Can 4 minutes of physical effort really be considered exercise? The short answer is yes. Believe it or not, the Tabata method was created to train the national speed skating team for the Olympic Games. It was the brainchild of a Japanese researcher, Izumi Tabata, at the National Institute of fitness and sports. This method can be explained in the same brevity as the actual workout:
- 20 seconds of intense physical effort
- 10 seconds of recovery
- Repeat the sequence 8 times
How to do a 4 minute workout:
1. The intensity.
Those who are more experienced will certainly have made the connection: yes, the Tabata is a HIIT (read "Discover HIIT: easy exercises you can do anywhere"). Like HIIT, the key feature of the Tabata method is its intensity. Indeed, the 20 seconds of intense exercise to be repeated 8 times over a period of 4 minutes must be particularly intense because you will be hitting 90% of your maximum heart rate on average. Does "full throttle" come to mind? That's exactly right.
If you are starting a physical activity, start slowly when it comes to the intensity and difficulty of the exercise. After you have warmed up for about 10 minutes, you can start your Tabata, which can include 1 to 8 different exercises.
Example of a cardio Tabata:
Complete as many burpees as possible for 20 seconds and recover for 10 seconds. Repeat this 8 times.
Starting out: Burpees are very complex movements for exercising your cardio fitness while using many parts of your body. To start, position your legs in line with your shoulders, bend your knees, squat down and put your hands flat on the ground. Jump up in a single movement and then get down into the push-up position. Lower your knees to the ground and do a push-up. When you have completed the push-up, stretch out your arms and legs and do another jump before returning to the crouching start position. Return to an upright position by jumping upwards and raising your hands above your head. Then return to your initial position. There you have it, you have just completed a burpee!
Kick it up a notch: If you would like to spice up your burpees, you can do a "real" push-up instead of doing one with your knees on the ground.
Example of a muscle strengthening Tabata:
Complete as many push-ups as possible for 20 seconds and recover for 10 seconds. Then, complete as many squats as possible for 20 seconds and recover for 10 seconds. Repeat 4 times.
Starting out: Position your feet parallel to each other hip-width apart. Keeping your back nice and straight and your hands together in front of you, drop down as if you were sitting down on a chair. Stop the movement when your knees form a right angle. As you move back up, push off from your heels. Also, make sure that your knees are open. They should not turn inwards when you are doing your squats!
Kick it up a notch: The squat jump involves jumping during the upward movement and landing directly in the squat position. The impact places more of a load on your quadriceps, hamstrings and glutes.
Starting out : Put your knees on the ground with your feet hip-width apart. Stretch out your arms. Put your hands flat on the ground just below your shoulders and move them apart slightly. Now, push up. After pushing up, bring your chest towards the ground without touching it by bending your elbows, which should form a right angle. Keep your back and neck properly aligned by not arching your body and keeping your eyes on the ground between your hands.
Kick it up a notch: This time, keep your legs straight to exercise using your full body weight
Example of a full body Tabata, for exercising all the muscles of your body:
Complete as many push-ups as possible for 20 seconds and recover for 10 seconds. Then, complete as many squats as possible for 20 seconds and recover for 10 seconds. Then, complete as many burpees as possible for 20 seconds and recover for 10 seconds. And finally, complete as many V-up holds as possible for 20 seconds and recover for 10 seconds. Repeat 2 times.
Starting out: Lay down on your back and bring your knees up to chest level. Then raise your shoulders off the ground and stretch out your legs in front of you to form an angle of about 45° with the ground. Now stretch out to your arms behind you also at a 45° angle and put your hands together.
Kick it up a notch: For added difficulty, reduce the angle between your legs and the ground.
Do the 10-second recovery periods seem short? Don't worry, the feeling of tiredness will diminish over time and you’ll be able to optimize your recovery. What's more, this "breather" is deliberately brief because exercising when you are tired increases your anaerobic capacity, which involves short, yet highly intense physical efforts. The bonus? Your body will immediately draw on its fat reserves. You will therefore lose weight while gaining muscle mass.
Bear in mind that the recovery can also be active. This means that if you are doing a cardio Tabata that involves sprinting as part of the intense phases, the recovery can quite easily be composed of light jogging phases.
Your recovery is not limited to the 8 x 10 seconds of the Tabata exercise. We recommend doing 1 to 4 Tabatas per week, alternating between one day of training and one day of rest.
3. Play some music!
Rather than having your eyes fixed on your stopwatch all the time, there are other more entertaining (albeit less precise) alternatives. On your favorite music platform, you can find a wide range of playlists put together to accompany you during your sessions. Very often they are composed of well-known high-intense remixes and may contain clear instructions to help you during your physical effort.
From the start of your training session to the end of your high-intensity phase, after completing your recovery period, your training session will fly by so fast that you might even want to do another one!
4. Exercises that you can do anywhere
Whether you’re in your living room, a meeting room (without a meeting, if possible) or even on the beach, there are plenty of places for doing Tabata. Indeed (almost) any location will do! 4 minutes of exercise (plus 5 to 10 minutes of warming up) is achievable even if you’re dragging your feet. And plus, we all know how it goes: once you get started, you can't stop!
One last thing: Tabata can be combined with other forms of exercise: it can be done after a jog or your swimming session. Ideal for supplementing your favourite sport and becoming a ferocious competitor.
5. Benefits of a 4 minute, intense workout
What more could you ask from a 4-minute training session that burns fat, increases muscle mass, can be done anywhere, and has its own dedicated playlists?
Well, there's a lot more!
Among other things, you will develop your endurance and your ability to withstand physical stress. Tabata can be adapted to suit any sport: running, walking, swimming, cycling, fitness, etc. What's more, you will continue to burn off fat after your session!
The benefits for your health have also been demonstrated following tests conducted by a panel of cyclists. Over a period of 6 weeks, one group completed 5 weekly Tabata workouts while the another group completed 5 weekly 1-hour cycling sessions. The results? Those who were practicing Tabata exercises had boosted their VO2max by 15%*, compared to only 10% for those who had done the cycling. Even more impressive was the 28% increase in anaerobic capacity** of the first group, while the second group experienced no increase at all. Convinced?
*maximum volume of oxygen that a body can consume during an exercise at maximum aerobic speed, i.e. the speed at which the consumption of oxygen can no longer increase.
**The quantity of energy delivered by the energy system, i.e. that which allows us to maintain an intense physical effort by drawing on fat reserves.
At the end of your Tabata, you can relax your muscles by doing some light stretches and enjoying the post-workout feeling of well-being. And who knows, maybe you will want to try out the more lengthy albeit more relaxed MICT (Moderate-Intensity Continuous Training) as a result.
Please note: We recommend you consult your physician or other health care professional before starting this or any new fitness program.