Japan is a country full of amazingly inventive people. Their spirit of innovation has revolutionized many world industries, including electronics, automobile manufacturing and even exercise science. While not world-renown for their contributions to exercise and program design, they should be. After all, the Japanese invented the Tabata method, one of the fastest and most effective workouts for burning fat and gaining strength.
About the Tabata Method
The Tabata method is simple--brutally simple. In fact, an entire Tabata training session can be completed in as little as 4 minutes! Created by and named for a Japanese researcher, the Tabata method is unique in its ability to condition both the anaerobic and aerobic pathways simultaneously. The principle behind the Tabata method is similar to high-intensity interval training, in that the trainee alternates between grueling bouts of exercise and short periods of recuperation. Through this, the muscle is conditioned to be stronger while the body is conditioned to deal with oxygen-debt on a large scale, which increases overall capacity for endurance. The Tabata method can be used with both weight training and traditional cardio methods, making it versatile as well as incredibly effective.
Performing the Tabata Method
To perform the Tabata method, select an exercise. Suggested exercises include the front squat, thrusters (combination of a squat and press with dumbbells), stationary biking or even running on a track. Get a stopwatch, because you will need to be precise. For 20 seconds, perform your chosen activity with as much vigor as you can muster. If you are lifting weights, do as many reps as possible. If you are biking or running, go as fast as you possibly can. Continue at this breakneck pace for the full 20 seconds, then either stop lifting (for weight trainers) or slow your pace to a crawl (for cardio enthusiasts). Rest for exactly 10 seconds, then begin another 20 seconds of suicide-speed activity. Complete eight total sprint/stop cycles. After eight cycles, dust yourself off, because you are finished.
At 30 seconds per cycle, this adds up to just 4 minutes of activity. While this might not look like much while reading it from the comfort of your home or office, do not underestimate the strain the Tabata method places on your body. When practicing loaded Tabatas (i.e., weight training), be conservative. If you are squatting, start with somewhere between 75 and 90 lb. Although this is an insignificant load for most squatters, it will still leave you gasping for breath. If you are performing thrusters, start with 25 lb. dumbbells. Check your ego at the door to avoid any potential incidents.
All in all, the Tabata method is a great workout for those operating on a busy schedule with little free time. Aim to perform two or three Tabata sessions a week, with a mix between weights and unweighted activities. Expect to sweat and suffer, but the rewards will be worth the effort. Train smart, and good luck!