Fit in Four Minutes

Sprinting, stopping and then starting again.
Sprinting, stopping and then starting again.

Does the idea of New Year resolutions send shivers down your spine..? It does mine.

For a start, January is a dull, dreich month here in Scotland and the thought of piling on misery in the form of Spartan eating and the like of boot camps can only make the month even more difficult to endure. And anyway, why choose one particular day for self-improvement when you could choose any day?


Having said all that (!), I did resolve to make Tabata training a regular part of my life this year. I wrote about Tabata training recently and the research I did for the article impressed me – particularly on the benefits of high-intensity interval training for type 1 and type 2 diabetics.

And for someone who has a very low boredom threshold, the idea of short, sharp exercise appeals.

So what is Tabata training and why is it so beneficial?

Named after its inventor, the Japanese physician and researcher Dr Izumi Tabata, Tabata is a high-intensity interval-based work-out performed in just four minutes, i.e. 20 seconds work/10 seconds off repeated eight times.

Dr Tabata tried out his system on university students in the 1990s. The group saw results within a mere six weeks. The doctor then carried out extensive monitoring of the Japanese speed skating team. He noticed that the short bouts of very hard exercise seemed to work just as well as hours of moderate training when it came to health and fitness improvements.

Dr Tabata’s initial experiments took one group of moderately-trained students who did an hour of steady cardiovascular exercise on a stationary bike five times a week. The other group did a ten-minute warm-up on a bike and then four minutes of Tabata training four times a week, as well as a 30-minute session of steady exercise. (In other words, less than two hours exercise a week).

Increased Aerobic Capacity

After the six weeks, the second group had increased their aerobic capacity by 28 percent and their VO2 max (the maximum optimum rate at which the heart, lungs and muscles can effectively take up oxygen during exercise and used as a way to measure a person’s individual fitness) by 15 percent.

The group doing regular steady cardio increased their VO2 by 10 percent. In addition, their training did not affect their aerobic capacity.

Dr Tabata claims that his four-minute exercise protocol embraces the benefits of both low-intensity and high-intensity exercise, saying that Tabata improves your endurance AND your ability to sprint.

Another advantage of Tabata is its fat-burning benefits. A study by M. Sanchez Pacheco into high intensity training, for example, found there was more pronounced fat loss results in rats that exercised at high intensity (80-90 percent of maximum heart rate), compared to rats that exercised at low intensity (60-70 percent).

Fat-Burning Benefits

What makes Tabata effective as a fat-burner is that it produces excess post-oxygen consumption (EPOC) and this increases the body’s fat-burning ability for 24 hours after the exercise is performed.

But can Tabata or high intensity interval training in general benefit those with diabetes?

Dr Tabata says he is particularly interested in another benefit of his training method – the production of glucotransporter 4 (a protein found in the skeletal muscles, which moves from inside the muscle to the membrane of the muscle during exercise – allowing glucose to enter the muscle).

Dr Tabata’s research with rats has shown that high-intensity exercising is also effective for producing more glucotransporter 4.

Blood Sugar Level Rises and Falls

Studies with diabetic patients have shown that high-intensity training increases glucotransporter 4 and glucose metabolism. If you do have type 1 or type 2 diabetes, performing HIIT will cause your blood glucose levels to increase during and for up to two hours afterwards. However, it can lower BG levels the following day, and for up to 72 hours if performed regularly.

So what does a Tabata work-out look like?

You could do sprints – 20 seconds on/10 seconds repeat X 8, or you could use gym equipment such as the treadmill or rower. Alternatively, you could use a skipping rope, or you could try:

  • 050529-N-4729H-109Push-ups for 20 secs – 10 secs rest
  • Squats for 20 secs – 10 secs rest
  • High knees for 20 secs – 10 secs rest
  • Jumping Jacks for 20 secs – 10 secs rest

And then repeat the whole circuit.

Hard Work

The idea is to work as hard as possible. You can use a heart rate monitor to calculate this – you need your heart to be beating at about 80-90 percent of your maximum heart rate (the very approximate way to calculate the MHR is to subtract your age from 220).

In the past, I have noticed the immediate blood sugar rises after performing HIIT, but in the long-term it would be nice to see lower blood sugar levels over all and increased fat-burning capability is always going to be a bonus!


Pics thanks to Flickr and Wikipedia.


2 thoughts on “Fit in Four Minutes”

  1. I am a type 2 diabetic for 24 years who takes Metformin and Lantus insulin.

    I began cycling again after 14 months ago. My sugars got in better control and I had to reduce Lantus insulin. Then I hit a plateau. About a month ago I added Tabata and a HIIT routine to my rides. I had to drop insulin again. My old legs feel stronger and I actually have a sprint. I would like to see more data on HIIT and Tabata in particular effects on blood glucose control. I was having a problem with hypos but I have split the Lantus in 2 doses and find that I am in good shape if I do my daily ride prior to the AM dose.

    As to diet. It really does seem like carbs are the enemy for me. They just make my BG higher.


    1. Hey Luis – glad that you’ve found a routine that works for you. We’d like to see more research on Tabata and HIIT as well. It would be useful for designing your own exercise plans. Emma


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