Select Page

Cardio In 4 Minutes A Day

Cardio In 4 Minutes A Day

I like to be in the best shape I can physically but I must admit I do neglect cardio. It’s obvious why. It is not pleasant to me.

Weights? Woohoo. A hard set and you can rest as long as you want. Core? Same thing. Flexibility? Love it. It’s not a chore, it’s a joy. Balance and agility? All part of yoga.

Now let’s face it. All of these things are really important to overall athletic ability. Everything is one piece of the puzzle.  However, at the top of the tree is cardio and yet I have never been able to enjoy it.

Running for an hour a day? Not in this lifetime. Fortunately for me there are people who have already found a better way.

However, although I said better way it is in no way an easier way. There is no way, it appears to make cardio easy.  Longer time at moderate intensity? Ugh. Shorten the time? Great. Unfortunately the downside is that the intensity must go through the roof.

OK, what the hell are you talking about? I’m talking about Tabata, one of several high intensity interval training protocols that allow you to compress the time you spend on cardio. Each of them follow the same general pattern. An intense burst of activity, followed by a short break, followed by another intense burst. This is repeated several times.

The pattern of exercise – the duration of activity, the duration of the rest and the intensity of the activity vary between the different methods. I won’t go into detail of the other methods, but you can look some of them up. Peak 8 and the Little method  give you 2 alternative approaches to Tabata.

The protocol that Tabata uses is 20 seconds of intense exercise, such as sprints, followed by 10 seconds of rest, repeated for 8 rounds.

When it was developed by Izumi Tabata he had a test group who did Tabata 4 days a week and then traditional steady state exercise once a week, steady state being the one hour long run or something like that.  A control group did steady state exercise 5 times a week.

What was found was that both groups significantly improved their VO2 max – the ability of your body to uptake oxygen. The steady state group increased more, but in my opinion it’s an example of an 80/20 situation. The VO2 max increase for the steady state group was not so significant to me that it was worth the extra 3 hours and and 45 minutes it took to achieve it.

One of the reasons that it works so well is that high intensity interval training induces mitochondrial biogenesis. Mitochondrial biogenesis is where your cells grow new mitochondria. which allows them to use more oxygen to create more energy, hence the increase in VO2 max.

However, the problem with Tabata is that it is not easy. In fact it’s damn hard. You can’t just go into 8 rounds of 20 seconds of intense exercise from unfit.

My recommendation is to start with 10 second bursts, followed by 20 second rest periods. Then, as your get used to the workload, increase the first round to 20 seconds, while keeping the remaining bursts at 10 seconds. You get the picture here if you’re an astute reader that bit by bit you replace the 10 second bursts with 20 second bursts, and the 20 second rests with 10 second rests as your fitness increases.

So what to do for Tabata? These days there is a lot of information about the exercises you can do for Tabata, and a lot of it misses the mark. You have to do something that is intense enough to create the response you desire. For example, if someone recommends pushups for Tabata, I call bullshit, for two reasons.

You are seeking to elicit a response where by the end of it, you are totally out of breath. You can’t do that with push ups; the intensity just isn’t high enough. Also, if you try to do pushups, say you get 20 reps out in 20 seconds. That means 160 reps in 4 minutes. I guarantee you that unless you are an exceptional individual, your arms will give up long before you have any cardio effect.

To me the options are things like sprint bursts on a stationary bike, actual sprints themselves, jumping squats, kettlebell swings or punching a punching bag flat out.

Jumping squats are my current favourite so I’ve added a video below that shows an example of them.

So Tabata is a way to dramatically cut down the time you require for cardio work.. if you’ve got the guts!

Image Source:  Marie-Lan Nguyen / Wikimedia Commons, CC BY 3.0,

About The Author


A guy obsessed with stripping down whatever field he studies to get the optimum return from effort expended. Sort of like Tim Ferriss, except with zero fame.

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published.