November 30, 2010


This weekend I finally got caught up on Charlotte’s wonderful blog, The Great Fitness Experiment (it may take me one blog at a time but I am making an effort!). Her blog is really cool for people like me who are constantly on the alert for the latest fitness news and trends. Every month, she tries another gym routine/workout, and reports back throughout the month and at the end with how well it worked. This month, she’s following Rachel Cosgrove’s book, The Female Body Breakthrough, which espouses the philosophy that cardio is basically worthless and strength training is where it’s at.

I’ve talked a lot in the last few weeks about how I really need to step up the strength training… but then I’m too lazy to do so. Honestly, I just like doing cardio better – while I work up a sweat, it’s so repetitive that it’s easier for me (aha, there’s the reason I’m not losing weight). However, between Charlotte’s blog and a few other sources, I’ve been reading a lot lately about how the body adapts so well to cardio that it’s pretty terrible for weight loss. I certainly believe that just after seeing how well my body has adapted to marathon running – it is not nearly as hard as so many people think it is.

Anyway, Charlotte has also done some posts on tabata intervals, and tonight I decided to give them a try – especially since it meant only eight short intervals instead of a big long workout. I’m all for the lazy way out! Unfortunately for me, “the lazy way out” ended up getting me off to a bad start.

When I got to my hotel tonight, I headed down to the treadmills in the hotel gym, not bothering to stop and check on the appropriate intervals/technique to do tabatas. After all, they were easy to remember – 45 seconds of all-out sprinting effort, then 15 seconds of rest, then repeat 7 more times. The gym at my hotel is usually empty in the evenings (everyone here seems to work out in the mornings), so I was hoping I’d have it all to myself, to mitigate the chances of everyone laughing at me when I inevitably fell off the treadmill or looked stupid trying to stay on when jumping back on after a rest period. No such luck – an older guy was on the other treadmill, looking like he had just started and wasn’t going to be leaving anytime soon.

I gamely fired up the ‘mill, psyching myself up during a one minute walking workout (4.0 pace for the first 30 seconds, 4.5 pace for the second). In that time, I also set the treadmill to a 1.5 incline (isn’t that what they tell you is needed to mimic wind resistance?), and figured out my gameplan for resting. I wasn’t sure whether you were supposed to just stop as part of your resting (i.e. jump on the rails of the treadmill and let it keep going by you, Biggest Loser-style), or turn the treadmill way down to a slow walk while you rested. I decided that while it would be hard to hop back on with the belt going at warp speed, it would be easier to attempt that than to wait for however long it took to crank it up each time. Gameplan established!

When 1:00 showed on the timer, I cranked it up to 10.0mph, sprinting until the clock hit 1:45. Rest time – I jumped onto the rails and caught my breath. This wasn’t too bad so far! But I quickly realized that I had the intervals wrong – there was no way I was only supposed to get 15 seconds of rest for a 45 second sprint. I decided it must be 30 seconds, and opted to use that split for the rest of the intervals.

As I caught my breath on the rails, the guy next to me commented, “thank goodness you stopped – I thought you were really going to show me up going that speed!” Trying to act like I knew what I was doing, I replied, “Nah, it’s just interval training day for me.” Now I just hoped I wouldn’t betray my nonchalance by falling off the treadmill when it came time to speed up again!

At 2:15, it was time to jump back on. With a few seconds to go, I slowed the treadmill down to 8.0mph – figuring I could turn it back up pretty quickly, but that I’d be less likely to go flying if I started at that pace. Gripping the rails tightly, I hopped back onto the belt and immediately began running as fast as my little legs would go – and I was actually outrunning the belt for a sec. I relaxed a bit, feeling confident that I had mastered the art of getting on without falling off.

For the rest of the workout, I toyed with different paces between 9.5mph and 10.0mph for the sprint, but always keeping the 30 second rest period in between. I found that if I took long strides, the pace really didn’t feel that fast at all, and 45 seconds was definitely short enough where it went by quickly. I wasn’t quite ready to pick the pace up any further, as my rest periods still involved a bit of gasping for breath as I stood on the rails, but it didn’t really get torturous until the last 10 seconds or so… and I can do just about anything for 10 seconds.

After the 12.5 minute workout (1 min warmup, 8 intervals of 45 seconds on/30 seconds off, 1 minute cooldown), I decided to make it an even 1/4 hour by doing another 2.5 minutes of powerwalking (4.5 mph) at a 15.0 grade incline, trying to go deep into a lunge with each step. Next, I planned to head up to my room and do some more body weight strength training (lunges, squats, etc)… but first, I wanted to see if Charlotte’s blog had any more pointers on tabatas, or info on exactly how good they are for you. I couldn’t believe that in that short of a time I had managed to really do anything for my body.

Now, of course, the punchline that all you fitness experts have been waiting for, since you are much smarter than I am: tabatas are not 45 seconds on and 30 seconds off, but 20 seconds on and 10 seconds off. Oops! I had REALLY gone above and beyond. Furthermore, from the commentary on Charlotte’s blog, I found that most people who do them on a treadmill tend to do about 10mph-12mph for each interval – which meant that even doing them 225% longer than I was supposed to, my pace fit in the suggested range! On the plus side, I feel like super runner now 🙂

So, the question is, is that really all it takes? Can I give up on the 1.5 hour elliptical sessions morning and night in favor of a quick (but intense) 15 minutes on the treadmill? Tell me about your experiences with tabatas – I’m all ears!


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