The Four Minute Workout

by | Apr 13, 2017


“Tabatas” have become rather popular in many exercise regimes.  What exactly are “Tabatas”?

In the early 1990’s Dr. Izumi Tabata, who was an adviser to the Japanese Speed Skating team, developed a new type of workout that now bears his name.  His workout is based on the following experiment published in a scientific journal in 1996:

The research utilized two different sets of amateur male athletes in their early 20s.

  1. The first group pedaled on a exercise bike for one hour at a moderately high intensity. The workout was similar to a long jogging session. .
  2. The second group pedaled at maximal effort for 20 seconds, followed by 10 seconds of rest, for 4 minutes (completing 8 sets total).  That’s it.  Four minutes.

Both groups worked out for 5 days a week.  Thus, the first group worked out five hours while the second group worked out a total of 20 minutes (plus warm-up time).  The experiment lasted for six weeks.

What happened? At the end of six weeks the group that did the short intervals had increased their VO2 max and anaerobic capacity by more than the steady-state group.  What this means is that the group doing the Tabata sprint intervals got more fit on key measures of fitness doing a lot less exercise than the steady state group. Additionally, later research has found that the Tabata exercise plan burns an extra 150 calories in the 12 hours after exercise, even at rest.

Sounds too good to be true? Realize that to properly do a Tabata workout you have to use all-out effort.  The four minutes of Tabata exercise should be incredibly hard. A quote I found was that if you are properly doing Tabatas “you should see God” by the end of them. Dr. Tabata has noted that the vast majority of people doing “Tabatas” don’t workout hard enough and the intervals he sees performed in exercise classes aren’t nearly hard enough to reap the benefits described above.


1 Comment

  1. John—Taking it a step further, workouts based on W’ (W prime) really boost critical power. See recent research on critical power and W’ by Dr. Skiba.


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