Is Tabata All It’s Cracked Up to Be?

With the notion of boosting fitness in just four short minutes, it’s no surprise that Tabata training has been all the buzz. What originally began as a high-intensity interval training protocol performed on a cycling ergometer by Japanese Olympic speed skaters has now morphed into Tabata-inspired workouts that combine everything from plyometrics to traditional resistance training exercises using the same format of eight cycles of 20-seconds of work followed by 10-seconds of rest. To investigate the benefits of this intense type of training, the American Council on Exercise® (ACE) enlisted the research team at the University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse to create and examine the true calorie burning potential of a 20-minute Tabata-inspired total-body workout.

The research team, led by John Pocari, Ph.D. and Talisa Emberts, M.S., recruited 16 moderately fit to very fit men and women ages 20-47  to participate in the study in which each subject completed a total of two 20-minute Tabata-style workouts.  The complete workout consisted of a five-minute warm-up followed by four rounds of Tabata (eight cycles of 20 seconds of work and 10 seconds of rest) with one-minute of rest in between each round before concluding with a 10-minute cool-down. During the 20 seconds of intense work, subjects performed as many repetitions of each exercise as possible, all of which were movements they had practiced beforehand and demonstrated proficiency in.

Measuring heart rate, blood lactate and rating of perceived exertion (RPE) the researchers found that during the Tabata-workout subjects averaged 86 percent of HRmax and 74 percent of VO2max, both of which meet or exceed industry guidelines for improving cardio fitness and body composition. On average, subjects perceived the workout to be challenging with an average RPE of 15.4—rated as ‘hard’ on the 6-20 Borg Scale—which would seem to make sense considering that participants burned between 240 and 360kcals. With an average of 15kcals torched per minute, the findings of this study support that full body Tabata-style workouts can prove powerful in terms of enhancing health and facilitating weight loss.

This time-efficient approach to exercise is all about intensity, so while just four minutes of hard work can prove helpful in terms of enhancing health and fitness the complete 20-minute total-body workout experience can elicit even better results while still easily fitting into a busy schedule. If this type of training is appropriate for you be sure to heed Emberts’ recommendation and perform Tabata-style workouts two to three times a week, allowing at least 48 to 72 hours rest between each session since you’ll be working every major muscle group during each workout.

Ready to try it yourself? Here’s the 20-minute workout protocol from the ACE Tabata study. A set of each exercise is defined as 20 seconds of work followed by 10 seconds of rest. Be sure to also allow for one full minute of rest following each of the four rounds.

Round 1 (4 minutes) 2 sets of high knees 2 sets of plank punches 2 sets of jumping jacks 2 sets of side skaters

Round 2 (4 minutes) 2 sets of jump rope 2 sets of high/low boat 2 sets of line jumps 2 sets of push-ups

Round 3 (4 minutes) 2 sets of burpees 2 sets of Russian twists 2 sets of squats 2 sets of lunges

Round 4 (4 minutes) 2 sets of mountain climbers 2 sets of push-ups 2 sets of split squats 2 sets of box jumps

By the American Council on Exercise