by Jill Scarrow
Every Monday night, as winter winds howl around the Ontario Racquet Club (ORC) in Mississauga, gym goers inside a warm studio trade their winter coats for active wear. Sweat pours from their bodies as they dutifully follow the instructor through sets of moves. For 20 seconds they do as many push ups as they can before taking a 10-second break. Then the clock starts counting down again for a series of squats. For half an hour, the class does as many skates across the laminate floor and leaps into the air from a push-up position as they can in 20 second bursts, their red faces and grimaces lessening when the instructor calls out the start of the micro-break between sets. This is Tabata.
It’s not just for those who are extremely fit. As with any fitness method or program, it’s something that everyone can try and it can encompass just about anything: running, biking, push-ups, squats or sit-ups. The key is to do eight sets of 20-second intervals of exercise, as hard as you possibly can, with a 10-second break in between.
Paul Ferri is the co-owner and trainer at Transition Crossfit in Oakville, where a typical class includes strength training and about 30 minutes of Tabata intervals including exercises like air squats or sit-ups. He says Tabata is a great way to improve overall fitness because it increases how much oxygen the body takes in during exercise. And such short, high-intensity bursts can also test your mental stamina. “You go so much harder because you know you’re going to get that rest,” he says of the 10-second breaks.
Gloria Atkinson teaches some of ORC’s Tabata classes and is the Group Fitness Director at the club. She says one of Tabata’s main advantages is that in just four minutes – the time it takes to complete one cycle of eight sets – the workout can increase the body’s metabolism, even after you’re done. Atkinson says people shouldn’t shy away from Tabata just because it was initially developed for elite athletes.
Tabata can be adapted to suit anyone. People who have suffered knee injuries in the past can focus on upper body exercises like push ups, for example. Even walking as hard and as fast as you can for 20 seconds is a good way to get a workout, as long as you’re not pushing your heart rate too high. However, Atkinson cautions that because Tabata is so intense, it should only be done once a week. The other days, she says, should involve other fitness activities like weight training, cardiovascular workouts, walking or Pilates and yoga classes.
Regardless of how you fit Tabata into your life, the thrill of watching your fitness improve will make sweating, grunting and straining through those few seconds very worthwhile. “It should be the hardest thing you do in a day, but it feels like an accomplishment,” Atkinson says.
So what are you waiting for? Try a Tabata class today!
Try a timer – the workout is hard enough without having to count in your head. Instead, download a Tabata timer app like this one: tabatatimer.com.
Focus on form – merely trying to increase your reps can cause less than stellar form and proper body alignment. More reps aren’t worth it if they’re not being performed properly.
Nutrition – that means being well-hydrated and eating properly before and after a workout. Sip water while exercising, then drink plenty afterwards. Be sure to eat plenty of proteins and carbs within the first two hours after the workout to keep the body fuelled for maximum results.