You may not have heard of the Tabata interval protocol yet, but if you have, you just got nervous. Originally devised by Dr. Izumi Tabata, the Tabata protocol is short and sweet. Twenty seconds of all out work followed by ten seconds of rest for eight continuous rounds. So after four minutes of hard work, you’re done right? Wrong. As has been shown time and again, oxygen uptake and caloric expenditure is elevated well after cessation of even just one Tabata interval (1). It is a wildly efficient tool in your fitness arsenal. When I need to bring out the big guns to make a client work really hard, this is often the weapon of choice.
First, let’s discuss how to perform this freely without having to check clocks and lowering intensity. Fortunately, Tabata is popular enough to have timers readily available for you. If you have an interval timer app, there may be a special setting for Tabata already. Otherwise, you can simply put in 20 seconds of work and 10 seconds of rest for 8 rounds into whatever timer app you use that has audio cues. My personal favorite is the simple and originally named “Interval Timer” app.
You can also find Tabata timers with music and countdowns on YouTube. My favorite producer of this material is Tabata Songs. I’m partial to the Dr. Dre beats and AC/DC versions, linked at the end of the article.
Now for some workouts!
First, we have single modality workouts which are the same move every part of the interval. Good uses of this style are compound exercises. Sprints on a stationary bike, rower, airbike, etc. are a good application on cardio equipment. Squat jumps, pushups and burpees are excellent bodyweight exercises which will prove effective.
Next are antagonist pairings. This is essentially putting opposing muscle groups in an interval together. For example, on odd intervals (1,3,5,7), you would do bicep curls and on even intervals (2,4,6,8), you would perform tricep extensions. But we can do better than that. Pushups and dumbbell bent over rows or horizontal bar rows is a fun combo for horizontal pressing and pulling motions. A lower body pairing could be goblet squats and kettlebell swings, alternating quad and hamstring/glute dominant movements.
Another way to pair movements in upper and lower. Overhead dumbbell press and squats with those dumbbells resting on your shoulders is a feisty example.
A strategy when first starting out is to pick a number of reps of each movement or percentage effort to achieve each interval. This will get you used to keeping a decently high intensity without becoming adverse to this protocol. Over time, ramp up the intensity until you are just going all out each interval regardless of how it goes or how many twenty second windows you have left. That intensity is the true essence of this protocol and will garner the most benefits for you.
Feel free to mix in this protocol as a good finisher for your workouts, use a few as a solo workout for the whole body or even just one to get some good work in when you’re short on time. Whichever way, I know you’ll learn to love it.
Links to Tabata Songs videos:
Olson, Michele. "Tabata interval exercise: energy expenditure and post-exercise responses." Med Sci Sports Exerc 45 (2013): S420.