Tabata workouts are popular these days. They’re short 20 seconds of work and 10 seconds of rest, repeated eight times, for a total of four minutes and they work, sort of.
Or at least, they worked for the high-level cyclists who did them under the supervision of Dr Izumi Tabata and saw improvements in their V02 max. But those cyclists also worked so hard that they had to, in some cases, be forced to get back on the bikes.
So to be fair, doing Tabata-style pressups is not really doing ‘Tabata’. Neither is doing star jumps, burpees or kettlebell swings. In every case, there’s a point where you simply can’t do enough work in the time to really ruin yourself on the level intended by the original experiment.
What can you do Tabata-style?
Things like cycle sprints, resisted runs or a sled push. Unremitting high intensity.
But can you even do them properly?
I don’t think I’ve always got it in me to push as hard as I can really push. It’s hard, in a nice comfortable gym, to run as flat out as if I was running away from a maniac with a chainsaw trying to dismember me.
Without years of training, you aren’t near enough your genetic limit to really push it and you haven’t developed the mental capacity to get near the redline. You might think you’re going as hard as you can but you aren’t. If you want to burn a few calories, get a tiny bit stronger, work off a third of a caramel latte, that’s fine. But if you want the gains you’ve imagined, you’re going to have to work so hard you never want to do it again.
So how hard is hard enough?
Try this, go to the gym, track, whatever, get in a good warm up, and then do a 500m row, 400m run or 3km bike as fast as you possibly can.
Feel ready for more afterwards? You didn’t do it fast enough. Feel like it’s something you’d do again? You didn’t do it fast enough. Feel even vaguely normal in the two hours afterwards? You didn’t do it hard enough!