Wouldn’t it be great if all it took was 7 minutes to get a good workout?
If that were true, working out could become almost an afterthought of your day – something that you could slot in whenever you had just a couple extra minutes to spare.
Well, that is the promise of the now-famous 7 minute workout.
Initially popularized by the New York Times, this workout is about as simple as it gets.
It consists of a series of 12 exercises that you do in quick succession as a circuit.
Here it is in all of its glory:
What’s more, you can do this workout anywhere you please, since it doesn’t require any equipment whatsoever!
Yup, you can do the 7 minute workout in the comfort of your living-room without spending a dime on a gym membership or a set of free weights.
Supporters of this much-hyped routine, like New York Times columnist Gretchen Reynolds, claim that it provides an effective and efficient muscle building and fat loss workout:
“In 12 exercises deploying only body weight, a chair and a wall, it fulfills the latest mandates for high-intensity effort, which essentially combines a long run and a visit to the weight room into about seven minutes of steady discomfort — all of it based on science.”
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Wow, all the benefits of a long-run and a visit to the weight room densely packed into 7 minutes!
If this were true, it would mean that I’ve been wasting my time with heavy weight lifting – not to mention that of my clients – when the same results could have been achieved with a few body weight exercises in a fraction of the time.
Well, I can safely say that this isn’t true – but that also doesn’t mean that the 7 minute workout is completely useless, as other fitness pundits have claimed.
In this article, I’m going to explore how effective the 7 minute workout truly is, and who, if anyone, it is most suitable for.
The Science Behind The 7 Minute Workout
One of the big selling points of the 7 minute workout – aside from the fact that it only takes 7 minutes and can be done anywhere – is that it is grounded in science.
However, as we know, a lot of things claim to be grounded in science that are actually complete bullshit!
As it turns out, the 7 minute workout is based around something called ‘high intensity interval training’.
This type of training is very much in vogue these days, and basically claims that doing short, intense bursts of exercise can be more effective than prolonged exercise at a more moderate intensity.
Part of this is because you burn more calories during high intensity exercise than moderate intensity exercise (which should come as no surprise).
However, it is also based on the concept of EPOC (which stands for ‘excess post-exercise oxygen consumption’), and how high intensity training can lead to a greater post-exercise calorie burn.
And there is some truth to all of this, but not to the extent that the proponents of the 7 minute workout would have you believe.
First of all, while it is true that higher intensity exercise tends to burn more calories than moderate intensity exercise, this doesn’t tell the whole story.
You still need to be putting in enough total time to burn a meaningful number of calories – and the 7 minute workout, by virtue of the fact that it only takes 7 minutes, falls woefully short in this respect.
Indeed, the high intensity interval training studies cited by the creators of this workout were 3 times as long – so hardly a fair comparison.
Moreover, as I have discussed extensively in this article, the actual impact of the much-lauded EPOC is incredibly minimal.
In fact, you’d be lucky to burn more than an additional 25 calories due to EPOC with a workout that short – so few that it’s hardly even worth mentioning…
In the end, if you are following the 7 minute workout with the goal of fat loss, it seems unlikely that you’ll be able to burn a meaningful number of calories – and therefore won’t really be losing any degree of fat as a result.
But What About Strengthening Your Muscles?
Ah yes, the second claim of the 7 minute workout is that it helps you build strength.
But like most body weight training programs, it suffers from one fundamental flaw…
That is, the exercises don’t provide enough resistance for proper strength or muscle development.
As I’ve discussed many times before, if you want to build muscle and strength in an efficient, effective manner, then your workouts need to be focused on progressive overload.
This means being able to add resistance incrementally, so that your muscles adapt and grow stronger over time.
The 7 minute workout fails to achieve this, simply because there is no way to make the workouts more challenging as time goes on.
And if the workouts stay the same, your level of musculature and strength stays the same too. End of story.
So Is The 7 Minute Workout Completely Useless?
Well, it’s hard to argue that the entire concept isn’t grossly oversold…
That is to say, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll lose a significant amount fat or build any degree of strength or muscle by following it.
However, I believe that it does have a limited application.
For people that literally don’t exercise at all, it provides a quick, low-cost way of introducing exercise into their lives.
In this way, by following the 7 minute workout, you can start developing the habit of regular exercise in your day-to-day life.
And as anyone who exercises regularly knows, developing workout habits and learning to integrate fitness into your lifestyle is a massive part of the battle.
So, if you are someone who hates the idea of working out, then you might want to give the 7 minute workout a try, since it allows you to dip your proverbial toe in to test the waters before moving on to something more challenging (read: effective).
However, let’s be real here: if you really want to get into good shape, build muscle, and lose fat, it’s going to take a lot more than 7 minutes of simplistic body weight exercises to get there.
In this way, it cuts to the heart of the difference between exercising and training, as I discuss here.
The 7 minute workout is mild exercise at best – and while no exercise is bad, it isn’t focused or challenging enough (or, frankly, long-enough) to produce anything more than a light sweat and the illusion of progress.
Have you tried the 7 minute workout? How well did it work for you? Let us know in the comments below.