With the world's greatest sporting event about to hit our screens, all eyes will be on the fittest of the fit. To get athletes Games-ready trainers are always testing out new, different, better ways to achieve the faster, higher, stronger ideal. And we're the lucky recipients of all this high-tech know-how once the buffest, fittest super humans show the visible results - because if it works for elite athletes, it's going to work for us mere mortals. So what's the current athlete-certified go-to for getting fit, fast?
We took our Q to Veronika Larisova, the marathon-running head exercise physiologist of athletic training gym Agoga. Veronika has trained a slew of our Olympians, from swim star Steph Rice to diver Melissa Wu to runner Lisa Corrigan. And the method she uses? Tabata. This high intensity interval training style is all about maximum effort for a minimum amount of time with serious bikini body results. Here, all the details you need to know according to the guru, Veronika:
What is tabata and how did it come to be the workout?
Tabata is a HIIT (high intensity interval training) method developed by Japanese scientist Izumi Tabata in 1996. Working for the National Institute of Fitness and Sports in Tokyo, Tabata developed this method for the Japanese speed skating team. He put the athletes through many different types of interval workouts to find out which method would be the best to improve both aerobic and anaerobic fitness. The Tabata method - one Tabata set is four minutes long and consists of eight rounds of 20 seconds maximum effort with 10 seconds rest - turned out to increase both the aerobic and anaerobic capacity of the athletes. A training win/win.
Why does it work?
The intervals are short, encouraging maximum effort. This leads to reaching a high heart rate and VO2Max values which would be impossible to maintain for longer periods of time. There's also higher calorie expenditure as well as increased calorie burn post exercise (up to 30 minutes post exercise). Some claim that energy expenditure remains elevated for 24-48 hours but there's not enough evidence. I only go by reputable science research results.
Furthermore, Tabata training improves whole body fat oxidisation and capacity of skeletal muscle to oxidise fat after just two weeks (three-to-four sessions per week).
Benefits: increased anaerobic and aerobic capacity, muscular endurance, fat burning, increased energy expenditure (calorie burning) post exercise, time effective.
How often should we do Tabata?
If your goal is to improve general fitness and lose some winter fat then a 20 minute Tabata session three to four times each week will do the trick. Each 20 minute session should consist of four Tabata sets (one set is eight rounds of 20 seconds on/10 seconds off) with a one minute break between each set.
What are the best Tabata exercises?
Sprints (flat, hills, stairs, sand), spin bike, speed boxing, swimming, sled pushing. Some other exercises that can also be effective if you have a good fitness level and technique include burpees, box jumps, lunge jumps, mountain climbers, squat jumps, speed skaters.
Plus, you can always download a free Tabata app on your phone.
How can Tabata change your body?
Tabata training will help to burn fat while maintaining muscle mass. Prolonged aerobic training will also burn fat but it can also lead to muscle catabolism. Plus it's hard to build lots of muscle doing regular prolonged steady state training such as long distance running.
What's the fine print?
Tabata intervals have to be performed at maximum effort in order to achieve the desired benefits. Doing crunches for 20 seconds on/10 seconds off will do nothing to your aerobic or anaerobic fitness. If you go at your absolute maximum, it will be hard to complete the full eight sets. I tested this on a client who is an Olympic runner and made her run at her max for 20 seconds. We marked the distance by cones and she then had to cover the distance every 20 seconds. She could not cover the full distance for the last two sets.
Need more convincing? Veronika says, "although originally developed for the Japanese speed skaters, Tabata is now also used in a host of other sports at elite levels such as rowing, cycling, swimming, football, soccer and even the Australian water ski team. Many athletes use this method in their general training phase to increase their aerobic and anaerobic fitness." If it's good enough for the Olympians...