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How to Do Tabata Intervals

By Lisa M. Wolfe

Tabata training is a high-intensity interval workout. According to the American College of Sports Medicine, aerobic and anaerobic fitness are enhanced with Tabata intervals, and you may discover improvements in your blood pressure, insulin sensitivity and fat loss. The intervals in a Tabata routine are based on predetermined durations of work and recovery, which makes Tabata intense but also time efficient. Tabata training gives you a fast-paced, four-minute long workout that you can use with both your cardiovascular and strength-training exercises.

Work and Recovery

The Tabata workout technique is separated into intervals of high-intensity exercise followed by intervals of recovery. You perform an exercise for 20 seconds at a maximum-intensity level and then recover for 10 seconds by either resting or continuing the exercise at a very low pace. For example, you could sprint for 20 seconds and then walk for 10 seconds. Tabata intervals are repeated eight times for a total exercise duration of four minutes. The American Council on Exercise (ACE) studied the effects of Tabata intervals during a 20-minute calisthenic-training workout, which used five four-minute Tabata cycles. Not only did strength improve, but the results also showed effective aerobic training heart-rate levels and an approximate calorie burn of 15 calories per minute.

Aerobic Power

Aerobic Tabata training alternates work and rest intervals during rhythmic, full-body activities such as walking, running, cycling, skating, rowing and swimming to boost your endurance. Apply these intervals to your favorite exercises or choose a new activity for workout variety. Always warm up with five to 10 minutes of your selected exercise at a low to moderate pace. For example, pedal on a flat road or a stationary bike with light resistance for seven minutes to warm your legs. Then, perform the 20-second Tabata work interval by cycling uphill or increasing the resistance or speed on the stationary bike to a comparable level. Recover for 10 seconds as you coast downhill or decrease the resistance and slow your pedal pace. Repeat this pattern eight times for a total of four minutes.

Strength Intervals

The 20-seconds-on and 10-seconds-off Tabata intervals can also be used with strength-training exercises to tone muscles in a short amount of time. Perform a five-minute warm-up and then perform your Tabata workout. Choose large movements such as push-ups, burpees and squat jumps for the most overall benefit. For example, perform burpees at a fast pace, using good technique for 20 seconds, and then rest for 10 seconds. Repeat for eight cycles. You can stop after one exercise or continue doing Tabata intervals with push-ups or squat jumps if your muscles are not completely fatigued.

Tabata Wise

Since the 20-second work intervals are at a high-intensity level, Tabata training is typically reserved for the experienced fitness participant or athlete. According to ACE, you need a solid fitness base before adding Tabata to your routine. For example, you should be able to exercise aerobically for 20 to 30 consistent minutes and also able to complete a full-body strength-training workout two or three times a week. Even with this base, it is important to begin with one weekly Tabata workout and gradually add a second. Allow for a minimum of 48 hours between workouts, and preferably wait 72 hours before doing Tabata again. As a beginner, perform the work intervals at a moderate intensity and gradually increase to a high-intensity level. Start with one four-minute session and add two or three as your fitness improves and you no longer feel fatigued. Perform a three to five-minute cool-down at the end of your workout and follow it with flexibility exercises for your legs, arms, chest, shoulders and back.

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