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Tabata is the fast-paced workout for people on the move

Let’s face it: With our increasingly busy schedules, we’re hungry for quick ways to work out, but most of the time a short gym session doesn’t deliver the results we’re looking for. (And sometimes we just can’t bear the thought of spending an hour pumping iron when there are other things to do.)

Enter Tabata, interval training’s super-intense cousin. Push yourself as hard as you can for four minutes and reap the benefits. Just be warned: This type of workout is definitely not for beginners.

What it is

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Get your blood pumping for four minutes and you’ll reap the benefits with Tabata training. Photo: Courtesy of Monica Nelson
A type of HIIT (high-intensity interval training) developed by professor Izumi Tabata and based on a 1996 study that looked closely at Olympic speed skaters. Participants perform ultra-intense exercise for 20 seconds, followed by 10 seconds of rest, for a total of four minutes (or eight intervals).

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What it does

Because the four-minute circuit is short but extremely intense, you can pack a major punch of training into the time it takes you to make a sandwich.

According to Tabata, one of his four-minute sessions equals an hour of jogging, an hour of moderate cycling or two hours of walking. The four-minute circuit also gives your metabolism a serious kick-start.

Frequency

kettlebells
All training feels better outside, even if it’s four compressed, intense minutes at a time. Photo: kenarata310/Twenty20
“This is not a daily workout,” says Los Angeles–based Tabata trainer Monica Nelson. “If you can do this every day, then you know you are just not doing it correctly.”

Introduce Tabata into your training schedule only after you’re used to getting your heart rate up to its maximum regularly; this form of training is not for beginners.

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Nelson says some athletes incorporate Tabata into their weekly training plans, but most end up doing it a few times a month to switch up their normal routine.

How to do it

Nelson says there are innumerable ways to apply the Tabata method to your training. “You can do it with body-weight movements or on cardio machines like the spin bike, stair climber, jump rope, elliptical, treadmill, sliders, kettlebells or TRX,” she explains.

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“You can also do this with a weight circuit, but on all of the above, you must know exactly what you’re doing in terms of form.”

Example workout

Once you’ve mastered the correct form for jump roping, perform the following once a week or a few times a month:

Jump as fast as you can (safely) for 20 seconds; to get the most out of your Tabata training, you really have to go all out. Rest for 10 seconds. Repeat seven more times for a total of four minutes.