What if all it took was 4 minutes per day to raise your heart rate and burn fat? Cardio doesn’t have to be a 30-60 minute chore every day and, in 4 minutes (0.3% of your entire day) you could incorporate a routine to burn fat and get in your daily cardio. This 4-minute session is better known as the Tabata method.
What Is The Tabata Method
The Tabata method is a high-intensity interval training (HIIT) style of cardio that requires just 4 minutes of dedicated exercises. HIIT style training involves short bursts of intense anaerobic exercise followed by a less intense recovery period. The best example of this is hill sprints, for a hill sprint, you will sprint at close to an all-out effort to the top of the hill and then jog back down for a recovery period.
The key to HIIT cardio is that the recovery and rest period is active, you don’t sprint to the top of the hill and then sit down but instead carry on the session by jogging to the bottom ready to start the next set of sprints. This is a very taxing style of training and most HIIT sessions will be under 30 minutes in length and alternate between movements and exercises. A typical example could be 5 minutes on the treadmill doing 20-second sprints followed by 20-second jogging and then 5 minutes of floor work doing circuit-style strength training.
The Tabata method, created by Izumi Tabata and tested at the National Institute of Fitness and Sport in Tokyo takes the concept of HIIT training and breaks it down into 8 sets of an exercise to be completed in 4 minutes, you will do 20 seconds of max-effort work followed by a 10 second active recovery period with the end goal to be taxing both the aerobic and anaerobic systems.
Studies have shown this style of training provides superior aerobic and anaerobic effects when compared with moderate-intensity exercise such as jogging.
Tabata For Cardio
To use Tabata for cardio and fat burning purposes you will want to use the following routine 3 - 5 times per week depending on your current level of fitness. It’s also worth mixing up the exercises from session to session to not only keep your routine fresh but to utilise different muscle groups.
For this, it’s best to use a machine (treadmill, rower or stationary bike) as you can adjust the speeds manually to prevent cheating, even if it’s unintentional. It’s a lot easier to stop for a break in the park when your tired than it is to stop on a moving treadmill, if you don’t have access to any machines however then it will still work for outdoor exercise and you will just need to use will power to prevent stopping.
As mentioned earlier and using a treadmill as an example, you will first warm-up for a few minutes with a light jog to get your heart rate raised and get blood pumping around your body, whilst the workout is only 4 minutes you will still need to dedicate time to warming up and cooling down around it in order to prevent injury and aid recovery.
Once the workout is done you are going to set the treadmill to a sprinting speed (this will be different for each individual though should be and all-out sprint) and sprint for 20 seconds, you will then turn it down to a jog and jog for 10 seconds, this is 1 set. You are going to complete 8 of these sets to finish your workout. This sounds simple enough however one all-out effort will leave you gasping and once you get halfway through then you will really start to feel it as you begin to deplete your aerobic and anaerobic capacities.
Rowing and cycling are the two best exercises for this in my opinion because the time it takes to get to your top speed and reduce it again are very easily controlled and you have a timer in front of you on most machines whereas a treadmill will take a few seconds to change speed, therefore I’d lean more towards the rowing and cycling when trying this method.
Tabata For Strength Training
Tabata can also be a great way to combine your cardio with a strength training circuit, your muscles will have a much lower capacity for this style of training however and therefore the 10 seconds that would usually be active recovery can instead be used for actual rest.
It’s best to use multi-joint movements that use multiple muscle groups for this to ensure you don’t fatigue too quickly, good options would be squats, box jumps, pull-ups, push-ups, burpees, thrusters and most ab exercises (the abdominals have a high number of slow-twitch muscle fibres and are therefore well suited to endurance-based exercises).
Much in the same way you did all-out effort for 20 seconds in your cardio will do all-out effort for the number of reps with your given exercises, if you chose to do box jumps you would do as many as you can in 20 seconds and then rest for 10 seconds and this is again 1 set. This will feel easy for the first few sets as you blast through the reps however as you get to set 5-6 you should again start to fatigue. Once you get to a fitness level where you can complete the Tabata method with max intensity on every set with bodyweight you could then look to add weights into the mix as a form of progression.
It’s best to do this with bodyweight at first however as it will be very fatiguing to a beginner or even intermediate level trainer so adding weights from the start could add a risk of injury due to breakdown in form.
About the Author
Simon Byrne is a Health and Fitness writer producing content for the supplement industry for the last 5 years with a focus placed on improving body composition. He is a certified Nutritionist through Precision Nutrition (PNL1) and a Level 3 Fitness Instructor.