Leave it to a Japanese professor to come up with a high-intensity workout that appears painless, but is actually gut-wrenchingly difficult. Welcome to Tabata – a hard-hitting interval session that leaves you feeling both exhilarated and nauseous at the same time. The expression ‘every second counts’ could not be more fitting.
What? Initially used by athletic coach Peter Coe for a young, sprightly Seb Coe in the 1970s, interval training consists of extreme aerobic exercise succeeded by short recovery breaks. Since the Coes didn’t do too badly by this training method, Izumi Tabata took it one step further and created a study that showed 20 seconds of ultra-intense exercise followed by 10 seconds of rest, repeated continuously for 4 minutes, boosted heart-rate levels similar to those working out in longer exercise periods. More surprisingly, he found it helped to increase anaerobic benefits including strength and speed, which he tested on Japan’s speed skating team.
Is it right for me? Now used for professional athletes and the everyday person wanting to get fit, high-intensity interval training, or HIIT as it’s now known to the fitness world, involves a series of exercises such as travelling press-ups, frog squat jumps, running high knees and… wait for it… Russian twist sit-ups. While some of these may seem like ‘fun’, within seconds, you’ll wish you never asked to try this insane workout.
The simple formula of alternating two exercises eight times with a 20 second on-period and 10 second off sounds basic enough. But when you have a trainer like Jermaine at Fitness First Thomas More Square screaming in your face “You can go faster than that!”, every last breath of oxygen is gathered from the depths of the lungs to complete the set. Good news – you’re not the only one crying – you and the rest of the class are in ‘the no-pain, no-gain’ pack together (a battle of the wills so to speak). Even better news – as you push through, the adrenaline kicks in and the entire body feels high from the endorphin rush.
Why is this good for me? If you’re short on time and want a serious calorie burn, Tabata is the optimal workout. Proven by Tabata himself, along with a host of other researchers, HIIT boosts resting metabolic rate so the body burns fat at a higher rate within the next 12-48 hours. And according to BBC Horizon presenter Michael Mosley, insulin resistance is lowered making this key for diabetics.
But beware – for people not in their best fitness condition, go at your own pace, particularly those with knee injuries, as the series of squats and jumps can put pressure on the joints. Some health critics also claim that the intense training is not as effectual in weight loss for those not used to exercising. They advise focusing instead on building the heart-rate at a slower pace.
Where? Fitness First have recently launched the classes in gyms around the UK, with most lasting approximately a half hour. Other fitness centres are holding classes including SpringHealth Kickboxing in Camden (training home to World Kickboxing Champions Audi Kinga and Alex Lawson), Kick-Fitness in Southwark and Epoch Fitness with locations around central and west London.
Bottom line: Alex Lawson, owner of SpringHealth Kickboxing, insists: “The concentration that goes into HIIT training should leave people sweating and enthralled. Tabata sessions are tough but great fun and are available to everyone.” Go and see for yourself, it’s only 30 minutes.