Four Minute Workouts! Do They Really Work?

Pick up any Rag Mag and you are going to see something having to do with getting in better shape, thinner thighs, losing that gut, etc. Recently there has been a surge in the speed workout arena.

“4 minute workouts promise to get you in the best shape of your life”

“6 minutes to perfect 6 pack abs”

“Better legs in 10 seconds or less”

These are just a few of the headlines I have seen.

The question is: Do they REALLY work? The answer, unfortunately, is not a simple Yes or No.

The answer is Yes and No.

The 4 minute workout is based on the Tabata Protocol. The basis of Tabata Training is 4 minutes of intense interval training. Tabata Training was created by Izumi Tabata at the National Institute of Fitness and Sports in Tokyo, Japan. Without getting too technical, they wanted to see the difference comparing moderate intensity endurance (aerobics) and high endurance intermittent training (intervals their way) on VO2 max and anaerobic capacity.

The protocol calls for an interval to be performed as hard as you can for 20 seconds and then recovering for 10 seconds and then repeating for a total of 8 sets or 4 minutes. It also requires that you perform as many repetitions as possible in the 20 seconds without sacrificing form.

4 minute workouts are done with different exercises using barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells or bodyweight exercises. The common denominator is that the exercise must utilize the whole body.

Good choices for exercises are: mountain climbers, squat presses, many forms of push-ups and pull-ups, and lunges with a bicep curl. You get the idea. The point is to combine upper, lower, core and cardio training in one singular movement in order to get the most “bang for your buck”.

So what did Mr. Tabata find out with his study?

Moderate intensity group training programs produced a significant increase in VO2 max of about 10%, but had no effect on anaerobic capacity. The high intensity group improved their VO2 max by about 14% while anaerobic capacity improved by 28%. The study was done over a six week period. Both groups worked out 5 days per week. The low intensity group burned more calories over the course of their workout- almost twice as many. However, the high intensity group got 9 times more fat loss benefits for every calorie burned while exercising. High intensity training raises your metabolic rate, which causes you to burn more calories after you are done with your training and also causes you to utilize fat as a source of energy.

It all sounds good. And if you utilize his principles it will work and it beats spending an hour on an exercise bike. Right?

Not so fast. Tabata Training is a very advanced form of training. Your ability to perform high intensity training for 20 seconds with very little rest requires skill, experience, a mastery of form and some preparation.

4 minute workouts are not for the de-conditioned, or for anyone with a weak heart.

I use them all the time with my clients, but not in every workout. Instead, I intersperse them with other movement patterns and different circuits. They are also meant to be done in conjunction with other 4 minute workouts. That means you do one 4 minute workout, wait 3-5 minutes, do another workout, wait another 3-5 minutes and do another. If you include a warm up and a cool down (both very necessary for this type of training), you will quickly end up with a 30 minute workout.

The good news is after your first 4 minute circuit, you are probably pretty sweaty and more motivated to add in another one or two interval sessions. As a motivating tool, I think 4 minute workouts are great.

The reality is 4 minute workouts are awesome. You should use ’em, try ’em, add ’em to your routine. Just don’t believe the hype that you really are done in 4 minutes and you’re okay.

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