Sounds like an unrealistic promise, right? But itâ€™s notâ€”and Iâ€™ve got the American College of Sports Medicine to back me up. They recommend either doing 20 minutes of intense exercise 3 times per week, or 30 minutes of moderate exercise most days of the week (with â€œmostâ€ typically translated as 5). So 60 minutes versus 150 minutesâ€”which actually means youâ€™re cutting your workout time more than in half.
Hereâ€™s my suggestion for maxing out that 20 minutes while making your sweat session fly by: Tabata training, in which you exercise super-intensely for 20 seconds, rest for 10 seconds, then repeat.
The method was named for Japanese scientist Izumi Tabata, who conducted a small but ground-breaking study in which some participants were asked to alternate 20 seconds of all-out cycling with 10 seconds of rest for a total of 4 minutes; they did 7 to 8 sets of that, then repeated the process 5 times a week for 6 weeks. Here's the cool part: Those folks boosted their fitness way more than did others who pedaled at a moderate pace for a solid hour 5 times a week for 6 weeks. You read that right: those who worked out half as long got better results, all thanks to intensity.
I discovered Tabata last summer while reviewing a terrific DVD called Breathless Body from Amy Dixon, a L.A.-based trainer and exercise physiologist. Dixon's workout is based on the Tabata method (and has become one of my favorite workout DVDs). Then last week, I came across an excellent new indoor cycling DVD called Short & Sweet (the name is lightweight, but the workouts are not), which includes a 20-minute Tabata session among its 3 workouts.
You donâ€™t even need a DVD. You can do Tabata while running, cycling, skating, swimmingâ€”virtually any cardio activity that allows you to work intensely. Simply go all out for 20 seconds, then rest for 10 seconds (youâ€™ll want a programmable interval watch or timer). Do that 8 times, rest for a couple of minutes, then do it again; repeat the whole thing 4 more times and youâ€™re done.
Hereâ€™s the thing, though: Going â€œall outâ€ doesnâ€™t mean just working harder than usual. â€œIt needs to be a drain-the-tank effort,â€ says Dixon. â€œOn a scale of 1 to 10, it has to be a 10.â€ Youâ€™ve got to put everything you have into it, working so hard that you can barely make it through the 20 seconds. And no, you wonâ€™t feel fully recovered after the 10 seconds of rest (if you do, you werenâ€™t working hard enough). And yes, youâ€™ll probably grunt and curse your way through virtually every 20-second block, especially those toward the end (as I do). But time will move faster than it ever has during a workout, and before you know it, youâ€™ll be done. And youâ€™ll feel like youâ€™ve accomplished something amazing. Which you have.
Allow Dixon to summarize: â€œTabata training will make you more fit in less time.â€ Amen, sister.