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, Va., 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 Washington. "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.