In this post, I’m going to show you how to perform an excellent cardio workout that requires no workout equipment, no gym, and takes 10 minutes or less – though you can do it for longer if you choose. The benefits are immense, but, I’ll say this: they aren’t for the faint of heart. If you aren’t willing to push your comfort zone and endure a little pain in the name of getting healthier, you don’t need to read this article.
Introducing Tabata Intervals
About two years ago, I was searching for a way to do my cardio training for hockey without having to use gym equipment and without having to run, as my access to a gym was limited and I really hated to run distance. If possible, I also wanted my workouts to last as short a time as possible (so I could spend more time doing other things) and to prepare me for hockey.
After a week of searching, I arrived at Tabata intervals as a perfect solution.
Essentially, Tabata intervals make you perform one exercise (sprinting, for example) for 20 seconds at full intensity, followed by a 10 second rest period, followed by another 20 seconds of full intensity exercise, and so on. Each 30 second work-rest cycle is one rep. Typically, I did workouts ranging from 20 to 60 intervals (10 to 30 minutes), but even doing it for 4 minutes will bring excellent results, especially if you’re sprinting as your Tabata exercise.
I can attest to the fact that this type of training just plain works. Diligently doing tabata intervals 2-3 times per week for a couple months whipped me into incredible shape – the best shape of my life, to be honest. When hockey season started, I didn’t get tired nearly as fast as I used to.
If my results aren’t enough, consider the original study that spawned these intervals. The abstract (taken from here) says:
Second, to quantify the effect of high-intensity intermittent training on energy release, seven subjects performed an intermittent training exercise 5 d.wk-1 for 6 wk. The exhaustive intermittent training consisted of seven to eight sets of 20-s exercise at an intensity of about 170% of VO2max with a 10-s rest between each bout. After the training period, VO2max increased by 7 ml.kg-1.min-1, while the anaerobic capacity increased by 28%. In conclusion, this study showed that moderate-intensity aerobic training that improves the maximal aerobic power does not change anaerobic capacity and that adequate high-intensity intermittent training may improve both anaerobic and aerobic energy supplying systems significantly, probably through imposing intensive stimuli on both systems.
Basically, trained athletes doing the protocol for 6 weeks had their anaerobic capacity shoot up, along with their VO2max. Also, one thing about HIIT (high-intensity interval training) is that it’s very, very effective at burning fat – the “afterburn” effect of intense interval training actually makes your body use up fat faster than low-intensity, long-duration cardio exercise (like jogging, biking, and so on). Tabata intervals, then, can help you lose weight and will make you get in excellent physical shape.
Getting Started With Tabatas
The simplest way to do Tabata intervals is to find a long, open field, arm yourself with a stopwatch, and do 8 cycles of Tabata intervals, for a total of 4 minutes. As you get in better shape, you may want to extend the time – but trust me, 4 minutes is a challenge for anyone. If you’re reading this and think 4 minutes of tabata interval sprinting is easy, go out your door and do it, because it is incredibly hard. However, it will whip you into shape very quickly.
However, when the weather got really cold, I didn’t want to have to leave my house, find a field, and run on it. Plus, I’d have to drive to find fields, and at the time I started doing tabatas, I didn’t have my license.
My solution? Replace sprinting with burpees, which is a combination of a push-up and a squat jump. You can see a video of what burpees look like here: YouTube Link. Instead of doing 8 cycles, I recommend doing at least 16 (8 minutes) for burpees to get the same effect.
The greatest part about doing burpees is that, if you have a nice carpeted floor and a high enough ceiling, you can do it at home. No gym fees. No equipment to buy. Just your body, a good timer, and mental discipline are required.
At first, I recommend doing full-intensity burpees for 10 cycles (5 minutes) to make sure you know what you’re getting yourself into. You can raise or lower the total time of your workouts as you please, but I think that 5 minutes is the minimum that will be needed for the exercise to be effective.
Even – or especially – if you’re not anything resembling an athlete, I still think that Tabata intervals will be enormously beneficial for you. And, just think, you only have to exercise for less than 10 minutes per day, and you don’t even have to leave your house!
The only requirement is that you do things with full intensity, all the time. Try squeezing in your max amount of reps in each interval – for burpees, my max in 20 seconds was 6 (and your milage may vary). You’ll see how difficult the tabatas are when you truly do them at full effort, but that’s when they’ll bring you the greatest reward; for HIIT, you get out what you put into the process.
Most of all, though – these exercises do not require tons of athleticism to do. Athleticism and being in good shape certainly helps. However, if you can do even one burpee, you’re going to be able to do the intervals.
Mental toughness is all that’s required to finish 4 or 5 or 8 or 10 minutes tabata intervals. Believe me – you are probably going to be more tired and breathing heavier than you ever have in your life when you do these exercises. You need to be willing to keep going when you’re tired, you need to be willing to challenge yourself, and you need to be willing to block out the pain and just keep going even when everything in your body is screaming at you to stop. You can do it – it’s just a matter of mental toughness.
In that way, tabatas reveal character. How much can you endure? How badly do you want to get into shape? How tough are you?
Give the intervals a try, right now, and you’ll learn the answers.