Tabata and Other High-Intensity Exercise Regimens: Are They For You?

Fitness experts today are increasingly touting Tabata and other types of high-intensity interval training as revolutionary methods of healthy exercise. Although Tabata is intended to push your body to its limits, just about anybody can participate.

In contrast to a tedious hour on a treadmill or elliptical machine, Tabata involves a series of 20-second bursts of intense work separated by 10-second periods of rest. The specific exercises that can be included in a Tabata regiment are nearly unlimited.

“I love Tabata,” says Priscilla Heimann-Waldheger, MD, a Tabata instructor who is also a pathologist with Regional Pathology Associates, Inc.

“Performing high-intensity exercises for short time periods is the new, modern way of keeping fit and losing weight. Research has shown that you can burn more calories in half the time by pushing your body hard for short periods.”

Although it’s been practiced for more than two decades, Tabata has gained in popularity during the past several years. It's named after Izumi Tabata, a Japanese professor who studied the method while training Olympic speedskaters in 1996. The speedskaters demonstrated improved strength and stamina by doing high-intensity interval training.

What is Tabata?

Each Tabata – or exercise – is done for five minutes. During the first four minutes, an exercise is done with maximum intensity for 20 seconds, followed by 10 seconds of rest, for a total of eight cycles. The final minute is a cool-down period. Then a different exercise begins.

“After 20 seconds you are going to get very winded and tired,” Dr. Heimann-Waldheger says.

A Tabata can be any exercise, such as jumping jacks, burpees, squats, rope jumping, sprints or push-ups.

A typical class or session includes about five to eight Tabatas in about a half hour or so, Dr. Heimann-Waldheger says. Tabata should be done two to three times a week.

“In 30 minutes, you’re going to get a very intense workout,” she says. “The idea is to increase your heart rate with each cycle of the exercise. After four minutes you’re going to be close to your maximum, then you have a minute to bring it back down. The exercises increase the body’s metabolism and burn calories. There is also a delayed effect that helps the body to burn calories eight to 10 hours after you exercise.”

Each participant works at their own intensity, says Dr. Heimann-Waldheger.

“That’s why Tabata is for everybody,” she says. "During a class, we usually show three different levels. There is a very easy level that seniors can easily do. A middle level (that) is for people around their 40s or 50s. Then there is the option for the youngest crowd that is going to go crazy. Even if you aren’t getting the full effect of the Tabata, doing the exercises help to increase your mobility and range of motion while increasing the happy-feeling hormones you get from being active.”

Group Tabata is fun, Dr. Heimann-Waldheger says, in part because participants can push each other to work harder. But Tabata also can be done alone or at home.

“You don’t even need exercise equipment,” she says. “All you need is a timer.”

Tabata is one of the group exercise classes taught at the Fitness Center at University Hospitals Avon Health Center. For more information about personal training, group exercise or to work with a physical therapist, visit the Fitness Center  online or call 440-988-6801.

Priscilla Heimann-Waldheger, MD, is a Tabata instructor at the Fitness Center at University Hospitals Avon Health Center, who is also a pathologist with Regional Pathology Associates, Inc. You can Request an Appointment with any University Hospitals health care provider online.

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