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The Truth About Tabata


Tabata is a term that has garnered a lot of attention lately. But is four minutes of exercise a day really enough to achieve results?

First, let me explain the true definition of the term. Technically, Tabata does refer to an exercise practice that in theory can expedite weight loss, increase fat burning and help you get into better shape.

Women doing squats

But, in reality, most people don't follow the true Tabata protocol, which was created by Dr. Izumi Tabata in the 1990s. His original program dictates a person must reach 170 percent of his/her VO2 max for 20 seconds at a time, eight times, with only 10 seconds to recover between each intense interval.

Do you know what 170 percent VO2 max feels like? To give you some idea: 100 percent VO2 max is associated with nausea and vomiting. Since most people cannot physically or mentally reach this level on their own, they adopt a "best effort" approach for eight rounds of 20 seconds of all-out exertion and call it Tabata.

Sorry to burst your bubble, Tabata lovers. While crunches, squats, push-ups or other body-weight-bearing exercises may follow this interval format, they don't actually constitute true Tabata.

Yes, the moves may be challenging and you can feel what begins as uncomfortable progress to maximum effort by the end of your session, but these exercises are still not the sort of gasping for air anaerobic training that Tabata requires.

Is it more effective than other training regimens? Yes, but very few individuals will train at the level for which this program was originally intended. Most people work via a steady-state model of exertion, which means it's likely their version of Tabata is not as effective as it is actually designed to be.

I believe it's more practical to think of Tabata in relative terms, as a springboard and framework for what has more widely become known as "high-intensity interval training," or HIIT.

I am a huge fan of HIIT. In fact, HIIT is virtually one of the only ways that I was able to get into peak shape after I stopped running competitively. With interval training, you do get more out of less time -- and the more you put into each interval, the more you get out of it.

It's as simple as incorporating short bursts of intense exercise into your fitness regimen. Whether you use equipment or prefer outdoor exercise, the goal of HIIT is to increase your heart rate, let it come down, and then jack it up again.

So the next time you consider doing a Tabata workout, remember: Success is largely dependent on how closely you follow the official protocol. For the majority of the population, I recommend using the tenets of it as the basis of your workout strategy.

Here are a few of my favorite Tabata-inspired workouts that you can do anywhere:

Tabata-Style Bodyweight Workout

Plyo-Tabata Workout

20-Minute Cardio Tabata Style

Bottom line: There is no "miracle workout." While Tabata-style workouts may be shorter, they are also extremely tough. You have to be willing to show up, get uncomfortable and give it everything to get the results you want.

-- Amanda

Readers -- Have you ever tried a true Tabata workout or a Tabata-inspired workout? How does it compare to other training regimens you've followed? What workout works best for you? Leave us a comment below and let us know!

Amanda Russell is a top-rated fitness and lifestyle writer, professional keynote speaker, Olympic-trained athlete, model, spokeswoman, founder of and one of the industry’s leading experts on fitness, wellness and change. Amanda hosts and executive produces the online fitness series: Fit Strong and Sexy. To watch Amanda’s show, visit

Find more of Amanda on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Google+.

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