Tabata.  If you take my classes, you already know all about it.  You may love it, you may hate it, you may even hate that you love it or love that you hate it.  Whether I’ve already exposed you to Tabata or you have no clue what I’m talking about, I’m hoping this post will teach you something new.  It’s a longer read than usual, but worth it!


The second workshop I attended at Boston Mania was probably one of my favorites the entire weekend:  Tabata Bootcamp with Mindy Mylrea.

Tabata Bootcamp with Mindy Mylrea

Before I get into the specifics of Tabata Training, let’s talk about Mindy and how awesome she is.  She was by far my favorite presenter at Boston Mania, and I took two workshops with her on Friday.  She’s happy, hilarious, tells dirty jokes, and has so much energy!  If you are not familiar with Mindy (famous name in the fitness world), I highly recommend checking out her website here and buying some of her workout DVD’s.  She’s awesome, awesome, awesome.

Tabata Bootcamp

Mindy started the workshop with a lecture that gave some history of Tabata and how it’s become the “hot thing” in today’s exercise world.  If you are an F&F reader who ONLY does steady state cardio on the same machine day in and day out, that’s great, but… pay attention.

Steady State Cardio

Steady state cardio USED to be the end all be all for weight loss.  People used to (and some still tend to) think that the longer they just stay on a machine, the better the workout.  Wrong.  When you do a cardio session at the same pace for the entire workout duration, your body ADJUSTS to the speed you are going and actually tries harder to conserve energy so you can keep going.  And guess what energy comes in the form of?  Calories.  So what is the point of CONSERVING calories during every workout?

**Note:  I’m not saying to NEVER do steady state cardio.  If you are already a fit person who exercises regularly,  pretty much one steady state workout a week to keep your lungs in check is all you need as part of your regimen among other training.  And if you are a beginner, steady state is a great place to start.  It does still have health benefits and is better than nothing.  This is about how to take it to the next level.**

Interval Training

After steady state cardio was all the rage, interval training was introduced.  We talked a LOT of science here – how interval training that lasts for longer than 20 minutes can certainly be harder intensity, but it’s still in the cardio realm because it uses oxygen and the body still never fails because it doesn’t need to readjust.  We talked about the lactate threshold and reaching your VO2 max (told you lots of science), that “grey area” between aerobic and anaerobic exercise.  Athletes started realizing they could be better if they could sustain activity in this lactate threshold area longer… basically on the “verge” of failure.

High Intensity Interval Training

Then came HIIT, high intensity interval training.  This type of training takes you into the anaerobic zone.  It consists of 20 minutes of less of training time and focuses on exercises that use major muscle groups and compound movement.  HIIT taps the energy sources INSIDE the muscle, and it works better for fat loss than steady state because it creates a prolonged after burn, or EPOC (excess post oxygen consumption).  This type of training causes the body to take longer to return to its state of rest, so it continues to burn calories at a higher rate long after the workout session has completed.

Tabata Training

So!  Tabata itself is a type of high intensity interval training that is very simple but very intense.  The training time is only 4 minutes, but it should be the 4 hardest minutes of any training routine you will do.  After a warmup, an exercise is performed to failure for 20 seconds.  There is then a 10 second rest followed by another 20 second bout of intensity.  There are 8 cycles of this to form the 4 minutes.


Think about it.  If I tell you that you have a whole minute to do burpees, you most CERTAINLY are not going to work as hard.  The mindset is “Oh, I have an entire 60 seconds.”  But if I tell you that you only have 20 seconds, the mindset shifts to “Shoot, I only have 20 seconds.”  Then you dominate those burpees as hard as you can.  Magic.  Mindy said it was like having 8 orgasms in a row.  Thoughts?  Maybe if Ryan Gosling is involved?

Mindy’s Tabata Bootcamp Format

Mindy’s Tabata Bootcamp workshop taught us how to design an hour-long class using the Tabata Protocol.  Since there isn’t any way you could do JUST Tabata for an entire hour (if you are, you aren’t doing real Tabata – it defies the science behind it), she taught us to design classes using three TYPES of Tabata:

  1. True Tabata:  What I described above, same exercise for the 20/10 microbursts.  In a class, only do one or two bouts of “true” Tabata.
  2. Tabata Type:  When you use 2-4 exercises and combine them to create the 4 minute experience.  The timing is the same, but exercises are added to vary the training.
  3. Tabata Timing:  Up to 4 exercises linked together by the 10/20 model but the intensity is hard instead of hardest.  You can also choose to mix it up with 40/20, 30/15, etc.

She also ran through a Tabata checklist for success, basically how to decide what exercises to use in a Tabata Bootcamp class:

  • Simple movement
  • Less is better in terms of patterns/complexity
  • Major muscles/compound movement
  • Bigger is better with movement
  • Immediate HIIT factor in terms of instant failure
  • Offers progressive/regressive:  Start with something you can barely do, then regress if need be
  • Goal oriented & measurable:  Can be replicated
  • 1 exercise is the best

Then we got moving!  And shaking, and groaning, and… wait a minute, maybe Tabata really is like an orgasm!

Tabata Bootcamp Equipment

Mindy had us practicing different Tabata exercises using the ropes, gliding discs, and bender ball.  I ended up buying this equipment at the end of the workshop because it was a great price ($40 for 2 DVD’s, the gliding discs, and the ball) and I wanted to buff up my at home workout equipment collection.

We did a quick warmup, then four rounds of Tabata for a sixteen minute workout.  Doesn’t seem like a lot, but THAT’S THE POINT!  What is everyone’s #1 excuse for not exercising?  Not having enough time.  But with Tabata you get the same, if not MORE benefits, of that longer workout you don’t have time for.  Here are the rounds Mindy took us through:

holiday time saving tabata workout

Some notes:

  • Round 1:  Do the gliding prone pushup tuck-ins as a True Tabata, so just that move for 20 seconds on and 10 seconds off , eight times, for four total minutes.  With feet on gliders, either pull both knees up then do a pushup and push back out.  Modifications:  Just pull both knees in and out without the pushup, or alternate pulling one knee in at a time.
  • Round 2:  Do as a Tabata Type series, so go through each move for 20 seconds on and 10 seconds off.  That will bring you to two minutes, then repeat through the series.  For the bender ball touch jump, have your right foot front for the first round and left front for the second round.  Jump up and touch the ball on the way down.  For the hold (time under tension), just shift side to side in your plie squat.
  • Round 3:  Do as a Tabata Type series, so go through each move for 20 seconds on and 10 seconds off.  That will bring you to two minutes, then repeat through the series.  For the gliding lunges, keep the foot that is lunging backwards on the gliding disc.  For the bender ball and gliding disc burpees, keep the bender ball in between your thighs the whole time and feet on discs as you push out.  For the single leg burpees – bender ball behind the knee, alternate which leg has the ball when you repeat the round.
  • Round 4:  Do as a Tabata Type STRENGTH series, so go through each move for 20 seconds on and 10 seconds off.  That will bring you to two minutes, then repeat through the series.  For the prone arm to elbow dolphin, start on forearms and twist to side to side planks with feet on gliders.  For the Table to L, start in a table top bridge (feet on gliders) and swing your butt down and through so you make an L.  For the prone swim, lie on stomach with hands on discs, swim side to side.  Finally for the V Sit, put the bender ball behind your back and lift your legs into a V Sit Hold.  If you have the rope, you can swing your arms here.

Also, make sure to warm up properly and take rest as needed!!!  Again, this is not for the novice exerciser.

So what do you guys think?  Anybody out there still doing steady cardio all the time?  Do you do any Tabata as part of your workout routine already?  If so, what’s your favorite exercise to incorporate into Tabata?  If not, will you start adding it in?  Anyone use gliding discs and bender balls regularly?

I’m planning on teaching another Tabata workout tonight in Interval class, focusing on upper body strength.  Who’s in!?