There’s a lot of hype lately on the internet surrounding the new, miraculous 7 Minute Workout.
For those who aren’t familiar with it, the American College of Sports Medicine published an article in their Health and Fitness Journal titled “High-Intensity Circuit Training Using Body Weight: Maximum Results With Minimal Investment“. It details a focused, high-intensity seven minute workout that gives you the same caloric burn as a lower-impact workout three times as long.
That sounds almost too good to be true, doesn’t it? Although I am a fan of bodyweight exercises, and even a bigger fan of saving time, I still felt the need to dig through the original article and discuss some of the details that are being glossed over in the mainstream media.
Consider the Source
The two authors of the article are both employees of the Human Performance Institute, a US-based center of performance psychology and physical training. That in itself isn’t a big deal. As well, the authors state that they have no financial attachment to the publication of the article. However, understand that clients of the Human Performance Institute are shelling out $5000 for a two and a half day “Corporate Athlete” course which is described as follows:
The 2 ½-day Corporate Athlete Course is the Human Performance Institute’s premier training offering. Backed by decades of science-based research and results, the course is our ultimate in performance training. Designed to create leading high performance teams and individuals, the Corporate Athlete Course begins by emphasizing the connection between personal purpose and daily behaviors to help ensure alignment. Aligning energy investments with one’s deepest values and beliefs represents a critical component to skillful energy management. Participants in the course are taught how to train like an elite athlete, a Corporate Athlete, to strengthen and align energy across all four dimensions: body, heart, mind, and spirit. This multi-disciplinary approach helps them to become physically energized, emotionally connected, mentally focused, and completely aligned with whatever mission is most important to them.
Although the goal of the course isn’t terribly clear, it looks like it’s designed to help people with money cram some physical activity into their already busy life, and to make them feel good about not hitting the gym every day.
I’m not faulting the Institute for their program offerings; they have quite a list of high-profile clients and some incredibly experienced trainers on staff. But keep in mind that this exercise program was not designed with the common person in mind. It’s designed for a very specific niche – people who have already achieved a premium level of fitness and need to maintain that level in their busy professional lives – and are willing to pay big bucks for the privilege.
Contrast With Human Physiology
There’s a school of thought that says it’s not the food we eat, not the air we breathe, but rather the huge lack of physical activity in our lives that is slowly killing us. (Says the guy sitting guiltily at his desk writing this.) I’m a little skeptical of any program that tries to whittle down physical activity to mere minutes a day.
If you read the actual article, you’ll see this little statement at the end of the description of the 7 minute workout:
The circuit can be repeated 2 to 3 times.
That statement right there should be enough to make you realize that this isn’t a pure 7-minute workout. It’s a description of a 7-minute circuit. CIRCUIT. You don’t do a circuit just once. You repeat it.
So take a 7-minute circuit, repeat it three times, and you’re already up to 21 minutes of exercise – the bare daily minimum that’s recommended for all adults. Could most of us do this circuit three times without stopping? I highly doubt it. Most would probably bail after the first circuit because our bodies would be near failure. And by bailing, you wouldn’t get the full benefit of an extended workout that builds not only muscle and strength, but endurance.
Almost anyone, regardless of fitness level, can sustain short bursts of high-intensity exercise. Watch any episode of The Biggest Loser if you don’t believe me. But while you’ll burn a bunch of calories and feel pretty sore the next day, you won’t build any capacity in your body to endure long bouts of physically demanding exercise. Your body can, and will, get used to the gruelling seven minutes. But that doesn’t necessarily translate into increased endurance.
Stop Calling it a Study!!
The 7 Minute Workout is an article, not a study. A study involves some sort of experimental element, with trials, samples, and results. This is simply an article highlighting the program that the Human Performance Institute has designed for their clients. Is it a scientifically sound program? Sure. Does it get results? Probably. It’s better than sitting in your desk chair all day, for sure. But it’s not a study. Please, Internet, stop calling it a study.
However, the frenzied life of the Internet journalist sometimes glosses over the fact that not everything published in a journal is a study. This is quite true of last year’s scare that iced tea caused kidney stones – a claim laid to rest by some simple fact-checking by Jaylor Kubota in this wonderful blog post.
That’s one of the problems I have with a lot of health reporting on the Internet – the actual context and intent of an article published in a journal is often lost by the time the popular media boils it down to the “selling essence” – i.e. the bits that make great headlines. “7-Minute Workout” is such a media-friendly headline it’s no wonder you see this reposted, reblogged, retumbld, and retweeted all over the social media landscape.
Bottom line? Yes, exercise is good for you. Yes, high-intensity circuit training and high-intensity interval training can produce some great results. Yes, bodyweight training is effective and convenient. No, you can’t work miracles with just seven minutes a day.
But if you’re currently doing about zero minutes of exercise a day, you need to start somewhere. But not with the 7 Minute Workout, I’m afraid. Try a seven-minute walk instead and go from there.