A new running workout:
ON = 20 seconds
OFF = 10 seconds
REPEAT 8 times
That’s the formula for a tabata workout—the super high-intensity workout protocol developed by Japanese exercise physiologist Izumi Tabata, who in 1998 published an influential research paper based on his work with speed skaters. When these athletes followed maximum-effort bouts of exercise with very short rest periods, there was an unexpected finding: “They showed significant improvement in VO2 max, compared to people doing endurance activity,” says Bob Otto, exercise physiologist and director of the human performance lab at Adelphi University. “Their ability to tolerate lactate acid was greater as well.”
Why? Probably because the short, high-intensity bouts of exercise quickly use up your ATP, your short-term energy system. The even shorter periods of rest force your body to respond by more efficiently processing oxygen, thereby raising your VO2. The short duration of the workouts makes them ideal for winter treadmill sessions or brief periods outdoors.
Two important caveats. First, to do these correctly you have to follow the protocol: That’s a 100 percent effort for 20 seconds, and a rest of only 10 seconds, repeated eight times. “These are intense workouts,” he says. If you need to start with three or four reps instead of eight, that’s fine. Make sure that you warm up and cool down thoroughly.
Second, if you’re training for a spring half marathon or full marathon, the Tabata-style workouts are not a replacement for long runs.
But one Tabata-type session, done correctly once every two weeks, Otto says, can help you maintain and probably improve on the VO2 max and LT capabilities you had going into the winter.