7-minutes of Science-based Super Fitness!

7-minutes of Science-based Super Fitness!


It’s science. It’s right there in the name. The Scientific 7-minute Workout. SCIENTIFIC, PEOPLE! As in, REAL SCIENCE. It’s even in a journal. A science journal. Of workouts. You cannot argue with this. You work out for seven minutes and it’s even better than running 5 miles. Science says so. And so does everyone else on earth who doesn’t want to exercise for a full 10 minutes straight. And fitness magazines are calling this the best thing for fitness since Galileo invented Zumba.

 

So I was like “Hey, why the hell am I wasting all this time training for a marathon and running hours upon hours every week when I could spend less time exercising than I do on literally anything else in my life and get EVEN BETTER benefits?” So last week, I skipped a 4 mile run in 90° heat and 140% humidity, and instead of feeling guilty, I congratulated myself on choosing the scientifically much healthier and more beneficial Scientific 7 Minute Workout.

I downloaded an app—elegantly named “Workout (7 Minute Body Fitness Exercise)”—chosen via  the very scientifically sound method of picking first one anyone recommended to me that has cute graphics. Then I put on my sports bra and, while debating which of my running shorts would be best, realized I wasn’t even leaving my apartment, so I just threw on a tank top and underwear and THAT WAS IT. I was dressed. I didn’t need pants and I had at least 7 minutes to super-exercise like a mother fucker while my daughter watched Monsters, Inc.

I was already loving every single pro of this workout.

  • 7 minutes
  • no pants
  • air conditioning
  • smug satisfaction of science
  • smug satisfaction of efficiency

 

Popsugar  HIIT Workout Poster

PopSugar 7-Minute Workout Poster

I was warned though, that the reason this 7 minute workout is superior to longer workouts is that you’re doing more work in 7 minutes than you do on an hour-long run. The concept is called High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) or High Intensity Circuit Training (HICT) and it involves working at your maximum effort for a short time (in this case, 30 seconds) with a quick recovery interval (10 seconds). The intensity, rest and timing are all crucial. And if you do it right, you are supposed to reduce your risk of injury and get super fit super fast.

But, as much as I loved this, and even though it was already in a science journal, I still couldn’t see how even a really hard 7 minute workout could be as beneficial as an hour of doing anything besides drunk-watching Duck Dynasty. However, I really didn’t want to go out in the Texas heat to run (or put on pants), so I was willing to try to believe.

The first thing I noticed was that this program requires thirty seconds of pushups. Immediately I knew that this is not a program for the couch-bound aspiring workout enthusiast. In order to even begin this workout you need to be in better shape than most people who have been dreaming of the day science develops a 7 minute workout so that they can finally fit exercise into their schedule. You need to be able to do things like tricep dips, pushup rotations and a couple dozen situps… which means that before you even get to the 7 minute workout, you need to put in several weeks of 30-45 minute workouts just to avoid getting seriously injured. So right there, this workout is kind of disingenuous. FREE 7 MINUTE WORKOUT!* (*150 workout hour purchase required.) I suppose The Scientific 7-Minute Workout is a more marketable name than the Injure Your Way Out of Fitness In Just 5 Minutes A Day Workout.

As to the circuit itself, I felt like the workout was challenging, but not as challenging as running a 10K. So once I finished, I decided to run through it again. Satisfied that I had completed the exact equivalent of running a half marathon in just 14 minutes, I showered and called it a day. But I felt really guilty. I mean, at best I felt like I put in the effort of 20 minutes of running, and that is probably generous. Since I supposedly just finished the equivalent of a couple of hours of running, I thought I should actually feel like I worked that hard. But I didn’t. I sort of felt like I half-assed a moderate work out.

Turns out, the reason I felt like I half-assed my workout, despite doing it TWICE, was because I actually half-assed my workout… by only doing it twice and by doing it to replace the workout I was supposed to do. Oops.

It’s this kind of bullshit that bites you in the lazy ass when you actually go and read the original journal  article instead of just choosing to believe that 7 minutes is going to turn you into a svelte fitness goddess with Michelle Obama Arms. (Fortunately, I still had time to cancel my appointment to get my  “7 MINUTE GUN SHOW”  tats.) See… there IS benefit to short HIIT workouts. By definition, they’re intense workouts. And doing them for even 7 minutes is probably good for your body. And it’s definitely better than doing nothing. And it may help with fat loss and health outcomes better than sustained aerobic activity.

But whether the 7 minute workout is for you depends on your fitness goals.

Although HICT can be an efficient means by which to improve health and decrease body fat, it may be inferior to creating absolute strength and power, specific endurance, and other specific performance variables (3). If these are the goals of a program, as with competitive athletes, traditional programs may elicit greater absolute gains.

So if you’re trying to get thinner or looking for the best most convenient way to just get your body moving or if your goal is to just be more fitness-y in general, HICT could be your answer.

Unfortunately, if you have specific fitness goals, like maybe you’re training for a marathon, you can’t just use it to substitute your Thursday 4 miler and call it evensies. Did you hear that, me? You are a cheater mccheaty pants and now you’ve only hurt yourself.

Also… there’s another catch. Unless you’re a superhuman speedy strength workout machine, The Scienfitic 7 Minute Workout isn’t actually a 7 minute workout at all. It’s a 7 minute circuit. You’re not supposed to only do it once then pat yourself on the back and hit the shower. You’re supposed to repeat the circuit at least 2-3 times. So now it’s a FREE 7 MINUTE WORKOUT* **(*with purchase of 150 workout hours) (**Free 7 minute workout only valid on workout multipacks. Single use, travel-size and samples excluded.) And now it’s getting to the point where it’s taking me longer to read the fine print than it’s going to take me to do the workout.

Oh… and that claim that the workout is “scientific” right next to the one where they claim it’s 7-minutes? Well, it’s really more scientifish. It’s based on science, but it’s not actually backed by any kind of testing, and the science used to support HIIT doesn’t necessarily support the format of this particular 7-minute prescription. Bahar Gholipour at Live Science explains:

Is it scientifically tested?

The workout is based on science, but it hasn’t been tested on a group of people to measure its benefits. The authors reviewed studies comparing high-intensity exercise with less-intense exercise, and used the findings to design a workout routine that needed minimal equipment and time.

But there are differences between the protocols used in the previous research that makes the researchers’ claims about the benefits of the seven-minute workout sound far-fetched to some.

Adam Bornstein, a fitness and nutrition author, wrote in his blog that “the studies used to ‘prove’ the concepts don’t mirror the workout that is being lauded as the seven-minute fix for your body.”

For example, in the previous studies, people used additional weights while exercising. And more importantly, the exercises were not done in seven minutes; in fact, they took three times that time to complete.

 

7 minute workout chartI’m sad that the 7-minute workout isn’t really all the package promises. But I’m not totally down on it. While it didn’t feel like a hard workout at the time, I was definitely sore all over for a couple of days because it did force me to work out muscles that I tend to neglect. Also I really love the simplicity. If you have a floor, a wall or vertical beam, and a chair, table, stool or sturdy box, you already have all the equipment you need. In fact, it’s so simple, my 3 year old and 5 year old (kind of half) do it with me. I even find them stealing my phone to do it on their own. And let’s not forget the pants-skipping bonus.

After my initial 7 minute workout attempt, I thought that it might actually make a decent cooldown exercise. So last night, instead of finishing this article on how I skipped my 4 mile run to do a 7 minute workout, I ran 4 miles AND did the 7 minute workout. HUGE difference. I’m not going to lie. Those last 7 minutes were fucking hard and I barely made it through them. I definitely didn’t walk away feeling cheated. I can’t say it’s a great cool-down, it’s too hard for that, but it’s great as a challenging addition to a workout. And doing just one 7-minute cycle also left me feeling significantly less sore than the double.

I really wanted to walk away from this being able to fully endorse or mock the shit out of this 7 minute miracle workout, but I can’t do either. It’s not an easy 7 minutes. But it’s also not especially challenging… unfortunately, you have to be reasonably in shape to do it in the first place. And it’s actually a 21-28 (or more) minute workout, despite the name. It’s also not a great option if you have any kind of specific athletic goals, but if you’re not training for a sport or event and are looking to get in better shape, this isn’t a terrible option. It’s not especially fun but it is accessible. And if you do it for the recommended two or three (or more) cycles, you’re going to get a good workout. In the end, I’m kind of ambivalent about it. If this is what it takes to get you moving, I’m for it, but I am not convinced this is going to be anyone’s long-term answer to fitness. I came away feeling like this is more of a cross training activity or your “I can’t find 30 minutes for the elliptical today but I have 7 minutes” alternative in an occasional pinch.

But let’s face it, even if it’s not total bullshit, it’s still super shitty that this workout is being sold to the public as a scientifically proven 7 minute fitness solution, superior to 30 minutes of cardio, when the reality is that it’s a modified version of a scientifically-supported 28-minute possible solution to the 30-minute workout. I guess if you’re honestly walking around trying to find a workout routine that’s just 2 minutes shorter so you can finally fit it into your busy day, and you’re already in pretty good shape regardless, you’re in luck.

For the rest of us, it’s just another workout gimmick not living up to it’s claims… but at least it’s a more efficient workout than the old classic time-waster 8-Minute Abs. Am I right?

Featured image “Workout (7 Minute Body Fitness Exercise)” app 

 

Avatar of Elyse
Elyse MoFo Anders is the bad ass behind forming the Women Thinking, inc and the superhero who launched the Hug Me! I'm Vaccinated campaign as well as podcaster emeritus, writer, slacktivist extraordinaire, cancer survivor and sometimes runs marathons for charity. You probably think she's awesome so you follow her on twitter.

32 Comments

  1. Avatar of scribe999

    Isn’t this the crazy hitchhiker’s pitch from that stalker movie, There’s Something About Mary?

  2. Avatar of bcmystery

    I suspect the 7-minute workout is for people like me, who sit on their ass all day long typing letters and numbers into boxes on a computer screen. My exercise typically consists of walking to the refrigerator which, since my office is in my kitchen, is three steps away.

    I used to take the Dark Poodle of the Apocalypse for long walks, but she’s about 120 in dog years now and has a heart condition. So our walks are less frequent and mostly consist of one slow amble around the block. Poor little doodle.

    So not too long ago I saw an image on Pinterest which was a list of exercises you can do for Fitness! It aligned perfectly with my interests, given that it was a bunch of letters and numbers in a box on my computer screen, so I saved a copy to my desktop. Every day or two, I guiltily notice it, and when the guilt builds up sufficiently, I open the damned thing and perform the exercises.

    They circuit takes me about ten minutes, and is hard. For me, I mean. The pushups make me whimper and the knee lift thingiess make me cry. But the real killer is the one-minute wall sit, which makes me long for death. But there does seem to be some modest improvement in my fitness. My bowlful of jelly is less full, and my GERD is less gerdorrific. But I don’t for second think I’m becoming some paragon of fitness. It just … helps a little. Maybe just in my mind. I do like having less acid reflux, so that’s something.

    • Avatar of Elyse

      The 7-minute workout is very specifically NOT for people who sit on their ass all day long. The 7 minute workout is for people who are actually already in above average shape. If you attempt to go straight from the couch to the 7-minute workout, you will likely end up with an injury.

      • Avatar of bcmystery

        I believe you. My Pinterest workout is definitely not of the same intensity level you describe. I was mostly snarking, though the idea of a short, in-your-underwear workout of some kind (say, the Pinterest image kind) does seem like it COULD be for those of us who sit on our ass all day. Not THIS 7-minute workout admittedly.

    • Avatar of punchdrunk

      I think it’s definitely better to do something than nothing. In fact, I think encouraging people to do five or ten minutes of something that gets your heart beating and your muscles working and your body moving is the most important thing to get across to the sedentary. If that’s all you ever do, you’ve done a lot of good for your health.
      Habits are the hard part for me. Once the habit takes hold, it’s not hellish for me to extend and intensify. It’s that first step that’s a huge internal battle of wills (the laziness is strong in this one) for me. But I’m moderately competitive, so once my feet are on the road, or the weight’s in my hand, I get a lot of pleasure from pushing myself and achieving personal bests.

      • Avatar of Elyse

        I agree that something IS better than nothing. My biggest gripe with this is selling the idea that 7-minutes is better than MORE. 0 < 7 minutes < 20 minutes < 45-60 minutes

  3. Avatar of biogeo

    I was thinking of trying to get into a routine of doing something like this, under the theory that “something is better than nothing,” and considering the dual advantages that I can fit it into my schedule easily and not have to go to the gym and feel judged. The other thing that the original article makes clear, which was totally left out of the popular press reporting, is that the described circuit is just one example; they advocate any kind of circuit of exercises that alternates which muscle groups are being used so that none are overstressed for too long, while still keeping the overall exertion level high. This also seems like a good thing; you can swap out exercises that don’t work for you due to injury, lack of a sturdy chair, whatever.

    But I missed the idea that this is really only for people in above average shape. What are the injury risks associated with these exercises? What would be a better thing for someone who’s basically healthy, just out of shape, to start with?

    • Avatar of Elyse

      The part about injury was not in the journal article. The problem with getting into any fitness activity that is above your fitness level is that your body isn’t prepared for it. It puts you at increased risk of joint injuries because the muscles protecting your joints aren’t strong enough to support them; increased risk of sprains and tears; and increased risk of injuries arising from improper form to compensate for the lack of strength.

      • Avatar of biogeo

        That makes sense. But most of these exercises don’t seem too awful, individually; they’re things I remember doing in high school P.E. (I really wish I didn’t remember high school P.E.) Is the main problem just the amount of time you’d be doing each of them? Do you think someone could ramp up to this level, maybe starting by doing 15 second intervals, with less risk of injury? Or is a couch potato probably just better off biting the bullet and starting with jogging or something like that?

        • Avatar of Elyse

          One thing about high school PE… you were still exercising every day.

          You’re better off starting slow with a less intense program designed to build up your strength. The idea of the 7 minute workout is that you’re supposed to do these as hard and as fast as you can, without using momentum to aid your motion, with only a 10 second rest time. To get the proposed benefit from this, you can’t be doing three pushups in 30 seconds. You need to do 20-30 at least.

          If you do actual 30 minutes of cardio and work in strength exercises, you will eventually be able to do something like this… but it still won’t substitute for the workouts you’re already doing.

          You could start with running; I’d suggest a couch to 5K program. It’s hellish; I won’t lie, but if it’s not hard, it’s not exercise. :)

          You can also start with a bootcamp type program. Those are meant to be a total body workout and are usually easily tweaked to your fitness level.

          • Avatar of biogeo

            Cool, thanks for the advice!

  4. Avatar of TheCzech

    Actually, you are a cheater mccheaty no-pants.

  5. Avatar of Amanda

    Thanks for doing the research I was too lazy to do, Elyse! I like interval training because it keeps me from getting bored to tears and so really wanted to believe in this article. But then I saw the push-ups, tricep dips, and push-up rotation combo and just laughed. My weak noodley arms say no.

  6. Avatar of killyosaur

    I actually do use HIIT and HICT in addition to the rest of the training I do (12-18 mile bike rides, 2 days of lap swimming, 3 run days following the First method marathon training plan though at this time I am not training for a specific marathon). It’s helpful, but I wouldn’t use it as a replacement. So, which marathon are you training for?

  7. Avatar of blgmnts

    I semi-regularly add some exercise routine after running and some of it is HIIT-type. It’s a good way to get some cross training done with the benefit of saving on warm-up and cool-down time.

    If one is short of time a quick and intense routine is better than none but that is where I see a potential problem: For intense exercise one needs to warm up and I think a not negligible number of people (especially beginners) would be tempted to not do 5 to 7 min of warm-up for a 7 to 14 min routine. I am guilty of it myself when I occasionally do only some HIIT style thing but I know how much I can do “cold” and start the first set of exercises relatively slowly (basically I abuse it as a not-too-gentle warm-up).

  8. Avatar of John Scuncio

    I lost 150 lbs in a year following the *idea* of the 7 minute workout (I could care less about what the exercises are). The idea is to push yourself above and beyond what your body thinks is possible. The exercises do not matter as long as they are hard and rapidly exhausting. If you are doing them and think it is an *easy* way to get in shape, you are doing it wrong.

    For me, it started just climbing stairs. As many as I could, as fast as I could, for 20-30 seconds, stopping then going again. (granted I did this for 15 minutes not 7, I’ve never heard of the 7 minute workout until now.. I am just defending the principle of it) By the end of the winter I could sprint up 21 flights of stairs.

    Over this past winter to keep my wind up for the bike season I did 5 minutes of cardio 3 times a week… 5 minutes, not 7. I increased my wind. When I got on my bike in April I had better wind than when I hung my bike up in November.

    Push hard, the actual exercises do not matter, they just need to be hard. If you feel cheated at the end of 7 minutes, you did not push hard enough, you gotta go way out of your comfort zone.

  9. Avatar of Kathy Orlinsky

    I agree with John Scuncio. There have been studies showing that a few full-on sprints can yield more fitness benefits than a much longer run. I personally notice the most gains in strength and endurance when I run sprints. But you need to be aware of two things. First, you have to be in proper shape and use the right techniques so that you don’t injure yourself. And second, you have to really push yourself. If you’re not thinking, “I don’t like this at all”, you’re not going hard enough.

  10. Avatar of killyosaur

    @ the above 2 commenters: I’m pretty certain, from my reading of the article and many of the comments, that no one here is saying that the ideas behind the 7 minute workout are wrong and/or invalid, but that the workout itself is the problem. First, it presents itself as scientific when the workout is merely based around a couple of scientific studies regarding HIIT and HICT but has not itself been verified for efficacy, and secondly, it is implying that in only 7 minutes you are going to be able to get in shape, when the fine print states that one needs to repeat the routine 3 times for full benefit (or 21 minutes, which is closer to a standard 1/2 hour workout). Also @ Kathy, references to the studies would be nice, but it sounds like the findings are still in dispute: http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/04/17/ask-well-long-runs-vs-sprints/. Not saying you are wrong, but personally, I do sprints to improve speed, and tempo and long runs for actual endurance. Also, it sounds like the studies are regarding oxygen intake and not increased endurance, which is a major difference (I can run a very long distance slowly, but I need to improve my VO2 Max if I want to do that same distance more speedily, amongst other considerations).

  11. Avatar of digithead

    Why does research always ignore the seminal work of Wish, FL and Think, NG that conclusively showed it’s easier and cheaper to buy bigger pants than work out? They also showed that the only good reason to run is away from danger and that the extra 10 minutes of life on average gained by exercise aren’t that enjoyable.

  12. Avatar of Kathy Orlinsky

    @killyosaur I blogged about one study http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ajhb.21166/full. Basically, kids who sprinted had equal or better metabolic improvements than kids who jogged seven times longer, though the joggers developed slightly more endurance. I could have sworn I’d seen lots more studies like it, but maybe they were just press releases or articles in fitness magazines, because a quick search didn’t turn them up.

  13. Avatar of Jack99

    Elyse, just wanted to say thanks for the signed ping pong ball which arrived today. I am extraordinarily chuffed to have an actual Skepchick-signed item! (it must have taken some effort to fill in all the boxes and organise for international mailing). I highly recommend this experience to all Skepchick readers and if you haven’t donated to Elyse’s marathon fundraiser for cancer yet, maybe give it some consideration. Go El Mofo!

    P.S. The ball being crushed in the preliminary jpeg was signed different to the one that arrived today, which was strangely pristine and intact. Now I’m no believer in conspiracy theories but – there couldn’t be TWO El Mofo’s, could there?? :)

    • Avatar of Elyse

      Thank you for endorsing my balls!

      • Avatar of KellyM

        I, too, have jpeg proof that Elyse crushed the ball that she sent me. Now, it’s perfectly spherically undented!!!! I have proof that a miracle occurred!!!!!

        • Avatar of Jack99

          The Miracle of The Balls! She has given us a sign!
          Follow The Balls!!

          • Avatar of KellyM

            I’m placing Elyse’s ball in my slipper tonight to experiment if it can repair my plantar fasciitis in the same way that it magically repaired itself.

  14. Avatar of oolon

    There was a lot of media coverage in the UK of this study -> http://ajhpcontents.org/doi/abs/10.4278/ajhp.110916-QUAN-348
    Pretty good evidence that short bursts of intense exercise can be as good as longer periods of cardio workout… Rather stymied recently by a prominent news reporter attributing his TIA/stroke on this exercise regimen, although looks like its probably more likely to be his stress and blood pressure. http://www.nhs.uk/news/2013/04April/Pages/Is-exercise-to-blame-for-Andrew-Marrs-stroke.aspx

  15. Avatar of imazappafan

    First, I enjoy your writing style. At my business we have a simple rule: “no shitty language”. So I can’t share your article with others, and that’s a fucking shame. That said, I’ve been doing this 7 minute workout for almost a month, and it is excellent for me. I am in above average shape, but not interested in training for any one specific event. I substituted jumping rope for the jumping jacks (my shoulders don’t want to flap quickly for 30 seconds!), and I wait longer than 30 seconds to repeat the entire series. Sometimes I wait 2 whole days, but that’s a different story.
    However, you don’t point out that this must have been designed by the scientists that are bad at math. This workout is clearly 7:50, which in my world gets rounded UP to 8 minutes. Is an “8 Minute Scientific Workout” less marketable than a “7 Minute Scientific Workout”???? Oh, and doing the workout without having to put on pants and leave the house is almost as good as not needing any equipment at all.

  16. Avatar of Per Jonsson

    I think the best app is this one:

    Custom Minute Workout
    https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/id684230104?mt=8

  17. Avatar of Scott Philips

    I suspect you are one of those well meaning but innocent dupes of the fickle fitness establishment. Long distance running is the absolute worst form of exercise for long term health and body composition. In fact without any HIIT protocol you are just daydreaming your way through the miles. I assert you are not really pushing yourself as much as you lead on in your blog. I also suspect you follow up your joint destroying fitness regime with a lousy diet consisting of the government food pyramid suggestion of tons of whole grains, low fat protiens, fat free dairy and plenty of starchy vegetables like potatoes and whole grain rice. I bet you have trouble with your joints now, stubborn belly fat, brain fog and a variety of inflammatory issues. Want to get in great shape without destroying your knees and ankles and allow a full expression of your genetic potential adopt a 7 minute workout style of Tabata training or CrossFit and adopt a more Paleo\Primal way of eating. I know the brainwashed will twitch..yes a diet heavy in fats(butter, cocoanut oil, animal fat), good grass fed, line caught or pasture raised proteins an lots of veggies. Avoid health destroyers like grains, legumes, NutraSweet, low fat dairy which cause an inflammatory response in most people. Or do it your way and look 50 when you are 35 and 70 when you are 50, with stringy brittle hair, wasted knees, and bad skin. Study the real science and not the Vegan\Fitness establishment propaganda

    • Avatar of Elyse

      Thank you, sir, for your thoughtful and well-informed insight into my life. Maybe I’m not pushing myself. Marathoning is super easy. Who can’t just wake up and run over twenty miles? I’m in terrible shape. You can tell by the huge as mother fucking muscles in my sexy toned-as-fuck legs.

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