How long does it take to get in a great cardio workout? Not as long as you might think. That is, unless you're thinking four minutes. Seriously. Our proof: The fast and furious routines. These four minute workouts are all based on the "Tabata protocol." For background, the Tabata protocol is a training method that was originally used by the Japanese Olympic speed skating team, and named for the scientist-Izumi Tabata-who studied its amazing effect on a group of male college students. The study subjects were all fit PE majors, and most were members of various varsity sports teams.
Better than moderate exercise
You might think it sounds too simple-and short-to work: On a stationary bike, the university students did seven to eight 20-second, all-out sprints, each separated by just 10 seconds of rest. Total time: Four minutes. (They also did an easy 10-minute warm up before each session.)
The results were fantastic
After doing the routine five days a week for six weeks, the college kids boosted their aerobic fitness by 14 per cent. By comparison, another group-who performed a steady, but moderate pace on the bikes for 60 minutes-increased their aerobic fitness by only about 10 per cent.
The high-intensity four-minute workout was more effective than an hour of moderate cycling. Even better, the Tabata participants saw a 28 per cent improvement in "anaerobic capacity"-a measure of how long the men could exercise at their top effort. The second group saw no such improvements. So why isn't everyone doing Tabata workouts? Well, most people would vomit-or come close to it-if they actually tried the routine that was used in the study. That's not good. Plus, to burn as many calories as you might like, you need to regularly exercise longer than just four minutes. (The study participants literally exercised themselves to exhaustion, making additional work unlikely).
The good news
Both problems can be solved-while also making the Tabata method even more beneficial.
Manage fatigue and burn more calories
Instead of doing a single mode of exercise for each sprint, alternate between two bodyweight exercises that work your muscles in different ways. This way, fatigue doesn't overtake you as quickly-such was the case with the stationary bike. So you're still working hard for each 20-second interval, but you're spreading the challenge around.
Will it improve your fitness as fast as it did for the Japanese college students? No one knows. But you'll no doubt find it highly effective. Whether you're short on time and need a quick workout, or just want to add some extra intensity to the end of a longer session, one of these four-minute routines will do the trick, aseach mini-workout works as a "finisher."
Because this style of Tabata training allows you to better manage your fatigue, you can "stack" multiple four-minute routines together. The key is to simply take one minute of rest between every four-minute mini-workout. This way, you're able to recover briefly between routines, and give it your all each time-while creating a longer workout for greater calorie-burn. And by stacking this routine, you can choose exercises that work your muscles and joints in multiple directions-which helps you build a stronger, more fit body.
Do each exercise for 30 seconds back-to-back at a low intensity. Repeat twice. Rest for 90 seconds before moving onto cardio.
Plank with alternating knee-to-elbow
Do each exercise for 60 seconds back to back, working at around 75 per cent of your max intensity. Rest for 90 seconds before moving onto Tabata.
Jog and hit the deck every five seconds
Three vertical jumps and three air squats
Jog and hit the deck
Do 20 seconds of rocket jumps at maximum intensity, rest for ten seconds. Do 20 seconds of angled running man at maximum intensity, rest for ten seconds. Repeat three times. Rest for 30 seconds before moving onto core.
Angled running man
Do each exercise for 60 seconds back-to-back at a low intensity. Repeat once. Rest for 90 seconds before moving onto cool down.
Do each exercise for 30 seconds back-to-back at a low intensity. Repeat twice, and collapse.
Low squat groin stretch
Updog child's pose