As Sarah Michelle Gellar tries Tabata for the first time, what is this 4-minute workout?

Many people use January as an opportunity to try something new or hit the gym a bit more. Actor Sarah Michelle Gellar has combined these 2019 goals into one by going to her very first Tabata class.

After joking she originally thought she was meeting her friend for “ciabatta”, Gellar obviously worked hard during the session, writing on Instagram: “Probably the last time I will be upright for the rest of the week.”

There’s nothing quite like the feeling of accomplishment (and sweat) after a super hard class, but what might Gellar have been doing in the gym to get like this? Tabata might sound unusual, but is actually isn’t that complicated – so here’s everything you need to know.

Where did it come from?

Tabata workouts are named after Dr Izumi Tabata, a Japanese physician who published research on the method in 1996. Even though he is widely known as the brains behind Tabata, he also gives credit to Olympic speed skating coach Irisawa Koichi.

In the 1990s, both Tabata and Koichi noticed that the way Japanese speed skaters exercised – in short and extremely hard bursts – was as effective as longer periods of moderate exercise (and maybe even more so). This led Tabata to do some research into the effects of such workouts, and develop his own method.

What is it?

It’s basically a form of high intensity interval training (HIIT). This means that short bursts of heart pumping activity is interspersed with quick rests in between. Think of it not as a marathon, but a sprint.

How does it work?

Tabata training is also known as the four-minute workout. The format it easy: 20 seconds exercise and then 10 seconds rest, repeated eight times – totalling four minutes.

The exercises have to be explosive and brutally hard – it defeats the purpose if you’re doing anything by halves. The good thing is that the sections are only 20 seconds, so at least you’re safe in the knowledge that it’ll be over quickly.

Tabata is a very advanced form of interval training, so if you’re a beginner it might be better to start with some lighter type of HIIT before you try the intensity of tabata.

Chances are Gellar did more than one set of the workout, which is common in classes and definitely explains why she’s so exhausted. If you’re doing it at home, there are various apps like Tabata Pro HIIT Interval Timer which can help time your sets.

If you’re doing Tabata yourself, it’s easy to tailor to how much time you have and what equipment is on hand. If you’re doing more than one four-minute round, be careful that you don’t lose your form as you fatigue, as that’s when you can get injured.

Tabata workouts don’t get boring because you constantly switch up the exercises you’re doing, whether it’s using your body weight with squats, push-ups, burpees or jump lunges, or using weights for exercises like bicep curls, shoulder presses or deadlifts. You can optimise the exercise to what kind of workout you want – either leaning more towards cardio or focusing on strength training.

What are the benefits?

In Tabata’s original research he found that the athletes doing his programme improved the way their bodies used oxygen, which helped with their speed skating performance.

Like other forms of HIIT, tabata burns a lot of calories and keeps burning them for a long time after you’ve finished the workout. Many studies (like this one) suggest that exercising in short, strong bursts with quick rests in between will burn more calories than, say, running at a medium pace on the treadmill for a longer period of time.

It’s also been said to improve your heart health, lower your blood pressure and burn fat. But maybe the best thing? If you struggle to fit a workout into your busy daily life, just think: it’s only four minutes.

- Press Association

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