the 7 minute workout – not quite

The 7 minute workout took the exercise world by storm in 2013 and spawned a number of smartphone apps to get you moving.  The trouble is the workout is not what it’s cracked up to be.

The concept sounded great when the workout was suggested to me by a friend a while back so I wanted to find the best app.  But before choosing an app I wanted to understand the workout better.  That to me was the first step.  Know what you want to do and what your body can handle first then find the best app to suit your personal needs.  My research turned up some interesting information so let’s start 2014 out right and uncover the facts.

7 minute Workout screenshotsThough the research on the 7 minute workout had come out earlier, the real boost came with the May 2013 publication in the New York Times Magazine of The Scientific 7-Minute Workout.  In the article the author writes

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.

The piece ends with,

Those seven minutes should be, in a word, unpleasant. The upside is, after seven minutes, you’re done.

The problem is that those statements are based on a misreading of the original research to be found at the American College of Sports Medicine’s Health & Fitness Journal in an article titled HIGH-INTENSITY CIRCUIT TRAINING USING BODY WEIGHT: Maximum Results With Minimal Investment.  In that piece the authors state at the beginning of the article that the focus of their research has very specific parameters based on their unique clientele.  In short, they work with elite performers who must maintain a sustained level of high performance.  The author information states that one author works with clientele “from professional athletes to corporate executives” while the other develops “corporate fitness programming.”  These performers travel frequently and thus find themselves both time-constrained, without exercise equipment, and no place to work out.  Also they face the possibility of fatigue with their usual routines and an imbalance in family, career, and personal life.  At the end of the article they give a sample workout that is to be repeated 2 or 3 times.  Therefore the 7 minute routine is to be seen as a repeatable set, not as a complete workout.  The article says that at “least 20 minutes is recommended,” and “this may require multiple repetitions (or circuits) of a multistation exercise circuit.” If you are serious about using this type of exercise routine I’d suggest reading over the DESIGNING AN EFFECTIVE HICT PROGRAM: Contraindications section of the ACSM article.

I don’t want to get too deep into the nitty gritty of all the issues but for a fuller discussion read the ACSM article linked above and The 7-Minute Workout: Is The 7-Minute Workout Too Good To Be True? at

Consider this a cautionary tale about exercise and fitness and following the latest trends.  As I’ve stated elsewhere on this blog, be sure you understand what you need first before going gung ho on a smartphone app.  Your body will thank you.

Updated:  6 January 2014


  1. Rob Welter · · Reply

    Interesting commentary but wide of the mark. The original article mentions that their clientelle are high-performing individuals from a wide variety of industries. You seem to have extrapolated that to read that they are elite athletes, but I read that as C-level executives.

    1. Robert, thanks for your comment. I see your point and I agree. I read performer as athlete. Performer as used in the article is a bit vague but in reading the author information I see that they work in the corporate world as well as with professional athletes but it seems that they are geared predominantly towards corporate. Therefore I’ve amended and fleshed out the article to provide a better reading. I thank you and my readers will as well. Chris, the app mentor.

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