7-Minute Workout: Fact vs. Fiction

A woman looks exhausted during her workout.
(Image credit: Workout photo via Shutterstock)

The "seven-minute workout" is getting a lot of attention these days, and it sure sounds enticing. But experts say the express exercise routine is not as effective — or as short — as it sounds.

The workout consists of 12 high-intensity exercises that use only body weight as resistance. It is an efficient way to lose weight and improve cardiovascular and muscular fitness, according to a study on the workout published in the May-June issue of the American College of Sports Medicine's Health & Fitness Journal.

The article was covered by the national media, emailed among friends and discussed in the blogosphere. There are already apps available to help keep track of the time and the order of the exercises.

However, after taking a closer look at the workout, experts have clarified some of the questions surrounding the exercise routine.

Is it really 7 minutes?

A closer look at the original article reveals that the authors suggest repeating the routine two or three times in a row, to achieve at least 20 minutes of high-intensity exercise, as recommended by the American College of Sports Medicine's guidelines.

Seven minutes is a very small amount of exercise, said Cris Slentz, an exercise physiologist at Duke University. "Researchers have consistently shown that some exercise is better than none, but that more is better," he said. [Infographic: How to Do the 7-Minute Workout]

Slentz said he would expect minimal health benefit from a seven-minute workout, but perhaps a modest physical-function benefit. "Someone who does this workout will not burn enough calories to actually get metabolic benefits," he said.

Who should do the workout?

The authors don't recommend this program to people who are overweight, previously injured or elderly. Some of the exercises are not recommended for persons with hypertension or heart disease.

The workout can be dangerous for people whose bodies are not prepared, said Elsbeth Vaino, an Ottawa-based strength and conditioning specialist. "It is a good, quick option for an individual who is already really fit, and has other physical activities planned," she said.

The workout’s wide appeal seems to be based on how quick it is; according to the authors, it was designed for time-conscious individuals, such as busy professionals.

But Vaino noted that many of these professionals spend a lot of their time seated. "This means they would need a different set of exercises" than what the seven-minute workout provides, she said, adding that more attention should be paid to the upper back muscles and glutes.

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.

Is it difficult?

The seven-minute body fix is not supposed to be a pleasant experience. The authors write that "proper execution of this program requires a willing and able participant who can handle a great degree of discomfort."

This might sound discouraging. But for those who turn the workout into a habit, the discomfort may become less noticeable, said Wendy Wood, a professor of psychology and business at the University of Southern California.

"The trick with this — or any other exercise program — is to make it habitual … an unthinking part of your daily routine," she said.

Although the workout may seem difficult at first, its short duration may ease some of that pain.

"Once habits form, then the discomfort becomes relatively unimportant," Wood said.

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Bahar Gholipour
Staff Writer
Bahar Gholipour is a staff reporter for Live Science covering neuroscience, odd medical cases and all things health. She holds a Master of Science degree in neuroscience from the École Normale Supérieure (ENS) in Paris, and has done graduate-level work in science journalism at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. She has worked as a research assistant at the Laboratoire de Neurosciences Cognitives at ENS.