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The Four Minute Workout

If you're looking for a little variety in your exercise routine, and wouldn't mind also getting a very effective aerobic and anaerobic conditioning workout, try Tabata intervals. Taba who?

The concept of Tabata intervals originated from a study performed by Dr. Izumi Tabata at the National Institute of Fitness and Sports in Tokyo. The protocol consists of 20 seconds of maximum intensity exercise followed by ten seconds of rest. This cycle is repeated for four minutes, or a total of eight intense intervals.

"You've got to be kidding", you may well be thinking "Four minutes? What kind of workout can I get in four minutes?" Well, as it turns out, an extremely effective one. Everyone who's given the Tabata protocol a try is amazed at just how intense four minutes of exercise can be. However, since very few people want to work extremely hard just for the fun of it, you're probably interested in what kind of results you can expect. Well, the subjects in the original study were already very fit individuals at the beginning, and they still increased their anaerobic capacity 28%, and their VO2max by 14% in just six weeks. This is an excellent improvement for such highly trained athletes.

The key to getting excellent results is to make sure that the work cycles are very hard. The study referred to the workouts as "exhaustive intermittent training". As a matter of fact, the study participants exercised at around 170% of VO2max. Since VO2max is the point where lactic acid starts to build up in the muscles, you can see that this is a very intense workout that can work both the aerobic and anaerobic energy pathways. This type of intense interval training tends to raise your body's metabolic rate for long after the workout is completed, so it can also be very effective for fat loss.

Of course, if you're not a highly conditioned individual, you probably wouldn't want to start out as intensely as the study participants. Try beginning the 20 second work sets at a medium or slightly harder pace, and increase the intensity at each successive workout until you're going as hard as you can during each work cycle. You'll know you're around the right level of exertion when you're spent at the end of four minutes.

While the original study used mechanically braked cycle ergometers (high tech exercise bikes) the protocol can be applied to many different types of exercise. Running initially comes to mind. Road cycling is probably not a good choice, though, unless you have a totally traffic free course. Sailing through a busy intersection because you're preoccupied with your watch doesn't sound like a great idea. How about jumping rope, or pushups and/or chinups? I'm sure you can come up with some good ideas of your own. Personally, I do Tabatas on a spinning bike (ok, I'm not very creative :-)).

Of course, if you have any history of circulatory problems, check with your physician before beginning any intense exercise program such as this.

Give Tabata intervals a try. Mix them up with some less intense aerobic workouts, and you'll have an exercise plan that's more productive, more interesting, and takes up less of your time to boot!

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