Always room for seconds

November 12, 2013
Tony McEllroy relies on his watch and a barrage of exercises to teach “Tabata 20/10 Conditioning” classes at the Sports Club/LA. (Teddy Wolff/For Express)
Tony McEllroy relies on his watch and a barrage of exercises to teach “Tabata 20/10 Conditioning” classes at the Sports Club/LA. (Teddy Wolff/For Express)

Here’s an important word for your body to learn: “Tabata.”

It’s the name of a form of interval training that relies on a simple pattern of 20 seconds of exercise followed by 10 seconds of rest. That doesn’t sound so bad, but once you repeat the cycle eight times — a standard round of Tabata — it can be enough to make you see stars.

The technique is named for researcher Izumi Tabata, who studied the protocol while working with the Japanese speedskating team in the 1990s. He found that the head coach’s favorite routine, which involved short bursts of exercise followed by short periods of rest, improved athletes’ metabolism, strength and endurance.

When the study was published, word of the benefits got out, and now gyms around the world are embracing Tabata. The American Council on Exercise recently conducted its own Tabata study and deemed that even a 20-minute routine was strenuous enough to qualify as an effective cardiovascular workout. (And subjects burned between 240 and 360 calories in that short session.)

Inspired by such impressive numbers, Leslie LaPlace, a certified trainer in Arlington, launched a Tabata boot camp (powerofmovement.co) in January. Classes meet two or three times a week in small groups, and students also receive six-minute daily online workouts to do on off-days.

“Many of my clients struggle with finding time to commit to an exercise program,” LaPlace says. “Tabata offered effective workouts and high caloric burn without spending an hour in a gym doing boring cardio or the same weight routine.”

Tabata timing is strict, but when it comes to exercises, almost any move works, which gives instructors leeway on what they can incorporate into a workout.

“It really touches on all facets of training,” says Tony McEllroy, who teaches “Tabata 20/10 Conditioning” at the Sports Club/LA in the West End (dc.sportsclubla.com). “We use every muscle in the body. Tabata will strengthen, get the heart rate up, improve flexibility.”

It’ll also kick people’s butts, which is why McEllroy reminds his students to take breaks if necessary: “Don’t try to be Superman.”

That advice came in handy at a recent class. McEllroy laid out eight routines, involving two moves per set. Each set focused on different muscle groups — mountain climbers and sumo squats in one set, burpees and pushups in another. After a few sets, exhaustion was apparent on many faces, but people kept going.

“It’s best to pick two exercises that don’t focus on the same muscle group, like a squat and a pushup, and alternate between the two,” he says. “You don’t want to overuse any muscle, fatigue too soon. That way you can go longer.”

And the best thing about Tabata is that you never have to go too much longer.

Try This at Home

This Tabata combination torches calories. Repeat each exercise for 20 seconds, take 10 seconds to rest, and repeat four times:

Round 1

Jump Squat: Start with your feet shoulder-width apart. Squat down until your hamstrings are parallel to the ground, keeping your hands out in front of you. Then use that stored energy to propel yourself up. Land with bent knees.

Military Press: Grab dumbbells that are at least 8 pounds. Lift your arms up as though you are flexing your muscles. With palms facing front, push up until your arms are extended straight above your head.

Round 2

Clockwork Pushups: Get into pushup position. Don’t move your feet, but walk your right hand out and push up (moving like the second hand on a clock). Switch sides.

Lunges: Step one leg back, and drop down so your back knee is an inch off the ground. Remember to keep your chest up. Switch sides.

Round 3

Butterfly Situps: Lie on your back, with your legs bent so the bottoms of your feet are touching. With your arms straight, keep them on either side of your head as you begin to sit up, pulling up with your abs.

Froggers: Start in pushup position, jump your feet forward to the outside of your hands and then jump back.

Round 4

Side V-ups: Lying on your side, place your bottom arm out in front for stability, with your other arm over your head. Lift your entire body up in one fluid motion, keeping your legs straight and together. Try to touch your feet as you come up.

Plie Squats: Stand with your legs apart, feet facing out on a diagonal. Squat down and keep the hamstrings parallel to the ground. Jump and bring the feet in, then jump back down into the plie.

Round 5

Dive Bomb: Get into downward dog, with your hands and feet touching the ground in an inverted V position. Drive your body forward, with your chest leading the way into an upward dog. Scoop yourself back into a downward dog.

Toe Touches: Lie on your back, with your feet straight up in the air. Lift your upper body to touch your toes, keeping your legs as static as possible.

Danielle Douglas covers the banking industry for The Washington Post.
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Tracy Krulik · November 12, 2013