The latest edition of the IDEA Fitness Journal reports on Tabata intervals, one of the fastest growing fitness trends of the year. Tabata is based on the idea that just four minutes of extremely high intensity intervals can increase muscle mass and burn kilojoules faster than an hour of running. However, although the theory is sound, it might not be practical for everyone.
Tabata began after a study was published in 1996 by a Japanese exercise physiologist named Izumi Tabata. His research found that people who participated in four minutes a day of extremely high intensity intervals, five days a week, for six weeks, had better oxygen uptake in their muscles than when they exercised at a moderate intensity for an hour, five days a week. Oxygen uptake is directly related to kilojoule burning: the more oxygen you take in, the more you burn. Tabata, who is from the National Institute of Fitness and Sports in Japan, created an interval training course involving exercising at absolute maximum, meaning you couldn’t possibly exercise any harder, for 20 seconds, rest for 10 seconds, and repeat the cycle eight times, for a total of four minutes.
Pete McCall, MS, exercise physiologist with the American Council on Exercise, says that this type of interval training would be a good way to build muscle. "When it comes to calorie burn, it all depends on how much oxygen your body consumes and expends during an exercise session," he says, "and with a high-intensity protocol like Tabata, you're using a high volume of oxygen in a short amount of time." He notes that it’s a program best suited to people who have been exercising regularly, such as runners or cyclists, who need to stay fit off-season. “For the runner who wants to run a 10K or half marathon, and knows there's a period of time they can't get out and do the mileage, this is a good way to maximise their time," he says.
McCall notes that everyone can get some of the benefits of Tabata intervals, no matter our fitness level. The key is to work your way up slowly to the 30-second intervals, without starting out at full force. Whether or not you ultimately adopt the Tabata plan, any kind of interval training will serve your workouts very well indeed.