Speeding toward fitness

Trainers debate the benefits of short workouts

Katie DeLuca
Photo courtesy of Katie DeLuca

“A seven-minute workout can be efficacious,” says Glen Cordoza, co-author of Power Speed Endurance: A Skill-Based Approach to Endurance Training, a book detailing Crossfit founder and triathlon coach Brian MacKenzie’s revolutionary short, intense approach to training.

“But you better be sure that every other facet is absolutely dialed in; your diet, your sleep patterns, your stress levels, and you have to be at least a moderately active human … Get 10,000 steps a day, go on hikes, etc.,” Cordoza says.

In an increasingly time-crunched world, the seven-minute workout, a trend which has been gaining popularity, sounds too good to be true, but it may not be. The idea is that in only seven minutes per day, you can transform your body by doing a range of upper and lower body exercises at a very high intensity. This workout can be accomplished almost anywhere, with no more equipment than a chair and a wall. It is comprised of familiar movements like lunges, crunches, squats, tricep dips and so on, performed for 30 seconds each with 10 seconds allowed for transitions and rest.

The idea for a seven-minute workout seems to have originated with Brett Klika and Chris Jordan, two Orlando-based performance coaches at the Human Performance Institute. The workout has been featured in forums as diverse as Dr. Oz, the Huffington Post and Forbes as being an efficient way to stay in shape in virtually no time at all. Their intent appears to have been to create a stopgap measure for clients too busy to get into the gym and workout with their trainers.

According to “High Intensity Circuit Training Using Body Weight: Maximum Results with Minimal Investment,” written by Klika and Jordan for the American College of Sports Medicine’s Health and Fitness Journal, “Traditionally, resistance training often is performed separately from aerobic training — typically on two or three non consecutive days each week.”

The American College of Sports Medicine recommends eight to 12 repetitions of a resistance training exercise, and two to four sets, with two to three minutes of rest in between, for each muscle group, as well as 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity exercise and 75 minutes at a vigorous intensity.

Obviously, a seven-minute per-day workout falls far short of these guidelines.

“Although these traditional protocols can be effective, they may not be realistic enough for time-conscious adults because of the amount of time necessary to complete each program,” the article says. To address the limitations of time and effectiveness in that traditional program, the authors say, they created a high-intensity circuit training workout that uses body weight for resistance. Each exercise bout takes roughly seven minutes — and they recommend completing the program two or three times back to back.

“Everyone is looking for a quick fix: ‘Great, seven minutes is all I need,’” Cordoza says. “But it’s not. It may indeed be that it’s all the exercise you need if everything else is in place, but if it’s not, you won’t get faster, stronger, leaner or healthier.”

“A seven-minute workout can be great, really great,” says Yata Williams, a personal trainer and former Colorado State University linebacker. “Any extra movement throughout the day is great, but the question is whether you have the desire, the determination, to get through seven minutes at the kind of intensity you need to make that workout truly beneficial.”

A trainer for a dozen years, Williams cautions against expectations of the seven minute workout.

“Bodyweight training won’t give you, metabolically, nearly the same advantage that weight bearing, eccentric motions will, lengthening, strengthening muscles and stimulating bone density growth, which staves off osteoporosis and a bunch of other health problems,” he says.

“I think that you have to do some kind of resistance training,” agrees Katie DeLuca, a personal trainer at NorCal Strength and Conditioning.

“Whether it’s lifting weights or simply using your own bodyweight, you’ll build more muscle mass and stimulate bone growth, as well as increasing your balance and proprioception [or body awareness],” she says. “It’s all part of a platform that leads to a better life, especially as you get older.”

The original seven-minute workout:

Exercises are performed for 30 seconds, with 10 seconds of transition time. The circuit can be repeated two to three times.

1. Jumping jacks

2. Wall sit

3. Push-up

4. Abdominal crunch

5. Step-up onto chair

6. Squat

7. Triceps dip on chair

8. Plank

9. High knees/running in place

10. Lunge

11. Push-up and rotation

12. Side plank

Katie DeLuca’s sample alternative workouts

For the office: 1 minute of each: plank hold straight arm; split squats; push-ups (can be scaled to the desk); squats; mountain climbers; stationary forward lunges; wall sit

Outdoor workout: seven burpees; 50-100m sprint for as many rounds as possible in seven minutes.

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