Wellness: Tabata Training

September 26 2012, 11:40 AM

There’s always something new and gimmicky on the market where fitness is concerned, like unorthodox strategies or a bizarre schedule. And sometimes it seems to be about who’s getting the best outcome for the least number of hours. But experts do say it’s possible—that if we exercise smarter we can achieve optimal results in less time. It sounds perfect, until you realize that “smarter” usually means more painful. 

Which brings me to the Tabata Method: a specific type of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) developed in Japan that’s made its way to Denver’s workout scene. The plan looks like this: four continual minutes made up of 20 seconds “on” (all-out exertion) and 10 seconds “off” (rest). Supposedly, four days a week of this Tabata training has proven to yield incredible aerobic and anaerobic results. I had to try it for myself. Just 20 seconds of intensity, then a rest; how bad could it be?

Well, "bad" is a bit of an understatement. "Grueling" might be more appropriate, especially if you’re not conditioned for it. I signed up for Pura Vida’s “Tabata Ripped” class, which is a fast-paced combination of exercises such as bicep curls, lunges, squats, and the dreaded burpee (squat thrust). Even though the instructor ordered us to rest often, I struggled. I really felt it. I felt it several days later. Not just soreness, but exhaustion. Was this normal?

I consulted Pura Vida trainer Adrine Writer for some insight into my complete breakdown. “This training is very taxing on all levels, including cellular,” Writer says. “Your body was healing from the damage to the muscular, endocrine, and nervous systems and returning to its equilibrium state.” Can all this damage be a good thing? Writer says yes: “When you train at a high intensity, you are retraining your body to become a more efficient machine.” It takes a little adjusting at first, but eventually, that damage means I’ll burn more calories during exercise and afterward at rest. 

According to Writer, the difference is load. The intensity of these shorter intervals is so much greater that they’re more effective than a normal workout. Hour-long cycling classes are my usual go-to exercise, but this 30-minute class was much more taxing. Maybe it’s time to switch up the routine for good.

Up for the challenge? Try Tabata-style classes and workouts at Pura Vida, Colorado Athletic Club, Qi Athletic Club, and many CrossFit locations.

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