Here's a true test of whether or not a workout is any good: Are you willing to give up half a night's sleep for it?
I ask this because I got up at 4 a.m. last week to make it to a 5:30 a.m. exercise class. FOUR A.M. Since I generally get my rear out of bed around 8 a.m., this amounted to a depletion of four precious hours of shut-eye. I have to say, though, that the "Tabata-inspired" class I took with Lisa Kinder, the creator of the "10-Minute Solution: High-Intensity Interval Training" DVD and an instructor at the Equinox club in the South Bay, near Los Angeles, was pretty much worth it.
Though I'd read a bunch about Tabata, I'd never taken a class before and frankly I was a little scared. If you don't know about this workout—which is related to HIIT, or high-intensity interval training—it's based on the work of Izumi Tabata, a professor at Ritsumeikan University in Japan. He studied the effectiveness of short bursts of high-intensity effort—say, running with high knees for 20 seconds as fast as you can—followed by brief periods of rest. So after the 20-second burst of high knees you might rest for 10 seconds, then repeat the all-out effort/rest intervals for a set number of times.
Dr. Tabata says that his "protocol" could be completed (with that same 20 seconds on, 10 seconds off rotation) in just four minutes if you repeat the intervals eight times. (If you've heard of "the 4-minute workout" and "the 7-minute workout," these are based on much the same principles.) With this approach, it seems you can get fit(tish) and burn quite a few calories and fat if you work out very, very hard in these all-out bursts. Best of all—especially for those of you who claim "no time" as your biggest barrier to regular exercise—you can do it all in a very short amount of time.
Which is all to say that I knew I was in for some hard work; and Lisa delivered. It was "only" a 45-minute class, but because I knew how Tabata/HIIT works, I had no illusions about what I was facing. And with not nearly enough caffeine to boot. Dang it.
Here are the moves we did for intervals of 20 seconds at full force, followed by 10 seconds of rest, for 6 or 8 rounds (sets) of each:
1. Jumping Jacks / High Knees (alternating)
2. Mountain Sliders / Shoulder Taps (alternating)
3. Lunges with Overhead Press
4. Speed Jump Rope
5. Squat Turbo Kicks / Squat Jumps (alternating)
6. All (repeat every move once)
Every Tabata class has a warm-up and cool-down, which means you're doing the moves for even less time—yet during the time you are working you will be sweating buckets, trust me. A few days later, my arms and quads (thighs) still aren't sure what hit them.
The pace is furious, but the truth is that when I realized that I only had to do this (really hard) thing for 20 seconds, and then I got a whole 10 seconds to "rest," things got a little easier, at least mentally. Unlike other workouts, where you usually have much more time to modify what you're doing—for example, dropping to your knees when you're doing push-ups and coming up again off your knees for a few—there's no time for that in a Tabata class. By the time you've modified a move the 20-second interval is probably over. Which means that, in my opinion, it's better to just do the "full" move, if you can. Or do the full move for as many intervals as you can, then drop down to half-strength for the rest if you need to. Since I usually do a more typical workout I had a hard time going all-out right from the start, probably because I'm used to pacing myself in my other, longer routines. I wish I had decided sooner to plunge in and just go for it; by the time I'd found a rhythm to the class it was pretty much time to cool down.
If you're thinking of trying Tabata/HIIT—and given the efficiency of the workouts it's hard not to be drawn to it (you mean I can get my exercise in for a whole week in less than the time it takes to watch Downton Abbey?)—I would suggest taking a class rather than doing it on your own, at least to start. With the quick intervals I can see how it would get both annoying and confusing to try to do the workouts and keep track of the time; it was nice to have Lisa doing it for us in the class, and calling out the times and countdowns, especially at a bleary-eyed 5:45 a.m. I'm sure that as I got more used to it this wouldn't be so much of an issue, and you can easily download Tabata timer apps if you want to do the class at home.
BOTTOM LINE: I would absolutely do Tabata again, and I really enjoyed Lisa's teaching style, which is energized and easy to follow (no crazy Zumba-like routines here). I really did feel a difference from my usual workouts (it's never a bad idea to keep your body guessing, in my experience). But next time I'm definitely taking a mid-morning (or later) class.
Disclosure: Equinox kindly allowed me to attend the Tabata class at no charge.