If someone suggested you could get the benefits of a sweaty bike ride and a trip to the weight room using just the things in your house and seven minutes of your time, would you give up your gym membership?
What if that person was a trained exercise expert who’d recently published his research in a medical journal?
An exercise physiologist recently teamed up with a personal trainer to create that seven-minute workout, and so far it’s gained a huge following. Soon after publishing their idea in the Health and Fitness Journal, a wildly popular article on the workout appeared in The New York Times Magazine that touted its potential benefits:
Even a few minutes of training at an intensity approaching your maximum capacity produces molecular changes within muscles comparable to those of several hours of running or bike riding.
Within weeks, developers had turned it into a mobile app that anyone with a smartphone, a chair, and a wall could use. Last week, The New York Times released its own version of the app, called the Scientific 7-Minute Workout. Despite the addition of the word “scientific” to the beginning of the name and a couple of alterations to the app’s colour scheme, the workout is exactly the same.
The 7-minute plan consists of 12 exercises, 10 of which require nothing but your own body (you’ll need a chair that can support your weight for the other two). Most are pretty traditional, and range from jumping jacks to wall sits, push-ups, and sit-ups. Here’s the full set of exercises:
1. Jumping Jacks
2. Wall sits
5. Step-up (on chair)
7. Triceps dips (on chair)
9. High knees/running in place
11. Push-ups and rotations
12. Side planks
Between each exercise, you rest for 10 seconds.
The second day I did it, I wanted more of a challenge, so I did it without the breaks. As desired, the workout was more tiring and my results were slightly stronger and longer-lasting (I would have tried The New York Times’ “Advanced” 7-Minute Workout instead, but it requires dumb bells, which I don’t have). The set of exercises can also be repeated.
Worth The Hype?
I tried it out twice this weekend. It’s quick, unpleasant (in the way only a good workout can be), and came with some pretty quick results — I was slightly sore in two areas of my body that my 5-day-a-week yoga regimen hasn’t seemed to have reached. I also noticed a little bit of extra mental clarity and decreased anxiety (which is why I do yoga) immediately after the workout.
Another plus to the 7-minute-regimen: I live in a New York apartment with very little extra space, but I was nevertheless able to do the whole workout in a corner of my living room using just my phone, a yoga mat, and a metal fold-up chair.
A Few Caveats
As expected, the physical benefits didn’t seem to last quite as long as my 1.5-hour yoga sessions. While my heart raced and my mind cleared for a few minutes immediately after the workout, those side effects wore off within a few hours. I only did it twice, though, so perhaps if I committed to a daily 7-minute workout the benefits would persist.
Also, since this specific workout is so new, there are no long-term studies comparing its results to those of longer cardio and weight-training workouts. In general, though, the evidence researchers do have supports the benefits of high-intensity intervals, both in terms of building muscle mass and improving heart health.
Even for patients with coronary artery disease, short bouts of intense interval training were found to be more beneficial in helping them regain heart function than traditional, continuous workouts — though anyone with a heart condition should consult a doctor before trying a new exercise routine.
The workout is based on the idea of interval training, an exercise style of short, intense periods of exercise broken up by brief periods of rest. Despite being far less time consuming, an interval workout may actually be more beneficial than a comprehensive, hours-long bout of exercise, according to some research done in the past decade.
So instead of a gruelling one-hour run followed by weight-lifting, for example, you can do several minutes’ worth of intense push-ups, squats, and jumping jacks for similar results.
That’s pretty significant considering that many of us skip working out because we feel we don’t have enough time, because it’s cold out, or because a gym membership is too expensive.
The Mayo Clinic endorses interval training, as does the American Council on Exercise. A 2012 study comparing two groups of runners — one who trained by doing traditional, continuous runs and another which did interval training — found both groups achieved nearly the same results (the only difference being that the interval trainers had better peak oxygen uptake, an important measure of endurance). And a recent study in the journal Diabetologia found that doing walking interval training — walking briskly for three minutes and resting for three minutes for an hour — helped people with diabetes control their blood sugar levels far better than simply walking at the same pace continuously.
The most important thing when doing interval training is committing as much effort as possible throughout the whole workout, making sure to push yourself. After all, each exercise only lasts 30 seconds.
Seven hellish minutes later, you’re done.
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