There is a common misconception that the amount of time poured into exercise directly correlates with the benefits accrued. That the longer you work, the better your results. Thus a fifty minute run is better than a fifteen minute run. An hour spent lifting weights is better than thirty minutes. To this effect you will see people patiently jogging on treadmills as if trying to reach eternity, breaking a light sweat and trying to achieve a total body transformation. But is this the way to go? Science and certain key Japanese experts say no. Here’s the skinny: research has shown that you can achieve startling results with correctly applied effort in under six minutes. Sound like another gimmick? It’s not. Read on and find out why.
It comes down to how the body reacts when forced to perform under anaerobic conditions. Interval training is a concept based on repeated exercises that alternate between bouts of high and low intensity. If the moments of high intensity are sufficiently grueling it becomes HIIT-High Intensity Interval Training, where you try to ‘max out’ and work harder than your body can process oxygen. This forces your body to burn through its glycogen stores (blood sugar) and then begin to break down body tissue since it can’t access stored fat as a source of energy. Why is this good? Because your body is working anaerobically while doing this, and will continue to burn energy and consume fat after you finish working out, sometimes right through that night. The result? A long, truly slow burn that will consume many more calories than a regular, aerobic workout.
Now, the Tabata Protocol is a refinement of HIIT. Rather than randomly work out intensely and then at a lower energy level, scientists in Japan figured out the optimal ratios. Originally designed by the coach of the Japanese Olympic Speed Skating Team, the Protocol was perfected under laboratory conditions by Isumi Tabata, Ph. D., who completed the research at Japan’s National Institute of Fitness and Sports. What does it entail? Six minutes of working out. If you can do those six minutes in the way the Tabata Protocol demands (say 90RPMs on an exercise bike at 170% VO2max), you will be doing far more for your body than an hour of any other exercise.
Essentially it works like this: five minutes of low intensity warm up. Then you red-line your system by going as hard as you can for twenty seconds. Eye bursting, breathing burning, can’t breath level of intensity. Followed by 20 seconds of low intensity where you catch your breath. Then back to 20 seconds of insane intensity, and repeat till you complete the six minutes, followed by the five minutes of cool down.
Sound simple? It’s not. You will not be able to do the full six minutes. This program was designed for Olympic athletes, and even they had difficulty operating at their max for those twenty second intervals during the key six minutes. I myself have attempted the Protocol in its original form, and my experience went something like this: first 20 seconds of max intensity felt good. Cool down 20 seconds was not enough to get breath back. Second set of max intensity was rough, and the second 20 seconds of low intensity was definitely not even enough to prepare for third set, which killed me. I think I managed about two minutes before I almost fell off the elliptical machine.
So how do you implement the Tabata Protocol in your own life? Google it and find a variation for amateur athletes that works for your level of fitness, or simply attempt to do as many cycles of 20 seconds as you can and go adding more until you can eventually do the sixty seconds. Conversely you could attempt to undertake a HIIT exercise program such as Shaun T’s INSANITY and push your anaerobic threshold that way. Also you should Google the actual study done by Izumi Tabata and read about the science behind the Protocol. It’s impressive.
Philip Tucker is a Fitness Product Review specialist for Miami based Extreme Fitness Results LLC. He enjoys challenging himself with Shaun T’s INSANITY Workout and doing the P90X Workout with Tony Horton.