You do try to exercise. Maybe you’ve been waking up before work to squeeze in a workout, but you tend to hit snooze one too many times. Maybe you plan to exercise at the end of the day, but that’s when your favorite TV shows are on. Or maybe you’ve hit a plateau on your goals and you’re just not feeling motivated to shuffle your feet on the treadmill anymore.
What if you could finish your workout in four minutes?
Not only is the Tabata method time-efficient, but it might also actually be more beneficial for your health than a 30-minute grind. Here is what you need to know about the workout method that is the length of your favorite song.
What is the Tabata method?
In 1996, Dr. Izumi Tabata and his team tested a high-intensity interval training (HIIT) method of exercise with athletes. In this study, which was published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, young male athletes used a method of 20 seconds of high-intensity exercise followed by 10 seconds of a recovery exercise for eight cycles (four minutes). Researchers found the athletes’ VO2 max (the amount of oxygen someone can use during exercise) improved over a month of performing this method.
Since then, the Tabata method has become a popular trend with trainers and athletes. Tabata sprints are one kind of HIIT method. Another HIIT method is the Wingate Test, which encourages the exerciser to do 30 seconds of all-out exercise followed by four minutes of recovery, repeated four to seven times (a total of 15 minutes of exercise). Martin J. Gibala, Ph.D. of McMaster University in Canada cited the Wingate Test when discussing the health benefits of HIIT for his paper in the journal Current Sports Medicine Reports.
You can choose your favorite exercise for HIIT, such as running, cycling, or swimming. As long as you do 20 seconds of an all-out sprint followed by 10 seconds of a recovery jog, walk, or something similar, you’re performing the Tabata method.
Heart health (compared to longer workouts)
A 2014 study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine that researched the effects of exercise on patients who had been diagnosed with coronary artery disease, heart failure, and other cardiovascular problems. Researchers compared the results of people who trained with HIIT with people who did longer endurance workouts. Although both groups showed significantly improved cardiovascular fitness, participants who used HIIT almost doubled their scores for cardiovascular fitness.
If you’re looking to lose excess weight, the quality of your exercise may be more important than the duration. A 2008 study in the International Journal of Obesity had participants exercise three times a week for 15 weeks, with one group using HIIT and another using longer, more traditional workouts. They found HIIT exercisers had “significant reductions in total body fat, [excess] leg and trunk fat, and insulin resistance in young women.”
Unlike that study, a 2017 study in the Journal of Diabetes Research didn’t say HIIT was more effective, but they did suggest it could be better than a longer exercise in other ways. As the authors of the study write, “[Longer exercise] consisting of prolonged sessions has no quantitative advantage, compared with that resulting from HIIT, in abdominal visceral fat reduction. HIIT appears to be the predominant strategy for controlling obesity because of its time efficiency.”
A study published in the journal Diabetes Care (from the American Diabetes Association) found HIIT helped improve glycemic control in sedentary, overweight patients 60-80 years old who had type 2 diabetes.
You don’t have to be an elite athlete to find benefits with HIIT. 2007 measured 60 men and 186 women with an average of 63 years who participated in “high-intensity interval walking” for cycles of three minutes of fast walking and three minutes of slower walking. Researchers found the HIIT participants had improved blood pressure results. They even had increased flexibility in their knees.
As long as you do whatever your maximum effort is combined with a 50% effort for recovery time, you might be able to try HIIT. As always, consult your doctor before attempting any new exercise, especially one as vigorous as the Tabata method.