Consider Tabata training.

It’s a type of high-intensity interval training workout created by Japanese scientist Izumi Tabata. Like other forms of HIIT, it involves periods of exercising intensely with an elevated heart rate, alternated with shorter recovery periods. Tabata training consists of performing the same exercise through eight sets of 20 seconds of work and 10 seconds of rest. That’s 4 minutes total per round of Tabata.
Tabata is generally performed using only body-weight exercises, but you can apply light resistance by using bands or low-weight dumbbells with certain exercises such as squatting. You can also do exercises Tabata-style, using equipment such as a jump rope, Hula Hoop or mini-trampoline.

If you’re feeling up to the challenge, you can perform multiple rounds, doing a different exercise each time, taking at least a 1-minute break between rounds before starting the next exercise.

Read on for four exercises you can try Tabata-style in single rounds or consecutively for a total-body HIIT workout.

Important note: Make sure to check with your doctor before beginning any new exercise program.

Why Tabata training?

Consistent moderate-intensity cardio workouts offer myriad health benefits, but there are compelling reasons to add Tabata into your overall training.
My friend and celebrity trainer Ashley Borden shared her experience with Tabata’s benefits. “Despite the low time commitment, Tabata is not just a fad, but an exercise style based in science that offers a highly efficient means of burning fat,” said Borden, who was a trainer on E!’s “Revenge Body With Khloe Kardashian” and who has been featured on “The Kelly Clarkson Show.”
In a 12-week study of overweight young men, participants saw an average 17% reduction of visceral fat by doing 20 minutes of high-intensity training three times per week without altering their diets.

Borden said she regularly uses Tabata in her online classes for the fat-burning benefits as well as the less intimidating nature of its format — 20 seconds on, 10 seconds off. “It’s something that people feel is more doable than trying to push themselves for 5 minutes before a minute of rest,” she said. “They say, ‘I can push myself for 20 seconds.’ That’s a big selling point for people who might be intimidated by other forms of HIIT.”

Getting started

With Tabata training, you want to keep the exercises simple so it’s easier to maintain form. Even in 20-second spurts, high-intensity exercise is exhausting, making it more difficult to maintain proper form throughout the 4 minutes. When form breaks down, injury risk goes up.

That’s why it’s important to modify exercises, as necessary, to make them easier to execute. For instance, if you’re doing push-ups and notice that exhaustion is starting to affect your execution, drop to your knees so you can finish the full 4 minutes with good form.

Because of the high-intensity nature of Tabata training, it’s crucial to use caution. If you’re new to exercising or have recently taken time off and are just getting back into it, build up to higher intensities rather than jump into this style of training too fast.

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As with any exercise program, consult your physician before starting. The safest way to practice high-intensity exercise is to monitor your heart rate. If you experience chest pain or difficulty breathing, stop immediately and seek medical attention.

The workout

Tabata can work with almost any simple, repeatable exercise. Below, I’ve outlined four you can use in the 4-minute format of 20 seconds of work, 10 seconds of rest. It doesn’t matter how many reps you perform during the 20-second intervals if you’re working at a high intensity. On a scale of 1 to 10 of perceived exertion, that’s an 8 or 9. High intensity is considered 80% to 90% of your maximum heart rate, which is why wearing a heart rate monitor is advisable.

If you choose to do all four rounds as a workout, it’s essential that you adequately warm up and cool down.

Unsure of what to do for a warm-up or cooldown? You can use the same positional breathing exercises I do working with Yankees right fielder Aaron Judge as part of his workout prep by following along with these instructions. And you can try this 5-minute yoga routine to cool down.

1. Body-weight squats

During high-intensity exercise, keep the exercises simple so it's easier to maintain proper form.

Stand with your feet a little wider than hip distance. Inhale, brace your abdomen and lower into a squat with your arms out in front at shoulder distance for counterbalance. Push your knees out slightly, squatting until your hips and knees are parallel, or as low as possible, with your chest up and back neutral. Exhale as you push through your feet to stand up.

Modification option: Squat to a box or a chair.

2. Push-ups

Push-ups strengthen arms, shoulders, back and core.

From a plank position with your wrists under your shoulders, lower your entire body down by bending your arms until your elbows, shoulders and hips are level.

Be mindful not to arch your back.

Avoid arching your back by keeping your core engaged. Exhale as you push up, moving your entire body in one motion.

Modification option: Either lower to your knees or elevate your upper body by placing hands on a step.

3. Jumping jacks

You can reduce the speed of your jumping jacks if your form starts to slip.

Jumping jacks are performed by jumping your legs out to the side in a straddle position as you take your arms out and above your head so your hands meet (or come close). Then jump your legs back together while bringing your arms back down to your sides.

Modification option: Reduce speed or shorten range of motion.

4. Mountain climbers

Doing mountain climbers will get your heart pumping.

Begin in a plank position with your hands aligned under your shoulders, core engaged and back neutral. Alternate by bringing each knee up to your chest, then back to plank position, at a pace you can sustain.

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Modification option: Do a plank hold without moving your legs.

Tabata training is one of the most efficient ways to accomplish maximal calorie and fat burning in minimal time.

“If fat burning is a goal,” Borden said, “adding Tabata to your workouts adds so much value to your health and time management.”

Dana Santas, known as the “Mobility Maker,” is a certified strength and conditioning specialist and mind-body coach in professional sports, and is the author of the book “Practical Solutions for Back Pain Relief.”