This is Tabata!

Got four minutes? They’ll be the most intense of your life, but you’ll burn fat like never before.

SHORT … BUT NOT SO SWEET. That’s the best way to describe the super high-intensity workout that is Tabata. A type of HIIT, Tabata requires you to push – and we mean push! – yourself to the limit. Ready to go?

Harder, faster, stronger

‘Tabata is a series of exercises performed at high intensity over a period of time,’ says Rayhaan Toefy, personal trainer at The Station in Cape Town. ‘It’s a type of training that allows you to customise the workout to your liking and time constraints.

‘Each movement is split into intervals, either paired with another exercise or a rest period. For example, 20 seconds’ work and 10 seconds’ rest for eight rounds [four minutes], or 45 seconds’ work, 15 seconds’ rest, and so on. In my training, I like to stick with the ratio of 1 minute equals 1 round.’

Moderate vs high intensity

In 1996, when Japanese sports scientist Dr Izumi Tabata put two groups of Olympic speed skaters through their paces to test what type of training would yield the best results on performance, he probably would never have guessed that his findings would lead to a full- blown fitness craze over the next 20 years, and would officially be named the Tabata Protocol.

In the study, one group of athletes was made to do an hour of moderate-intensity steady-state cardio five days a week for six weeks, while another group did interval bike sprints for four minutes, four days a week for six weeks.

At the end of the study, the second group had increased their anaerobic capacity by 28% and their VO2 max (the measure of how much oxygen you’re able to take in – a key indicator of fitness) by 16%. The moderate-intensity group upped their VO2 max by 10%, but there was no significant change in their anaerobic capacity.

To put this into perspective, group one did a total of 1 800 minutes of work, while group two did only 96 minutes over six weeks.

What does this mean?

So that’s it – four minutes a day? It sounds like a too-good-to-be-true headline on a clickbait article, doesn’t it? Rayhaan explains: ‘A great benefit of Tabata is increasing the capacity of your aerobic and anaerobic phases.’ This means your muscular and cardiovascular systems are both working and getting stronger.

‘In a high-intensity workout, you’re in the anaerobic phase for the majority of the time. This is when muscles don’t require oxygen to fuel muscle contraction. In this process, your aerobic phase strengthens too, as your body draws on it for fuel during the rest intervals,’ he says.

When you cut through all the technical jargon, it’s quite simple: Four minutes of Tabata training increases speed, power and fitness more effectively than an hour of steady-state cardio a day.

But – and there’s always a but – in order to get the most out of the training, you have to put in the work. Dr Tabata told The Guardian: ‘All-out effort at 170% of your VO2 max is the criterion… If you feel OK afterwards, it was not done properly.’

QUICK TIP: Search ‘Tabata songs’ on YouTube for tunes that will help you keep track of your timing during your workout. No need to keep a constant eye on the clock.

Drop-off zone

Okay, so Tabata dramatically increases your fitness levels, and is a quick workout that you can do just about anywhere, any time – at home, at the park, the gym – but what about weight loss?

‘The biggest benefit of Tabata is fat burn,’ says Rayhaan (can we get a hallelujah?) ‘While it raises your heart rate, it also increases your metabolism. With those two working together, the result is a higher amount of calories being burnt.’

In normal cardio, your body relies solely on your cardiovascular system. The benefit of working your anaerobic system is that it increases your resting metabolic rate, so you burn energy long after your workout is done. ‘Tabata pushes you into a higher level of training. This is the perfect opportunity to adjust your diet to fuel your body. This will ramp up the process of weight-loss, maintenance or gain, depending on your goals,’ says Rayhaan.

Originally published in FitLife June 2018 issue.

Food for thought

As with any workout regime, it only works if you pair it with a well-balanced diet. Here are Rayhaan’s top 6 tips for eating to train:

  1. If you’re doing Tabata to tone up, your protein intake should always be the highest amount in terms of your macro consumption. Carbs will come in second and fats third.
  2. Your lean protein should preferably come from white meats (chicken and fish). Red meat is just as good, but I’d recommend that to someone who’s looking to gain mass, as the carb count is slightly higher.
  3. Get your carbs mainly from fruit and veg. Your excess carbohydrates will come from nuts, seeds and legumes.
  4. Eat good fats: avocado, nuts and seeds, and eggs, just to name a few.
  5. In terms of beverages, stick to healthy smoothies or water. Fruit juices and energy drinks can’t always be trusted in terms of their nutritional content.
  6. If you struggle with sticking to a strict diet, I’d suggest supplementing with a whey protein shake and amino acids. The whey protein shake should be consumed as a snack between meals, and take amino acids throughout the day to bump up energy and focus.

3, 2, 1 … Go!

‘There’s no right or wrong when it comes to what exercises you can do in Tabata,’ says Rayhaan. ‘The most common are running, cycling or basic body-weight movements, such as:

> Squat/lunge variations
Both isolation and explosive
> Push/pull variations
Such as burpees and push-ups
> Core-based movements
Such as sit-ups, mountain climbers and planks

When we say intense, we mean it. Here’s how you’ll know you’re working at your max capacity:
> Your heart rate will spike.
> You’ll be gasping for air.
> There will be sweat. Lots of it.
> Your body temperature will sky-rocket. Don’t be shy to take your shirt off.
> You’ll hit the floor when it’s over (and you’re not sure if you’ll ever get up again).
> Your muscles will burn.
> You’ll be back for more tomorrow.

Originally published in FitLife June 2018 issue

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