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Is it possible to increase your cardiovascular health in just a four minute workout? The Tabata interval, a form of high intensity interval training (HIIT), delivers the benefits of anaerobic activity (short bursts of high intensity) in addition to improving aerobic capacity. Best of all, it is completed in 4 minutes per workout. To explain how this is possible, I will guide you through a study conducted by Izumi Tabata, a Japanese researcher who worked with professional figure skaters to try and develop a workout that would improve their ability to compete.

Tabata formed two groups: one that would implement his new workout and another that would perform traditional cardio on a stationary bike. The group that would try his new workout was instructed to pedal on the bike for 20 seconds at maximum physiological effort (meaning that they pedaled as hard as they could) and then rest for 10 seconds. They were to repeat this 8 times for a total of 4 minutes. The other group was told to pedal on the bike at a moderate intensity for 60 minutes, mirroring a traditional cardio workout. Both groups performed their respective workouts for 5 days a week, meaning that the group implementing Tabata’s protocol exercised for a total of 20 minutes a week, while the group doing traditional cardio exercised for 5 hours a week. This was done for 6 weeks.

 The Tabata intervals were performed on a stationary bike.

Image Source: Portra Images

When analyzing the results, Tabata looked at two variables, anaerobic capacity (the total amount of energy produced by your system without oxygen) and maximum oxygen uptake (a measure of aerobic capacity). When comparing the 2 groups, Tabata found that the group that followed his new protocol improved their anaerobic capacity much more than the traditional group. This was because this group was performing more of a sprint-type exercise, which is designed to increase anaerobic capacity. However, what was interesting was that both groups made similar gains in maximum oxygen uptake, meaning that both groups received similar aerobic benefits even though Tabata’s group only exercised for 4 minutes per workout instead of 60 minutes.

While this may seem great, there are a couple of tips I have for anyone who wants to try this workout:

  1. When doing this type of workout, do not just jump right into it. Take at least 10 minutes to warm up and to cool down when you finish. Speaking from personal experience, if you skip the cooldown portion your legs will tighten up and it will be difficult to walk afterwards, especially if you are just beginning the workout.
  2. Do not be discouraged if you can’t complete all 8 sets the first time; even Tabata’s own professional figure skaters only managed to complete 7 sets.

Feature Image Source: 20130801-Backward_contest-10.jpg by Marc Garnier

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