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Get Your Best Cardio Results with the Tabata Protocol

A lot of people might be surprised to learn that there is a method that allows you to burn as much fat in 4 minutes as you would in an hour-long cardio workout. What’s the downside? You have to exercise harder and more intensely than you ever have before. Still with me? Then let’s explore this method, which is called the Tabata protocol.

This process was developed by Izumi Tabata, who investigated the effects of strenuous exercise for the Japanese National Institute of Fitness and Sports. The coach of the Japanese speed skating team developed a high intensity interval training routine, and Izumi Tabata evaluated its effectiveness. The program developed for the speed skaters centered on a maximum sprint effort that lasted 20 seconds followed by 10 seconds of resting. This 20 second / 10 second set is performed 6 to 8 times in a row, so it only takes 4 minutes.

20 seconds, 10 seconds repeated for 4 minutes might sound like an easy workout, however, when you sprint as hard as you can sprint for 20 seconds and only break for half that time, you will get very winded. It’s not uncommon to feel nauseous after completing this routine. These were world-class Olympic athletes in this case as well, not just some average skaters. Speed skaters are some of the world’s finest athletes, and many on the Japanese speed skating team had to stop after 6 intervals for the first few times. I can perform 4-6 intervals at maximum velocity but see a slowdown for the last 2-4 intervals. I’m still giving it my best effort during those final intervals, but I’m just too worn out to give the same best effort that I did during the earlier intervals.

If you’re like most people, then you’ve probably heard that you have to work out on a treadmill or elliptical for a minimum of 20 minutes before you start to burn any fat. How could this simple 4 minute routine possibly be so much more effective? The short high intensity intervals result in a significant “after burn effect” in which your body continues burning calories for hours after you complete the workout. During the workout, your body uses up all of the available glycogens (carbs) in your system, so your body is forced to burn fat the rest of the day. Additionally, the Tabata protocol has been shown to increase aerobic and anaerobic capacity while moderate intensity cardio only increases aerobic capacity.

You can apply the Tabata protocol’s high-intensity workout to just about any type of exercise that you like to use. Personally, I have only done these intense intervals using cardio type exercises, but it can also be effectively done using bodyweight or weight-based exercises. Do as many reps as you can in 20 seconds. Then just take that 10 second rest period and do it again. If you are using weights be sure to go light on the weight because this can really be intense.

The Tabata protocol itself should only take 4 minutes total, however it is still important to remember to begin with a warm-up period and end with a cool-down period. I start off by warming up for 4-5 minutes. After I finish the Tabata protocol, I take a 1 – 2 minute cool down, which lets me gather my second wind and get rehydrated. That’s about 10 minutes total. Since I usually allocate a little longer than 10 minutes for a workout, I like to add some steady state cardio afterward. Tabata reduces glycogen levels and releases fatty acids. You can continue to burn off those fatty acids using the steady state cardio, allowing your body to take advantage of those low glycogen levels and increase your overall fat burning. This is how I have effectively used the Tabata protocol to be the best fat burning cardio workout I’ve ever experienced in my life.


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