The Best 4 Minutes of Your Life: Tabata

By Jesse | 24 Comments

When doing physical exercise you are always training either your aerobic or anaerobic capacity.

It’s really that simple.

If you don’t know the difference between these two, you’d better learn it right away. To give you a hint, the ultimate aerobic exercise is marathon running. The ultimate anaerobic exercise is… probably arm wrestling.

Anyway.

Imagine a method of training that will maximize your anaerobic capacity while at the same time increasing your aerobic capacity. Sounds like a dream come true, huh? “But you probably need a lot of equipment and expensive gear?” you may ask.

Well, if you think that, then I’m going to save you a lot of money today because I’m going to show you how to maximize your aerobic and anaerobic capacity in training just 4 minutes a day. Yup, you heard me right.

That gives you 23 hours and 56 minutes to relax.

It sound like a miracle, I know.

But there’s a price to pay (as always).

Think exhaustion… pools of sweat… vomit… and a big flabby piece of meat lying on the floor.

That piece of meat is you.

Enter the Tabata Method

In 1997, the now famous Dr. Izumi Tabata and his colleagues at the Japanese Institute of Fitness and Sport discovered something amazing. They found an interesting and highly effective way to increase both anaerobic and aerobic pathways at the same time. It’s one of those strange training methods that seems to cross boundaries, with the same exercise.

This training method, today known as the Tabata Method (or Tabata Protocol), is so simple, yet so incredibly difficult, that the top athletes tend to try it once, admire it’s greatness and then keep quiet about it. Because they don’t want people to know that they actually use this seemingly simple method of training.

“Yeah, yeah, stop teasing us, what is it, more exactly?”

It’s simple: take one exercise and perform it in the following manner:

  1. For exactly 20 seconds, do as many repetitions of the exercise as you possibly can.
  2. Rest for exactly 10 seconds.
  3. Repeat seven more times, making it a total of 8 sets.

That’s it! You’re done in four minutes! Oh, and that thing you’re trying to wipe off of your forehead? It’s not sweat.

That would be the floor.

You simply choose an exercise, do it twenty seconds, rest ten seconds, and do that totally eight times, for maybe two times a week! I just described the whole Tabata Method in one sentence. It’s that easy.

This method, in theory, is so simple that I almost can’t find words for it. It’s… childish! But in practise I can easily find words for it:

Brutal, barbarous, cruel, savage and vicious.

Please try it.

It’s only four minutes of your day. But you need to choose an exercise that uses large muscle groups. The bigger the better. For example, the legs, torso and arms are fairly big. I suggest you do squats and push-ups. Better yet, combine them. Or do the famous MMA exercise, the Burpee (as pictures above).

Basically you can do any exercise that you want, but compound movements are best suited. Do the exercise as explosive as you can, like you are ripping your body apart! And remember, do it 20 seconds, then rest 10.

It’s very important to not rest more than 10 seconds. Tabata’s research showed that an interval of 20 second of intense activity followed by exactly 10 second of rest puts both the aerobic and anaerobic systems at peak stress and improves both aerobic and anaerobic capacity. Longer rest periods do not put either of the systems at peak stress.

So basically if you rest longer it’s still good, but not optimal.

And oh, you really shouldn’t consider doing much after the Tabata workout.

Well, you could try, but I doubt you will be able to do it anyway.

Ok, so far so good, now you know the basics of a Tabata exercise. But what are the gains? Well, Dr. Tabata himself used his method for only 6 weeks on a test group of already physically fit athletes. The result was of course great (why else would I mention it?).

Dr. Tabata noted a 28% increase in anaerobic capacity in his subjects, along with a 14% increase in their aerobic ability. And remember, these results were witnessed in already physically fit athletes!

You know what?

I just wrote all of this and still can’t believe it.

Please feel free to comment if you try it.

About the author

is a self-titled Karate Nerd™, best-selling martial arts writer, unreasonably handsome elite athlete, autodidact, karatepreneur and carrot cake aficionado. He really thinks you should become a Karate Nerd™ too.

24 Comments

  1. dira heavenly

    March 30, 2009 at 1:42 pm

    jesse,

    wow. really? i’ll try this method tomorrow morning then! :-)

  2. jay

    May 15, 2009 at 1:40 pm

    Hi there,

    Do you have an idea of the intensity of the workout? On youtube I see a lot of mid-intensity workouts. I thought it would be more like punching as fast as you can

  3. Jesse

    May 17, 2009 at 3:29 am

    Hi jay

    Yes, it should be maximum intensity. Medium intensity is more for “fat loss” I believe, maybe that’s why they are so popular on youtube? :)

  4. Jimmy Ladd

    January 20, 2010 at 5:11 am

    Have you ever considered adding more videos to your blog posts to keep the readers more entertained? I mean I just read through the entire article of yours and it was quite good but since I’m more of a visual learner,I found that to be more helpful well let me know how it turns out. This is good…thanks for sharing

    • Jesse

      January 20, 2010 at 3:27 pm

      Hi Jimmy,

      Yes, I’ve thought of that before.

      But… people constantly remove videos (from Youtube for example), and I don’t want broken links, so I’ve decided to not link to videos. Except the ones I’ve uploaded myself.

      However, I promise I will use more pictures in my future posts!

  5. Tommy

    April 26, 2010 at 8:53 pm

    Dear mother of all that is holy!!

    I just did Tabata on a Cross Trainer….and never again. I seriously thought my heart was about to stop and I still have a really really strange sound in my lungs while breathing.

    • Jesse

      April 27, 2010 at 12:15 am

      Now we’re talkin’! :)

  6. crix

    June 17, 2010 at 12:14 pm

    Good article! I started Tabata with burpees three weeks ago. The first time was excruciating, I completed only 5 intervals and seriously thought those were my last breaths. Now I do seven intervals -- but still have to wipe the floor off my forehead every time :) Great conditioning though.

  7. Bryanna Jermeland

    September 10, 2010 at 12:39 am

    interesting news mann !

  8. Joy Reppell

    September 20, 2010 at 3:51 pm

    Hay Dude , i love with Your site.

    • Jesse

      September 20, 2010 at 10:56 pm

      *Too much informaaaation* :O

      • Tommy

        September 21, 2010 at 11:15 am

        Go easy on him Jesse sempai!
        I think I speak for all of us when I say that we all have, at atleast one point, made sweet sweet love to your site!

  9. Seanté

    October 6, 2010 at 2:22 pm

    Wowww I just tried this, I made 4 reps and thought I was gonna puke!! I’m a girl but I’m gonna definately try for the full 8 O_O

    • daisy

      October 13, 2011 at 4:38 pm

      hey im a girl and i can do 8 reps, i for 4 mins on a xtrainer then have 3 mins rest then do 4 mins on a bike with 3 mins rest then 4 mins on a rower and then im almost sick…..

  10. Ashanti Wilda

    December 10, 2010 at 6:54 pm

    Of course, what a fantastic site and informative posts, I surely will bookmark your blog.Have an awsome day!

  11. warrioress

    September 16, 2011 at 10:05 pm

    I love this, IloveitIloveit! I’m gonna try it as soon as I can. Thanks a lot Jesse-san. WHY didn’t I see this sooner?!

  12. warrioress

    September 16, 2011 at 10:34 pm

    Btw, I am assuming that when you say 14% increase in aerobic ability, you do NOT mean aerobic capacity. Am I right? Sorry if I sound like a complete idiot.

    • Jesse

      September 17, 2011 at 7:52 am

      Aerobic ability = maximum aerobic capacity (VO2 max). :)

      • warrioress

        September 18, 2011 at 11:53 am

        Oh I see. Thanks :)

  13. Darshan

    October 19, 2011 at 1:24 pm

    Dr. Izumi Tabata so it’s a Japanese thing xD

    I often see it in my taekwondo class, we place a kicking target ahead the practitioner and one behind, than the practitioner kick with the front leg ( so it’s a right kick , rotate, left kick, rotate, right etc etc)

    it’s “brutal, barbarous, cruel, savage and vicious”.

    Do you know any other exercise that can be used in a tabata routine?

  14. Stephen

    October 20, 2011 at 9:02 am

    Yep, I’ve done this. The first time that I tried it, I actually rolled my eyes at myself for “wasting my time” with something so silly.

    Well, HAH. Just…. HAH to that. I couldn’t complete two minutes of it at max intensity. I definitely still can’t complete the full 8 reps, though I can get to 5 or 6, depending on the day.

  15. Greg

    October 25, 2011 at 9:43 pm

    wow! Great article, me and my sons have incorporated this tabata style method into our weekly regime and man it KILLS!!! lol Great work, will be interesting to see if we can see any gains :)
    Thanks again for a great read and an opening yet again of my mind!

    Greg & Boys

  16. Maryam

    December 6, 2011 at 1:28 pm

    I tried that with zuki, to see what will happen. I did all the 8 sets but after the fourth set I was actually punching like some boxer with no effort, no karate Zuki there!

    So I was wondering am i wrong? or maybe you shouldn’t do that with techniques, to not to do them wrong -- or maybe I should work more!

  17. Odie

    August 7, 2012 at 12:42 pm

    Did it for one week… it made my limbs like noodles… but the pain in the butt was the Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness… within 72 hours after Tabata made my muscle sore to the core.. Yeah Man!!!

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