Oh cardio, we love to hate you. You take forever; we run on a treadmill going nowhere. (Are we done yet?)
If this sounds familiar, consider Tabata training — a super high-intensity workout that not only improves aerobic capacity in about four minutes per session, but also has tons of other benefits. Developed by Dr. Izumi Tabata, lead coach of Japan’s speed skating team, the Tabata method increases your anaerobic threshold with short bursts of hard, fast training via compound movements (which work several muscle groups at once). Call it the fast-and-furious workout.
"This type of training doesn’t rely on oxygen for fuel, unlike traditional cardio, which is aerobic," says Certified Personal Trainer Cindy Lai, owner of NYC-based Cindy Lai Fitness. “You will improve your VO2 max significantly," she adds. (That's the maximum volume of oxygen that can be used in one minute during peak exercise.) What's more, you'll develop stronger muscles — all without needing special equipment. Choose from higher-impact movements like plyometrics, jumping rope, and burpees or lower-impact techniques such as kettlebell swings, pushups, and pull-ups. The catch? You must push yourself to your absolute limit.
Here's the payoff: Tabata can burn three times as many calories as typical aerobic exercise. There’s also the afterburn effect. Your body continues to metabolize, or burn off, fat hours after the workout, since carb stores were burned during the workout.
You’re so ready to try this, we know, but safety is key. A good fitness level and experience with high intensity interval training is imperative (and, as with any new fitness endeavor, hooking up with a personal trainer is a good idea). Then, train Tabata one or two weeks for a month to build strength and endurance, alternating days with a well-rounded strength or cross-training program. Once you’ve mastered that, change it up again for best results. “You don’t only have to do one exercise for four minutes,” Lai says. "You can add two exercises for eight minutes, or three exercises for 12 minutes. But, you should never be doing the same routine more than four to six weeks at a time — which can decrease your fitness performance." Variety, it seems, is indeed the spice of life...even if it's happening in four-minute increments.