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
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.
I’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