When it comes to lifting weights, it's all about the number of sets, reps, and the weight used. Lifting at the gym is ideal, but sometimes, when results seem to plateau, you need to think outside the weightlifting box. That's why I constantly mix things up with unique programming like HIIT 100s and alternating rest-pause. Another way to take weight training outside the box and take the muscle burn to new levels is Tabata interval training.
1. What is Tabata Interval Training?
It's a method of interval training where you alternate 20 seconds of exercise with 10 seconds of rest for eight cycles. This circuit-style training isn't just for cardio; it can be adapted to any exercise for any muscle group. Leave it to me to design a Tabata interval weight training program that's so effective yet so brutal that you'll thank me while hating me.
The extremely short rest periods and seemingly constant reps with Tabata protocol make it a perfect way to melt off fat. Despite the lighter weight you'll use, Tabata can also take your muscle growth to new heights. Doing very high reps with light weight for short periods can help you blow past plateaus and stack on some serious lean muscle.
If you're wondering what's up with the name "Tabata intervals," or Tabatas as they're known, it has to do with the Japanese scientist who designed them, Dr. Izumi Tabata.
Dr. Tabata was looking for a way to better train athletes. The story goes that he was analyzing the training of the Japanese speed skating team in an effort to enhance their performance. What he discovered was that when he had athletes perform eight cycles of these 20-second intervals followed by 10 seconds of rest, they increased both their aerobic (endurance) capacity and their anaerobic (quick power) capacity—the two things that speed skaters need.
Whether you're an endurance athlete like a cyclist, or a power athlete like a weightlifter, Tabata offers you benefits; it trains both the major metabolic pathways that provide you with endurance and those that provide you with explosive energy. It's no wonder why so many athletes have taken to doing Tabata Intervals.
Tabata Exercises to Choose From
- Clean (barbell, dumbbell, or kettlebell)
- Snatch (barbell, kettlebell, or dumbbell)
- Kettlebell Swing
- Lunge (walking or stationary)
- Dead Landmine
- Medicine Ball Overhead Throw
- Medicine Ball Underhand Throw
- Medicine Ball Slam
- Band Woodchopper (alternate sides on each set)
- Band Roundhouse Elbow (alternate sides on each set)
- Heavy Bag Work
2. How Can Tabata Help You?
You are likely not a competitive athlete, but more of a bodybuilder interested in gaining lean muscle for aesthetic purposes and greater strength. Well, Tabata has multiple benefits for you too. It enhances endurance and boosts your body's ability to burn more fat. It enhances explosive energy—the kind you'd use in a typical set of bench presses—it can help you increase your rep range or max weight. That spells muscle growth, but the benefits don't end there. Because Tabata calls for fairly high reps and very short rest periods between sets, you increase the amount of blood vessels you have feeding your muscle fibers. This helps to get more nutrients, oxygen, and anabolic hormones to your muscles. These added nutrients means your muscles will have more energy during workouts and better recovery and growth after the workout is over.
The best benefit of all may be the fact that because you're essentially training anaerobically and aerobically with Tabatas, you can nix the cardio if you want to. Or you can really maximize fat burning by adding 4-8 full-body exercises at the end of each Tabata Weight Blast Workout. Of course you'll do these full-body exercises Tabata style.
3. Learn How To Target Each Muscle Group
Perform 2-4 exercises per muscle group. Each exercise is done for 8 sets of 20 seconds, with the goal of getting as many reps as possible in those 20 seconds. You rest only 10 seconds between the 20-second sets. Once you complete 8 sets, you rest for 1-2 minutes or, if you have a training partner, rest for the 4 minutes it takes him or her to complete the 8 sets. Then move on to the next set.
Timing can be tricky if you train solo. I suggest you try the Gym Boss. It allows you to set interval times and beeps to let you know when the 20-second set is over.
4. Make Sure You Use Sufficient Weight
I suggest you start light and work your weight up each week. If you find a weight which allows you to complete 20 seconds of reps for the first five or six sets, but leaves you at failure for the last two to three sets, stick with it.
This way, you can set a goal to complete the 20 seconds of reps for all eight sets before moving on to a heavier weight.
Your goal should be to increase the weight you use or the number of reps you complete in those 4 minutes each week that you follow the Tabata Weight Blast Program.
I suggest you follow my Tabata Weight Blast Program for about 3-6 weeks before returning to a more normal style of straight-set training. Then come back to it as you see fit every few months.
5. Don't Forget About Diet
I know that one of the more popular questions I'm going to get on Twitter and Facebook regarding my Tabata protocol is which diet to follow. That depends on your goals and your starting point. Let's start with people looking to maximize fat loss. I suggest you head right to my "Dieting 101" article and...digest. If you aren't on a solid diet, then that article teaches you how to design a plan which maximizes fat loss and burns off body fat while building muscle and strength.
If you're already in diet mode and are coming off a "get lean" program, just pick up from where you currently are and check out the Dieting 101 article for tips on how to diet for better fat loss.
For example, if you're already down to 0.5 grams of carbs per pound of body weight, find that section in the Dieting 101 article and follow the steps from there to speed up your fat loss.
For people who want to focus on lean muscle gains and are looking to build more muscle endurance—which Tabata is great for—try something similar to the mass-gain-focused diet of my 12-Week Shortcut To Size program.
Tabata Weight Blast Workouts
Visit www.JimStoppani.com for more workouts, training tips and articles on nutrition and supplementation.
- Tabata I, et al. Effects of moderate-intensity endurance and high-intensity intermittent training on anaerobic capacity and VO2max. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1996 Oct;28(10):1327-30.
- Tabata I, et al. Metabolic profile of high intensity intermittent exercises. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1997 Mar;29(3):390-5.