It’s 10 a.m. on a recent rainy Friday morning, and Melanie Neff is in a lap pool, ready for a workout that incorporates the latest type of high-intensity interval training.
As YMCA instructor Jennifer Keith cranks up the volume of the rock song “Born to Be Wild,” someone in the class shouts, “Here we go.” For the next 50 minutes or so, Keith will have the class repeating a particular set of exercises in four-minute sessions, encouraging them to work hard against the resistance of the water as they do eight 20-second workouts followed by a short 10-second rest period after each workout.
Each four-minute session is broken up with about a minute’s worth of rest or slower-paced exercise while Keith explains the next set of exercises and the muscles participants will work.
The class structure is based on the Tabata protocol, a type of high-intensity interval training. Touted for its ability to provide a great cardio workout in a shorter amount of time with quicker results, Tabata is becoming a popular fitness method.
Hundreds of people have been packing the pools at Greater Wichita YMCAs this summer for the Y’s new water Tabata classes. The Y will incorporate Tabata training into other fitness classes, including a new 30-minute version of its boot-camp class that will meet three times a week.
High-intensity interval training, or HIIT — which consists of short bursts of intense exercise with a shorter rest period in between — has been around for years.
One of the reasons Tabata training has become the latest HIIT trend among fitness experts and exercising individuals is that “Tabata puts the science behind it with specific timing,” said Shalen Scheltgen, YMCA group exercise coordinator.
The science Scheltgen refers to is a study conducted by Japanese fitness researcher Izumi Tabata, who was trying to find a training method that would enhance the performance of Japanese speed skaters. The 1996 study provided the formula that the Y’s Keith and other Tabata instructors use: eight 20-second all-out activities with 10 seconds of rest in between for a total workout time of four minutes.
“People are loving it,” Scheltgen said about the new Tabata classes at the Y. “The moves aren’t that complicated, and it’s a good workout.”
When her class was in the larger outdoor pool at the Northwest YMCA, Keith said she often had more than 50 participants.
Preston Petersen, corporate personal training director at Genesis Health Clubs, started using Tabata training about three years ago in his small-group personal training fitness workouts.
Exercisers at the 300 Functional Fitness gym in Colwich often are given a Tabata-based workout, said Michael DeGraffenreid, who opened the gym Jan. 1, a couple of months after he first heard about this type of interval training during a fitness certification class.
“It allows people to push the intensity more,” said the Y’s Scheltgen. “If you tell me I have to do something for 20 seconds, I’m much more willing to go for it than for a minute.”
Some experts, such as Jeremy Patterson, a clinical exercise physiologist with Wichita State University’s department of human performance studies, call it “ultra-intense.”
Like other interval training, “it has a military approach — go hard and rest, go hard and rest,” Patterson said.
“It has a number of benefits,” he said. “The secret is fitting it into your exercise program when appropriate.”
Patterson and Petersen both caution that high-intensity interval training isn’t something that one should do as a sole means of exercise and recommend that it be done in combination with other fitness activities. It also shouldn’t be applied to certain types of exercises, such as kettle bell weight exercises, where form is very important to prevent injury.
Petersen tests his clients’ fitness levels and wants them to have “a good baseline of cardio fitness” before he incorporates Tabata training.
“Intervals are just one component,” explained WSU’s Patterson, who also helps train high-caliber athletes to return to high-functioning exercise after an injury.
Exercisers who’ve reached a plateau with a form of exercise or who aren’t seeing results with a current program will see benefits from high-intensity interval training such as Tabata, he noted.
“Your body is like a computer, and you’ll want to reboot it” to remind it that it has other systems it can work by changing up workouts, Patterson said.
For Neff, her water Tabata class has become just one of the types of workouts she does throughout the week. On other days, she said, she’ll walk, use the elliptical machines or participate in other group fitness classes.
But she gets recharged with Tabata.
“When I get home from class, it’s like I’m anew,” she said.