Tabata for Weight Loss

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As far as cardiovascular exercise goes, there is not much that beats Tabata. So what is Tabata? Tabata is the name given to an exercise protocol designed and researched by professor Izumi Tabata Ph.D., a former researcher from Japan's National Insitute of Fitness and Sports.

Tabata for weight loss is possibly the most underestimated and underused training method I know of. So many trainers and gyms promote slow, steady and lengthy cardiovascular training sessions. But the truth is that this approach is inefficient. The Tabata protocol has been assessed as one of the most efficient training methods for fat loss and cardiovascular fitness.

So here it is...

Tabata intervals involve 20 seconds of maximum effort followed by 10 seconds of rest for a total of eight intervals. It's as simple as that. The most effective way to apply Tabata for fat loss is to incorporate the protocol into an all-round fitness program combined with a controlled diet.

So why is it effective? Well first of all it is brutally intense. 20 seconds of effort feels fine after the first interval or two. However the secret is in the rest period. Most interval protocols recommend a 1:3 work/rest ratio. This allows for maximum recovery between intervals, which is not always the goal for fat loss. The 10 second rest between maximum efforts is just not quite enough to recover from the previous interval. So your body begins to go into major oxygen debt. The rest period is long enough that it allows you to go hard for each interval, but doesn't allow complete recovery, which translates to radical adaptations of the cardiovascular system.

Now for a bit of background info...

During Tabata's study, athletes that used the protocol five days a week for six weeks saw an increased maximum aerobic capacity of 14%. It was also shown to improve anaerobic capacity by a whopping 28%. So Tabata is rare in that it improves aerobic and anaerobic fitness extremely efficiently. It was a matter of simply stumbling on the perfect work/rest ratio and duration.

You're probably wondering how this applies to fat loss. Well the more fuel you can access and process, the more your body can burn. Fitter people have the potential to expend more energy for the same perceived effort.

Now endurance athletes are an exception. Extreme endurance training is overall the most effective way to reduce overall body weight. However it is very time-consuming and extremely exhausting. This program is written with the assumption that those wanting to lose weight efficiently are not inclined to run, cycle, swim or row for 90 minutes six days a week. So as far as efficiency and effectiveness are concerned, the Tabata protocol is my personal recommendation based on my research and the research I have reviewed throughout my career as a strength and conditioning coach.

The following is a very basic, extremely effective program using Tabata for weight loss. We will also incorporate strength training for a complete approach. Also keep in mind that diet is the number one contributing factor to weight issues. Without getting your diet under control this program simply won't work as desired.

Before we go on I will repeat what a Tabata is so I don't have to explain each time I include it in the program...

TABATA = 20 seconds of maximum effort followed by 10 seconds of rest. Complete a total of eight intervals. So when I say full Tabata, this is what I am referring to. If you are to complete more than one I might say something like rowing Tabata, rest two minutes and repeat for a total of three Tabatas.

EXERCISE OF CHOICE = Any exercise you can do continuously for the prescribed time period. This may include cycling, running, rowing, swimming, dynamic barbell exercises such as power-cleans, medicine ball throws, double unders etc. So for this program we will not be prescribing specific cardiovascular exercises. This is irrelevant, it's the protocol we're interested in.

Each phase lasts a total of four weeks. When a cycle is complete simply rest the prescribed number of days then repeat the cycle again until the phase is over.

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This simple Tabata for weight loss program comes in three basic phases. Each phase is simply designed to ensure you progressively improve as your fitness increases.

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Phase One

Phase one is a set-up phase. This phase of training is designed to get you used to training at an extremely high intensity. But remember, the Tabata session is short in duration, so you don't have to endure it for very long. For this first phase you will only be required to complete one Tabata per workout.

The strength work completed in phase one is prescribed purely for strength gains. The goal is to increase the amount of weight you are capable of lifting, hence increasing overall output.

Workout One: Strength (Pushing movements)

Back Squat 2 x 5 at 75% of max

Bench press 2 x 5 at 75% of max

Overhead press 2 x 5 at 75% of max

Rest two minutes between sets. It’s that simple. If you find yourself getting too close to muscular failure than back it off a little.

Workout Two: Light Cardio/Tabata Introduction

10 minutes of moderate cardiovascular exercise of your choice, about 50 – 60% of max effort.

Tabata of your choice.

5 minutes of moderate cardiovascular exercise of your choice, about 50 – 60% of max effort.

That's it. 20 minutes and it's done, and only four minutes of that is actually hard.

Workout Three: Strength (Pulling movements)

Dead-lift 2 x 5 at 75% of max

Weighted pull-up/chin-up 2 x 5 at 75% of max (even if this means just bodyweight)

Powercleans 2 x 5 at 75% of max

Rest two minutes between sets.

Workout Four: Moderate to Hard Cardio/Tabata

5 minutes of moderate cardiovascular exercise of your choice.

5 minutes of hard (75-80% of max) cardiovascular exercise of your choice.

Full Tabata of your choice.

5 minute light cool down.

After day four rest three days then begin the cycle again until phase one is finished.

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Phase Two

Phase two is an intense period. By now you will have built up a significant level of aerobic fitness and anaerobic capacity. This is where you leverage your efforts from phase one and really begin to burn up the calories.

The strength portion will build on phase one. You will begin to increase repetitions, moving to a more muscle growth phase. But don't be alarmed, this will not promote serious muscle growth. The muscle growth I am referring to will be marginal, yet enough to stimulate an increase in overall metabolic rate.

Workout One: Strength (Pushing movements)

Back squat 2 x 8 at 70% of max

Bench press 2 x 8 at 70% of max

Overhead press 2 x 8 at 75% of max

Rest two minutes between sets.

Workout Two: Pure Tabata

5 minutes of cardiovascular exercise of your choice.

Full Tabata of your choice.

Rest two minutes.

Full Tabata of your choice.

Rest two minutes.

Full Tabata of your choice.

That's the workout. It's very hard and it's very mean. Complete all intervals at the maximum possible intensity.

Workout Three: Strength (Pulling movements)

Dead-lift 2 x 8 at 70% of max

Weighted pull-up/chin-up 2 x 8 at 70% of max

Powercleans 2 x 5 at 75% of max

Rest two minutes between sets.

Workout Four: Evil Tabata Combo

5 minutes of moderate cardiovascular exercise of your choice.

Complete four full Tabatas at maximum capacity using four different exercises for each one.

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Phase Three

Phase three is reserved for serious effort. The idea of phase three is to complete as much work as possible and make the most of the available adaptive energy.

Workout One: Strength (Pushing movements)

Back squat 2 x 10 at 65% of max

Bench press 2 x 10 at 65% of max

Overhead press 2 x 10 at 65% of max

Rest 1.5 minutes between sets.

Workout Two: Pure Tabata

5 minutes of cardiovascular exercise of your choice.

Complete four full Tabatas, resting two minutes between each.

Ensure you work at maximum effort for each interval.

Workout Three: Strength (Pulling movements)

Dead-lift 2 x 10 at 65% of max

Weighted pull-up/chin-up 2 x 10 at 65% of max

Powercleans 2 x 8 at 65% of max

Rest 1.5 minutes between sets.

Workout Four: Evil Tabata Combo

This time you will be completing shorter Tabata intervals. Instead of doing a full Tabata for each you will be doing a half Tabata. A half Tabata is simply half the number of intervals, which is four.

Complete six half Tabatas using a different exercise for each.

Rest 90 seconds between each half Tabata.

Some ideas for exercises to use are...

Indoor rowing, treadmill running, outdoor sprinting, swimming, burpees, power-cleans, thrusters, wall ball, double unders, squat jumps and boxing.

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There you have it, Tabata for weight loss that is brilliant in its simplicity. If you get tempted to add a bunch of new exercises like bicep curls, kick-backs, scull crushers, lat raises etc. fight it. You will get the fastest and best functional gains from the basic large compound movements. Don't be concerned about the strength training either. This is NOT a program designed around massive muscle gain. The strength work is essential in any fitness program. Without strength work everything suffers, including weight loss goals.

You may occasionally want to swap a few exercises that slightly change the movement pattern. Instead of back squats you can do front squats or even single leg squats. Instead of dead-lifts you might occasionally want to alternate between high rack pulls and deficit dead-lifts. For bench maybe weighted push-ups. For overhead press you can use dumbells, kettlebells or do handstand push-ups instead. However keep it basic. Always revert back to the basic chosen movements. For Tabatas anything goes, as long as it is an exercise that is highly taxing on the cardiovascular system.

I would like to hear some results and testimonials from people at various stages of the program. Drop us an email using the form below for any questions, feedback or just to let us know how you’re doing.

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