Can the Tabata Method Rev Up Your Workout?
It’s said to build muscle faster and burn more calories. But can the Tabata Method work for you and your workout? Here’s what you need to know about this kind of intense workout and its bodybuilding promises.
No pain, no gain. That old gym-rat saying took on a little more scientific heft when Izumi Tabata, PhD, a former researcher at Japan’s National Institute of Fitness and Sports, discovered during a 1996 study that high-intensity interval training can more efficiently boost the performance of elite athletes.
The trickle-down translation: less training time, more muscle and calorie burn. Sweet, right?
The Take-Home Tabata Truth
Here’s the catch: The kind of training Tabata used in his study is impossible to replicate for most average gym-goers looking to drop a few pounds and sculpt their abs, says exercise physiologist Fabio Comana, a spokesperson for the American Council on Exercise.
“We’re seeing all kinds of variations and adulterations called ‘the Tabata Method,’” Comana says. “A more appropriate term for these types of workouts would be high-intensity interval training. These workouts are wonderful. They’re time-efficient and will definitely beat you up, and you’ll get a hell of a caloric burn.”
How is Tabata-inspired training different than run-of-the-treadmill interval training? You’re packing more exercise into a smaller amount of time. And your effort is supposed to be maxed out. In other types of interval training, you’re not redlining your body like you are in these kinds of high-intensity interval workouts, according to Comana.
What Tabata Techniques Can Bring to Your Workout
High-intensity interval training workouts don’t (and really can’t) use the same extremes to which Tabata subjected his elite-cyclist test subjects. But the concept behind the research—doing large amounts of work in a short amount of time—can definitely help rev up your old, dusty gym routine. Here’s how to put Tabata thinking to work for you.
Like learning to swim, you don’t want to start in the deep end of the pool. Before trying to go all-out, do 5- to 10-second intervals. Work your way up to 15- to 40-second intervals.
This type of training can be done with just about any type of exercise—try it with cycling, weight training, or running. During the workout, you’ll perform timed repetitions that are above your max effort, then a brief rest in between each set. How hard should these efforts be? Think of the Spinal Tap guitarist who had an amp that went to 11. To find what your limit feels like, Comana recommends going 15 seconds at your hardest effort.
Rest between sessions.
Don’t do these high-intensity interval workouts more than two or three times a week, recommends Comana. After such an intense effort, your muscles and glycogen levels need 36 to 48 hours to recover. However, between interval workouts you can still do light exercise, such as Spinning or walking.
Question your motivation.
Why do you want to jump into this type of hard-core workout? Comana believes that those who are self-motivated to be fit will be likelier to benefit from this type of workout. The pain and effort may be too much for those who are looking to drop a few pounds because of doctor’s orders.
Keep quality first.
Especially when you’re lifting weights, form matters. Lose the proper technique and you’ll have a less efficient workout and a great risk of injury, Comana says. To help ensure proper form, exercise in front of a mirror or have a trainer watch.
Follow the 10 percent rule.
The theory behind the research means that you maintain the same above-max effort through all repetitions. If your effort decreases by 10 percent, you’re no longer working out efficiently and risking an injury—time to quit. For example, if you’re running 10 miles per hour on a treadmill as your interval and your maximum effort drops to 9 miles per hour, it’s time to hang ’em up.
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