man doing kettlebell pushups
Burn Notice

The Cardio Workout for Guys Who Hate Cardio

After a while, just about every cardio exercise can feel tedious, time-consuming, and ineffective. Running becomes boring. Swimming requires too much prep work and toweling off. Cycling squashes your baby-making parts. Luckily, the latest fitness research has determined that the best cardio workouts can be done in about the time it takes to listen to two tracks on Spotify. Better yet, they’re varied and, honestly, pretty fun. All you have to do is go full-out for just a few minutes.

High-intensity interval training (HIIT), that is performing exercises at a high pace for brief intervals, has been shown to have greater positive impacts on practitioners’ aerobic (cardiovascular) and anaerobic (muscle) systems than moderate intensity training. One of the earliest examples of this is Tabata training Done right, it’ll up your endurance, build strength, and crank your calorie burning up to basement furnace-levels.

What is Tabata training?

Tabata training—aka the Tabata Protocol—is an exercise regimen of 3-to-4-minute workouts in which you alternate between short bursts of all-out exertion and even briefer periods of rest. The typical Tabata workout consists of eight rounds of exercise-rest intervals with 20 seconds of high-intensity activity and 10-second breaks. To sum up:

  • 20 seconds of everything-you-‘ve-got exertion (squats, burpees, kettlebell exercises, etc.)
  • 10 seconds of rest
  • Repeat for four minutes or eight rounds

What Are The Origins of Tabata?

Tabata training is named for Dr. Izumi Tabata, a Japanese scientist. His team of researchers at the Japanese National Institute of Fitness and Sports studied the effects of high-intensity exercise versus those of moderate activity. Their research involved two groups of athletes training for six weeks at different intensities—one trained at a moderate intensity level for one hour five days a week, the other trained at a high-intensity level for 4 minutes and 20 seconds four days a week. The results showed that the moderate-intensity exercisers increased their aerobic systems, but not their anaerobic systems. Meanwhile, the high-intensity group increased their aerobic systems much more than the first group and increased their anaerobic systems by 28 percent.

These findings led to the development of a high-intensity regimen named after Tabata. Though it was originally intended for the Japanese speed skating team, the time-minimizing, effects-maximizing nature of the regimen made Tabata training popular amongst athletes and non-athletes very quickly.

man doing box jump

Why Is Tabata Training So Effective?

Intense exercise causes your heart to race and your metabolism to jump. In fact, your metabolic rate could rise as much as 15 times your resting, or basal, metabolic rate. Though they’re short-lived, when these spikes happen on a regular basis, your body increases the basal metabolic rate to handle the demands. Since the basal metabolic rate is the amount of energy your body burns at rest, you’ll be blowing through extra calories and fat even when you’re dozing on the couch. Tabata also stresses your muscles, which triggers your body to build even more muscle. And if you choose exercises that target many muscle groups, you’ll grow muscle even faster.

Tabata training demands that you wear a heart rate monitor. Doing so ensures you’re actually exercising at the high intensity. Your maximum heart rate is typically calculated by subtracting your age from 220—so a 40-year-old would max out at 180 beats per minute (bpm). Though “maximum effort” is 90-95 percent of your maximum heart rate, this level of intensity is pretty much reserved for athletes. Instead, aim for 75 percent or more of your maximum heart rate, or 165 bpm or higher for the 40-year-old.

Tabata Training Tips

Warm up: The original Tabata Protocol called for 10 minutes. But do at least five. Stretch, jump rope, bust out some high knees, some warrior poses, whatever. Choose full-body exercises: the more muscle groups you warm up, the more effective your workout.

Opt for bodyweight exercises: Incorporating light weights is OK, but unnecessary and could put more strain on you than you can handle.

Vary it up: Originally, Tabata expected you to stick with one exercise like riding a stationary bike for the entire workout. But mixing it up will not only keep it interesting but will keep specific muscles from overfatigue, which could cause you to lose good form.

Don’t slow down: Go full-speed for all 20 of those seconds. If you’re truly going all out, these will be the most uncomfortable four minutes of your life—or at least your day.

Breathe: that’s why you have those 10 seconds of rest.

The Workouts

Here are four simple Tabata circuits designed for Fatherly readers by Raphael Konforti, YouFit Health Clubs’ Fitness Education Coordinator:

1. Pushups and Squat Jumps

Alternate each move for 20 seconds on/10 seconds off for eight rounds total

2. Lunges and Dumbbell Rows

Alternate each move for 20 seconds on/10 seconds off for eight rounds total

3. Woodchops and Lateral Shuffles

Woodchops: Hold a light dumbbell or medicine ball in both hands. Squat and twist to move the weight to the outside of your left leg. Lift the weight across your body and past your head on your right side. Pivot your feet as needed. Lower the weight back to the outside of your left leg and repeat. For your next woodshop set, move the weight from the outside of your right leg above and to the left of your head.

Lateral Shuffle: Start with your feet hip distance apart. Squat and bring your hands together in front of your chest. Move your right foot to the side and then move your left foot to meet it. Do this four times, then switch directions and move to the left. Switch back and forth for the full 20 seconds.

Alternate each move for 20 seconds on/10 seconds off for eight rounds total

4. Sit-ups and Leg Raises

Leg Raises: Lie on your back, legs straight and together on the floor. Lift your legs, keeping them together, until your feet are pointing straight above you. Slowly lower your legs to just above the floor without letting your feet come all the way down. Repeat.

Alternate each move for 20 seconds on/10 seconds off for eight rounds total.

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