Let’s face it: the fitness industry is packed with magic pill thinking. It’s addictive. The prospect of granite-hard abs, monolithic arms and a lean figure, without tedious months of solid training, is tempting. It's a pipedream, right?
If there ever was a proven fitness shortcut, though, it’s interval training. Think of it as cardio minus the fluff. It isn't showy, it isn't pretty – interval training just gets to the point of it all: making your heart beat faster. Simple. Perfect for the busier man.
Professor Izumi Tabata – widely recognized as the father of High Intensity Interval Training, or HIIT – has developed his flagship program on the principle of 20 seconds of intense exercise, followed by 10 seconds of rest. It's hard to go wrong with intervals – but Tabata's method has been proven to increase aerobic levels better – and faster – than the rest.
Sound silly? Too easy? Prepare to feel all the punch – and benefits – of a cardio workout, in four minutes flat.
Here’s what you need to know.
Yes, it’s for real.
"If you do it properly, you’ll get the same training results as an hour riding a bike or an hour jogging – all in four minutes," says Tabata trainer, Professor T.
But you can’t mess about.
Society's short attention span has, of course, spread to the gym. That half-assing won't cut it with interval training. No peeking at your phone for texts. No daydreaming about dinner. “Exactly," agrees Professor T. "You really have to push yourself to exhaustion for interval training to work.”
You’ll will look better – fast.
"Doing the program two to four times a week will get everyone from the weekend warrior to the professional athlete to their personal max," says Professor T. "You’ll be a better athlete, you’ll burn more fat, you’ll get lean. Couple Tabata with a healthy diet you can expect to lose weight and tone all the major muscle groups."
You'll breathe better too.
"After six weeks, you can expect your VO2max to increase by up to 15% and a 28% increase in anaerobic capacity."
It can’t be outsmarted.
Interval training is about consistent intensity. “Don’t hold back or save energy for the later intervals,” says Professor T. "The published research shows the fitness gains reported were at an intensity of 170% VO2max – a full-on workout. Working below this will likely provide gains still but doesn’t do justice to what interval training can do."
It isn't the be-all in your fitness routine.
Of course, you still want to put on (or maintain muscle). Think of Tabata as a potent way to end a workout – the extra punch that's been missing from a fitness regime grown stale or ineffective. "I don't recommend doing the routines more than 4 times a week – and not on consecutive days," says Professor T. "It is extremely tough on your body, it will take time to recover."
The (Two-Step!) At-Home Tabata Workout
1 | Warm-up very well. 5 minutes of low-to-moderate intensity cardio. Then, 5 minutes of whole body mobilisation – and practicing of the moves you want to use in your Tabata workout (see below).
2 | Choose your poison. Pick one or two of the exercises below and perform them using the Tabata principle (20 seconds of intense exercise, followed by 10 seconds of rest) – for 4 minutes.
SINGLE LEG BURPEE
Areas Trained: legs, glutes, biceps, triceps and shoulders.
Technique: Start in the press up position, jump in on one leg, and then jump up with the opposite knee into the chest. Repeat on the other side. (For a less advanced technique, use a normal burpee – i.e. jump in and up on both legs.)
Areas Trained: An all over-body workout, great for legs, glutes, arms and core.
Technique: Start on all fours and crawl as fast as possible forwards for four paces, then jump in the air. Turn round and repeat.
SINGLE ARM KICK THROUGH
Areas Trained: Biceps, triceps, core, glutes and legs.
Technique: Start in a press up position, thenm taking your weight on the right arm, kick to the left with your right leg. Alternative left and right quickly. (For a less advanced technique, keep both hands on the ground and alternate knees to chest rapidly.)