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AUM’s Michele Olson finds four-minute workout more effective than traditional cardio, doubles metabolic rate

by Josh Coats | Jun 14, 2013

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Auburn Montgomery Exercise Science Professor Michele Olson is garnering international attention for a new research study in which she finds a four-minute workout routine as effective as five times the amount of traditional cardio and that it doubles metabolic rates.

At the 60th annual conference of the American College of Sports Medicine on Friday, Olson shared the results of her study on the “Tabata” style of interval training. Created by Japanese exercise physiologist Izumi Tabata, trainer to Olympic speed skaters, Tabata training has been featured in numerous fitness magazines and is popular among celebrities but has never been tested to see how many calories it burns and what kind of a metabolism boost it really packs. Having debunked numerous fitness gimmicks and get-thin-quick claims throughout her career, Olson scientifically measured Tabata in her lab at Auburn Montgomery and is the first to determine what Tabata exercise really does to our heart and metabolic rate.

“This particular style of interval training has profound effects even on short-term, post-exercise metabolism,” Olson said. “It would take five times the amount of typical cardio exercise, like 20 minutes of very brisk walking, to shed the same number of calories that result from a four-minute Tabata.”

The program involves four-minute bouts of explosive interval moves done for 20 seconds for eight rounds with a 10-second break between each round. For her study, Olson used rounds of body weight squat jumps for the explosive moves. With a metabolic cart, Olson’s study participants had their calorie burn measured before exercise, during a Tabata bout, and 30 minutes following the activity. Olson found that a Tabata routine burns a whopping 13.5 calories a minute and doubled the subjects’ metabolic rate for 30 minutes afterwards.

Olson said the study will have a significant impact on sports trainers, fitness leaders and an array of exercise professionals.

“Now that there is specific, valid, and scientific information on the acute energetics of Tabata exercise, exercise professionals can employ it increasingly with confidence,” Olson said. “Having training methods in one’s arsenal that are scientifically-validated and devoid of gimmickry is clearly what separates the exercise pros from the rest of the pack.”

Izumi Tabata was in the U.S. last week for Olson’s presentation to the American College of Sports Medicine and Exercise is Medicine World Congress – the largest, most prestigious sports medicine and exercise science organizations in the world and the lead international authorities on exercise.

“It was certainly momentous and a wonderful surprise to have him at the conference,” Olson said. “Dr. Tabata was extremely gracious and sincerely pleased and impressed with the research study I presented on the Tabata method.”

Since the conference, Olson has been interviewed by “Shape," "Self," "Prevention," and "Health” magazines about her findings. Her research substantiates a growing movement in the fitness industry that short, intensive exercise routines are as effective as longer traditional methods.

“Having limits on time is one of the biggest obstacles to exercise for many in the population,” Olson said. “If you can achieve the same benefits doing short bouts of exercise that would normally take 20-30 minutes, then our hopes in this industry are that these types of studies will play a meaningful role in exercise participation and health promotion.”

Olson is a leading authority on Pilates, energy expenditure, and abdominal exercise. She received a Ph.D. in exercise science from Auburn University in 1991 and is the lead investigator at AUM’s Kinesiology Laboratory. Learn more about Olson at

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