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Short on Workout Time? Try Tabata!

Long before I formalized it as part of my wellfesto, daily exercise has always been one of my non-negotiables.  And as with any “must do’s,” I’ve definitely done some weird things to fit in workouts during hectic times…things like literally running from NYC’s Meatpacking District to Times Square in peak humidity to deliver an important document when the wait for a messenger was too long, holding running meetings through Potrero Hill (when I’ve been lucky enough to work with people who are up for it), and standing on my head in a locked conference room at the office.  It would be amazing to have the daily luxury of long runs through the woods or leisurely 10am spin classes, but those sort of workouts aren’t always feasible.  And even if they are, doing them means trading off time that could be spent doing something else.

Over the last few months in an effort to minimize time and maximize impact, I’ve started incorporating high-intensity interval training a few times a week.  Interval training isn’t a new trend (it’s been used by personal trainers for a long time, and has more recently been popularized by in-home programs like P90X and bootcamp workouts like Barry’s Bootcamp); high-intensity interval training steps it up even a notch more.  I’ve been doing Tabata, which is a simple method that emerged out of Japan in the mid-1990s.  Tabata involves a 4-minute set of continuous intervals, alternating between 20-second bursts of intensive work and 10-second rest periods.  I usually aim to do 2-4 Tabata sets in a workout, breaking for two minutes in between each set and adding a warm up and a cool down.  It works for any exercise (running, cycling, elliptical, plyometrics, weights, etc); I’ve been primarily using it for running and have also tried it on a spin bike.  Here’s on example of how it looks running:

Warm Up: 5 minutes @ slow jog
Set 1: 20 seconds @ sprint pace (with or without incline), 10 seconds rest…repeat eight times
Rest: 2 minutes @ slow jog
Set 2: 20 seconds @ sprint pace (with or without incline), 10 seconds rest…repeat eight times
Rest: 2 minutes @ slow jog
Set 3: 20 seconds @ sprint pace (with or without incline), 10 seconds rest…repeat eight times
Cool Down: 5 minutes @ slow jog

For me, Tabata is a good training tool to have in my back pocket.  It’s great for a time crunch or as an antidote to gym boredom.  I’m far from an expert in the science or the practice of Tabata, but I can speak from experience.  It’s helped me feel stronger and more fit, which makes the longer workout days more fulfilling and fun.  And according to Izumi Tabata’s research, Tabata increases both our aerobic and anaerobic systems, and improves mental toughness to boot (it’s HARD).  So is Tabata for everyone?  Of course not.   But if you’re looking for a way to fit workouts into your busy days, it’s worth a shot.  What do you need to get started?  A goal?  A workout buddy?  A plan?  A kick in the pants?  If you have an interval workout to share, please add it in the comments section!

6 Comments Post a comment
  1. Chantal #

    So appreciate this! Efficiency in workouts as a working mom feels key given limited time. Grateful for a way to make it happen. Thank you :).

    December 18, 2012
  2. ebriceno #

    Ditto! I’m definitely trying out Tabata!

    December 21, 2012

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