Tabata: Why It Will Change The Way You Train
Twenty seconds. Easy, right? But if you’re familiar with Tabata, you’ll be well aware that it can feel like an eternity.
For those yet to make friends with the Tabata style of training, then get ready to welcome it into your regime with open arms. Trust me when I say it will be a love-hate relationship, but it will change the way you train forever.
Tabata is a massive part of my FIERCE program, and for good reason. It’s intense, efficient, fun (in that crazy-hard way), and it gets you results!
What is Tabata?
Tabata is a style of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) that involves 20 seconds of maximum effort, followed by 10 seconds of rest, for a certain number of rounds. Traditionally it’s eight rounds, but you can scale up and down.
My FIERCE program consists of full-body Tabata-style training, using various muscle groups to give you an all-over workout. It’s made up of either:
- Eight exercises, each completed in two-minute bursts, separated by 60-second rest periods; or
- Six exercises, each completed in three-minute bursts, separated by 60-second rest periods.
Don’t be fooled into thinking a two or three-minute round will be easy. If you’re doing it properly, it will be tough. It’s one of those workouts where you’ll be gritting your teeth, maybe even fighting back tears and screams, but you’ll feel like a warrior when you’re done!
How long is a Tabata workout?
An ideal Tabata workout is about 20–25 minutes. Much longer and your muscles will start to fatigue and not perform at maximum power, defeating the purpose of the high intensity.
In my FIERCE program, it looks like 16–18 minutes of work, with 5–8 minutes of rest spliced in between where you can change equipment, rehydrate and catch your breath.
The number of exercises and sets can be modified to suit all fitness levels, which is why Tabata really is perfect for everyone.
How Tabata works
Tabata is a type of HIIT that aims to improve cardiovascular fitness by working both your anaerobic and aerobic energy systems.
Remember those terms from teenage Physical Education? Your anaerobic system is the short burst, high intensity, explosive energy system (activated by exercises like sprinting and squat cleans). Your aerobic system is that long-burn, conditioning, endurance system (get it moving with swimming and long-distance running).
How Tabata works both energy systems
What Tabata does is force your body to use both systems at once. This means you’ll improve your fitness across both systems — two for the price of one. Gotta love that!
There’s evidence to suggest HIIT allows you to burn more calories in a shorter amount of time. It does that by combining the four key ingredients to stripping body fat:
- Increase your heart rate
- Exert more energy
- Increase your metabolic rate
- Consume more oxygen and expel more carbon dioxide.
The domino effect of that is it increases your excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC). This means your body continues to burn calories long after you’ve finished your workout.
How often should you do Tabata?
Depending on your training schedule and your fitness goals, try to work Tabata into your regimen once a week.
It’s important to keep your workouts varied and constantly changing so you don’t plateau. Plus, if you did this very specific style every day, you’d be cursing its name forever and never want to do it again.
The same goes for most training styles — keep it fun, keep it unpredictable and you won’t have a chance to get bored. Take it from the girl who used to solely run around the block to work out — it gets real old, real fast.
Variety as a training principle means your body is always trying to adapt to a new training stimulus and you avoid the comfort zone. It’s a bit like when your hairdresser tells you to change your shampoo every now and then to prevent your hair becoming used to one product and stop reacting to it (who would’ve thought your hair could fall into a comfort zone!)
The same applies to your training.
Why I love Tabata
Fast-paced, ever-changing, high-intensity … basically everything I love rolled into one! This style of training will have you feeling on top of the world.
You’ll feel fitter, more energetic and empowered that you made it through a hectic workout. There is no better feeling than knowing you absolutely crushed it, so get those endorphins flowing!
Why do my muscles feel like they’re on fire?
Ah, you’ve met our old friend lactic acid. He sure isn’t shy and will no doubt join you in a high-intensity workout like Tabata from time to time.
I classify ‘high intensity’ as any exercise that pumps your heart rate up to 70–100 per cent of its maximum.
Operating at this level increases your body’s lactic acid production, so you can’t maintain it for too long. Work to a guide of 1–20 minutes — the higher the heart rate, the lesser the duration.
What else can I expect to feel?
Along with making your muscles burn, you could feel incredibly heavy and like you can’t physically move. Sometimes, it might even make you feel a bit sick in the stomach as lactic acid builds up in your body.
When we push ourselves, sometimes there isn’t enough oxygen to be used as energy for the muscles, so the body says, ‘Wow, hold on, let me produce this acid to make up for that.’ The body then burns up the acid and uses it as fuel, but often not as quickly as it’s being produced, which leads to the overflow and the discomfort.
Don’t be scared of lactic acid
Sure, it hurts when that lactic acid kicks in, but it will fade pretty quickly. It’s your body’s defence mechanism telling you you’re working hard — which is not a bad sign!
After a solid workout, if you’re feeling that lactic acid flowing through your muscles, the best thing to do is try to flush it out. Something like a slow walk on the treadmill or slow cycle to push oxygen around your body and into your muscles is a good way to do this.
Don’t forget the training basics
As with every workout, you should always warm up the muscles you’re about to use. This gets them ready and firing, and helps prevent injury.
Remember, a warmup is not just a couple of push-ups and star jumps and you’re good to go. You should break a sweat, get your heart pumping and prepare your muscles through their full range of motion if you’re doing a proper warmup.
The better you warm up, the harder you’ll be able to work. But don’t use up all your energy!
Ideas for warmup and cool down
Some great warmup drills before a full-body Tabata session include mountain climbers, high-knees and glute kicks, bear crawls and inchworms with a push-up. You’ll have plenty of options with my FIERCE program.
When it comes to cooling down and recovery, you should aim to flush out lactic acid with light cardio, plus stretch out the muscles you’ve just worked.
Stretching is often neglected in training, but it’s so beneficial — it enhances flexibility and range of motion, reduces muscle tension, improves circulation and brings your heart rate back down.
Just make sure you do it when your muscles are warm. The tension you feel when stretching ‘cold’ is due to connective tissue adhering to the muscles and surrounding vessels and nerves. It’s like a glue that needs a little encouragement to act as a lubricant for your muscles so they can move more freely.
Foam rolling and warmup exercises can kickstart this process, then leave your stretching to after your warmup (rather than before), and post-workout. Your body will thank you for it!
Now you’ve got the Tabata 101 download, it’s time to lace-up your sneakers and give it a go.
Tabata is a fun and efficient way to get results — fast. It will push you, challenge you and make you laugh and cry all in the same workout. But remember… it will all be over in a matter of minutes. LITERALLY.
Still not convinced? Give this beginner bodyweight workout a try in the meantime.
I’ll see you at the other side of the clock, warriors!
* Results from FIERCE may vary. Strict adherence to the program is required for best results.