Vail Daily health feature: Tabata workouts aim for fitness in under five minutes |

Vail Daily health feature: Tabata workouts aim for fitness in under five minutes

Rosanna Turner
Daily Correspondent
Deb Plath leads a Tabata workout class at the Westin in Avon. Tabata is a form of high-intensity interval training that is gaining in popularity.
Eleanor Nesbit | |

Try Tabata at home

Local certified personal trainer Debbie Plath shares her tips for an at-home Tabata workout.

The gist: Do one move for 20 seconds, then rest for 10 seconds. Do a different move for 20 seconds, rest for 10. Repeat until you’ve reached the four minute, 20 second mark.

Typical Tabata moves: jumping jacks, push ups, squats, burpees, renegade rows, high knee jumps, knee butt kicks, etc. One’s routine depends on if you’re focusing on lower or upper body strength, cardio or targeted areas like abs.

Music: Pick songs that are at least 132 to 135 beats per minute, like Michael Jackson’s “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough,” which can also be a good motivator.

Time trackers: There are many Tabata apps and timers on the market, such as Seconds and Bit Timer.

Goal: Increase number of reps per 20 second session. For instance, if you can do 20 squats in 20 seconds, next time aim for 25 or 30.

the old adage was the longer you worked out, the more in shape you got. Movie star Channing Tatum probably didn’t get his rock-hard physique just by working out for 4 minutes every day. Or did he?


Tatum might have tried Tabata when training for one of his latest flicks, which will most likely involve some shirtless screen time. Tabata is the hot new fitness trend many locals are trying and incorporating into their workout routines. Tabata was developed by Japanese scientist Dr. Izumi Tabata and a team of researchers at the National Institute of Fitness and Sports in Tokyo. In 1996, Tabata and the researchers conducted a study where one group worked out moderately five days a week for a total of six weeks, while another group worked out four days a week for six weeks, doing four-minutes and 20 seconds of high intensity interval training (HIIT). At the end of the study, the researchers concluded that the HIIT group had an increase in both their aerobic system (cardiovascular) and anaerobic system (muscle), compared to the moderate group that only saw an increase in their aerobic system.

Traditionally Tabata involves working out at a high intensity for 20 seconds, resting for 10 seconds, then repeating this eight times. Tabata sounds easy, but those 4 minutes can feel like forever.

“I think Tabata is deceptively hard,” said Carrie Geddes, activities director of Adam’s Mountain Country Club in Eagle. “It’s only a short time but those quick burst of energy exhaust you really quickly.”

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Geddes started taking Tabata classes within the past year and also does Tabata at home. She said after three weeks of trying Tabata, she saw her body getting more toned.

“I like going to Tabata because it’s such a good workout and goes by super fast,” Geddes said. “If you’re doing true Tabata, it’s only a 4 minute, 20 second workout, but it’s been adapted to boot-camp style classes that last an hour.”


Part of Tabata’s rise in popularity comes from Crossfit, the fitness craze that’s all about faster, harder, stronger and fitter. Sam Matthews, fitness coach at the Crossfit gym in Avon, said Tabata has been incorporated into Crossfit for many years, but it has now spread from the hard core Crossfitters to fitness enthusiasts of all kinds. Matthews said Tabata is great for athletes and those looking to take their workout to the next level.

“The key is to have short bursts of exercise followed by short rest,” Matthews said. “This helps people to move faster, take a short rest and move fast again. … The majority of sports are going to have explosive movements (where) you have to get someplace fast or move fast.”

Matthews said a Crossfit workout can involve three to four rounds of Tabata, so the workout lasts for 12 to 16 minutes. Melissa Matthews, co-owner of the Crossfit gym in Avon and married to Sam, said Tabata sounds tiring but can actually be a blast.

“I think it’s kind of fun, which a lot of working out isn’t,” Melissa said. “People are constantly looking to be challenged versus hanging out on a treadmill, watching TV. Because you have that clock, you’re pushed harder.”


Tabata may seem like it’s only for the tough and already buff, but the workout can be adapted for those at different fitness levels. Debbie Plath, certified personal trainer, teaches Tabata at both Adam’s Mountain Country Club and the Athletic Club at The Westin in Avon. Plath said Tabata is about giving your all for 20 seconds at your level, which varies from person to person.

“I’ve seen people come to my class who are (aged) 50-plus,” Plath said. “They love it. They know they can work a little harder and still modify. People who thought they couldn’t do a pushup are now finding themselves able to do pushups. The pace of the class just gets you to work a little bit harder, increasing your strength and flexibility.”

Plath recommends those trying Tabata should be somewhat fit, and one should focus on increasing the number of reps they can do in that 20 second time span. If you start out doing 10 pushups in 20 seconds, next aim for 15. Traditional Tabata does not use weights, but Plath said she will use them in her classes as a way to change and increase the level of intensity in a workout. Plath said powering through a Tabata routine is both mental and physical.

“I see a big difference in people that come to my classes, and in the beginning they’re huffing and puffing and thinking, ‘Oh my God, (I’m) not going to make it’, and they do,” Plath said. “Everybody is mentally there for themselves and competing against themselves. You might be standing next to someone working harder than you, but you might be working as hard as you can.”

For those looking to get in great shape or maybe even be confused for Channing Tatum on the street, a 4-minute Tabata probably won’t be enough.

“If everyone thought they could get in shape in 4 minutes, they’d ditch the hour-long workouts,” Geddes said.

Geddes doesn’t think Tabata should be a substitute for longer workouts, but it’s great for when you’re in a time crunch.

“Moms can do it at home when they only have a few minutes a day, and it’s something (you) can easily do when (you’re) traveling,” Geddes said. “It’s good for people who have the mindset of ‘I don’t have time to workout.’ Everyone has a few minutes that they waste checking email or Facebook.”

It’s unlikely the makers of P90X will come out with a version called “P4X” anytime soon, but Tabata is one way to motivate people to get off their tush and move their bodies more.

“You can do anything for 4 minutes,” Geddes said.

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