Our proof: The fast and furious routines that follow, courtesy of fitness expert BJ Gaddour, CSCS, owner of StreamFIT.com—a web site that offers follow-along, bootcamp-style workouts (that you can stream to your TV, tablet, smartphone, or computer). These 4-minute workouts are all based on the “Tabata protocol.”
For background, the Tabata protocol is a training method that was originally used by the Japanese Olympic speed skating team, and named for the scientist—Izumi Tabata—who studied its amazing effect on a group of male college students. The study subjects were all fit P.E. majors, and most were members of various varsity sports teams.
You might think it sounds too simple—and short—to work: On a stationary bike, the university students did seven to eight 20-second, all-out sprints, each separated by just 10 seconds of rest. Total time: 4 minutes. (They also did an easy 10-minute warmup before each session.)
The results were fantastic: After doing the routine 5 days a week for 6 weeks, the college kids boosted their aerobic fitness by 14 percent. By comparison, another group—who performed a steady but moderate pace on the bikes for 60 minutes—increased their aerobic fitness by only about 10 percent.
So why isn’t everyone doing Tabata workouts? Well, most people would vomit—or come close to it—if they actually tried the routine that was used in the study. That’s not good. Plus, to burn as many calories as you might like, you need to regularly exercise longer than just 4 minutes. (The study participants literally exercised themselves to exhaustion, making additional work unlikely.)
The good news: Gaddour has a way to solve both problems—while also making the Tabata method even more beneficial.
Instead of doing a single mode of exercise for each sprint, Gaddour alternates between two body-weight exercises that work your muscles in different ways. This way, fatigue doesn’t overtake you as quickly—such as was the case with the stationary bike. So you’re still working hard for each 20-second interval, but you’re spreading the challenge around.
There’s more: Because this style of Tabata training allows you to better manage your fatigue, you can “stack” multiple 4-minute routines together. The key is to simply take 1 minute of rest between every 4-minute mini-workout. This way, you’re able to recover briefly between routines, and give it your all each time—while creating a longer workout for greater calorie-burn. And by stacking these routines, you can choose exercises that work your muscles and joints in multiple directions—which helps you build a stronger, more fit body.
Ready to get started? Check out the three 4-minute finishers on the next page. Gaddour refers to them as “cardio-core” routines because each combines a total-body calisthenic with a cutting-edge core exercise. “The cardio exercise burns the fat covering your belly, while the core exercise strengthens and tightens up your midsection,” says Gaddour. “That makes it a fantastic one-two punch for achieving flat, sexy abs.”