My goal is to find the most effecient workout that can be done in minimal time that gets results. There have been some great workouts that have come out over the last decade but many of them require 60-90 minutes to complete and you usually need equipment found in a gym. Over the past year I have read some work that was done by Dr. Izumi Tabata, Ph.D., a former researcher at Japan's National Institute of Fitness and Sports. Tabata has worked with many high end Olympic athletes and teams and developed the Tabata Method that takes interval training to a whole new level. When doing interval work you typical use a work to rest ratio of 1:3 - meaning every minute (or less) of intense work is followed by three minutes of active recovery and repeated for a specific amount of intervals. With a Tabata protocol, a 2:1 work to rest ratio is used, meaning, in this case, every 20 seconds of work is followed by 10 seconds of recovery and repeated for four minutes! Each 20/10 is considered one interval. Sound easy on paper but believe me it's not. Add a 5-minute warm-up and cool-down to this 4-minute Tabata (8-intervals of 20/10) and presto! My first recommendation is start out light no matter what you might read on this training methodology. I have read some reports that talk about using 30-35 lbs dumbbells - great, if you have been pushing the weights for a while but if not try starting with a 1/3 of that weight (or even your body weight) and you can slowly progress. The effort needed for this type of workout - in my mind is well worth it - because you burn a maximal amount of calories in minimal time, improve BOTH aerobic and anaerobic capacities (1), work a lot of muscle mass with one movement and you have the option of applying this to either cardio (think treadmill, elliptical or rower or even a jump rope), free-weights or even body weight. Some of the exercises that are recommended are: front squats, thrusters (which is a squat to press using DD or an Olympic bar) and burpees. One of the first times I tried this I used light dumbbells and did a squat to a press (a.k.a thruster) averaging about 14 reps. for each 20 seconds of work followed by 10 seconds of recovery and repeated this sequence 8 times (112 total reps). The goal is to eventually find a weight that enables you to get about 10 reps/set.
One of the earlier studies completed by Dr. Tabata showed a 14% improvement in VO2 max and 28% improvement in anaerobic capacity. These numbers, however, were a result from training 5x/wk for 6 wks involving high intensity training involving a cycle ergometer.
Please read Chris Strouds CrossFit Blog for additional information on Tabata. Note: this type of training requires working at a high intensity and it is something that should be done only a few times a month. Also, here is a cool link to a Tabata Clock that you can download for your next (or first) Tabata workout. Enjoy!
(1) Tabata I, Nishimura K, Kouzaki M, Hirai Y, Ogita F, Miyachi M, Yamamoto K. Effects of moderate-intensity endurance and high-intensity intermittent training on anaerobic capacity and VO2 max. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 28: 1327-1330, 1996.