Twenty seconds of exercise doesn’t sound that bad.

But a few rounds into the Tabata-style class, doing pushups, burpees, squats and lunges in 20 second bursts followed by 10 seconds of rest, the heart is racing.

Four full minutes of that leaves you huffing, bent over with your muscles screaming.

“You can do all kinds of variations on it. You could run on a treadmill, or run outside. You can do strength exercises. But whatever you do, you have to do it as hard as you can,” said Stephanie Martin, personal trainer and co-owner of Martin Nutrition & Fitness.

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Research has shown the benefits of high intensity workouts that pack maximum effort into short bursts of activity. Tabata and similar style programs link together basic moves to focus on chest, leg, arm and core muscles, cycling each in a way to exercise as effective as possible

“You have that negative work-rest ratio, where you’re working longer than you’re resting,” Martin said. “Since you’re keeping your heart rate high, you’re increasing your metabolism allowing you to burn more fat in a shorter amount of time.”

Tabata is a training style born in 1996, after scientist Izumi Tabata published a study in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise.

His research revealed that intense four-minute workouts done five days a week for six weeks improved the maximum amount of oxygen an athlete can take in, as well as increasing speed, strength and power through anaerobic energy systems.

The program calls for doing one exercise as hard as you can for 20 seconds, then resting for 10 seconds. People repeat that for eight rounds, for a total of four minutes.

“I like to pick two exercises — maybe a strength exercise and some cardio — and alternate those. You do as much as you can,” said Sarah Kegerreis, fitness instructor for Grace United Methodist Church’s group fitness classes. “It’s a great way for your heart to get a workout.”

Kegerreis tries to offer a Tabata class at least once a week at the church, mixing up strength and cardio moves to keep her clients from becoming bored.

The benefits of a Tabata-style workout is that it can be done in a relatively short amount of time with big results. The American Council on Exercise commissioned a study looking at the benefits to average exercisers.

Researcher Dr. John Porcari, head of the clinical exercise physiology program at the University of Wisconsin, La Crosse, and his team found that working hard enough even for just four minutes can result in better cardiovascular shape.

Doing a full 20-minute workout only amplifies the results, Porcari concluded.

“Since you’re doing 20 seconds of work, you’re not doing heavy strength training. A lot of it is doing functional exercises, light weights such as dumbbell presses or bicep curls,” Martin said. “You can pair this with strength training, and use this as your cardio workout.”

At Martin Nutrition & Fitness in the Center Grove area, participants gather for an adaptation of traditional Tabata concept.

During the course of an hour, they’ll go through an extended workout that includes rows with elastic bands, squats and raises with medicine balls and sprints on the treadmill.

The gym was founded by trainers Martin and her husband, Jon. They’ve centered much of their group offerings around high-intensity workouts melded with one-on-one training.

“We wanted to focus more on exercise that if you were doing your own training program, these classes wouldn’t negate that. You’re not going to be doing the same things — you could come every day and do something different,” Martin said.

The key to the success is pushing yourself to max effort for those 20 seconds, Martin said. Doing such short, powerful bursts followed by minimal rest, you can get aerobic exercise as well as the anaerobic kind.

In aerobic exercise, the body gets energy from the oxygen you breathe. Anaerobic exercise requires more oxygen than the body can breathe in, and starts burning energy stored in the muscles.

Tabata participants not only notice increased fat burning during the workout, but afterwards as well.

“You have more of what they call ‘afterburn.’ Once you stop doing exercise, your body keeps burning fat and calories,” Stephanie Martin said.

Jeni Heselbarth has been working with the Martins for months. A former athlete in college, she was looking for a gym that melded challenging exercise with camaraderie of a smaller gym.

She has found the Tabata concept and other high-intensity programs at the gym to be the best routine for maintaining her physical fitness.

“In just one hour I work all the major muscle groups of my body through weight lifting and cardio and a variety of exercises to consistently transform my body,” Heselbarth said.

But Tabata style workouts are more than just efficient. The exercises can be mixed and matched in a nearly endless combination of moves to ensure a full body workout that you’ll never get sick of, Martin said.

“It’s more variety and variability. Not everyone wants to go do an hour of running every single day,” she said. “With this, you can do a different workout every time.”

At a glance

Simple Tabata workout

With the start of 2016, it’s time to start on those New Year’s resolutions.

Your gym may not be open today, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t get started on an effective energy-burning workout.

Stephanie Martin, co-owner of Martin Nutrition & Fitness, put together this easy Tabata-style routine that can be done at home.

For each of the four groups, do the first exercise for 20 seconds, then rest 10 seconds before doing the next move in the group. Repeat for eight rounds, for a total of four minutes. Rest one to two minutes before moving onto the next group of exercise.

First set



Second set

Air squats


Third set

Chair dips

Chair step-ups

Fourth set

Jump squats


Where to Tabata

Martin Fitness & Nutrition

Where: 862 S. State Road 135, Greenwood

Cost: $15 for one-class pass, $60 for five-class pass, $140 unlimited monthly

Schedule information:

Grace United Methodist Church

Where: 1300 Adams Drive, Franklin

Cost: $4 per class, $30 unlimited monthly, $75 unlimited three-months

Schedule information:

Ryan Trares is a reporter for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at or 317-736-2727.