Can you get fit with just 7-minute workouts? It doesn’t seem possible, but our writer gave it a try, and it had results she never expected…
Patience is a virtue, well so they say, but I say just hurry up and get on with it already! And my impatience for the ‘right here, right now’ is what has seen me ditching all kinds of things, from homemade bread (all that waiting for the dough to rise!) to green tea supplements (when will I notice a difference?) and even yoga classes (exactly how long until I can bend myself into a pretzel?). Basically, if I don’t feel or see the effect of a change in my daily routine the next day my motivation to follow up with the next session dissipates very quickly and within a few days I’ve given up entirely. Which is why the idea of a seven-minute workout really grabbed me… just seven minutes and I’d see results? Brilliant. The impatient person’s dream, I thought.
There are hundreds of seven-minute workouts that you can find online on YouTube or on apps, but >The New York Times published the original seven-minute workout. The idea of the workout was to give you a complete body workout in seven minutes, building strength and burning some calories along the way. It’s 12 exercises using only a chair, the floor and wall. And it’s great – if you’re time poor and especially if, like me, you work at a desk almost all day, it’s a perfect way to get your heart pumping a little while working all your major muscle groups. The reason those seven minutes are so ideal is precisely because it’s just enough to work your muscles but not so much that you’ve got any excuse for avoiding it. After all, who doesn’t have seven minutes in their morning? And another seven minutes in their afternoon? So for a couple of weeks I did the workout morning and afternoon. There were plenty of times when I couldn’t be bothered, where I felt I had too much to do, too much work, the laundry, the shopping and what was I going to cook for dinner? But with the workout being only seven minutes, I couldn’t even use that as an excuse. This worked great for a while…
But soon enough that impatient side of me kicked in. I didn’t feel that the seven minutes were really doing much. It’s certainly not a replacement for a decent gym session and honestly, I didn’t ‘feel it’ the following day the way I wanted to, even when I did it twice. It was time to try a different tack.
A New Approach
I found a seven-minute butt-focused workout. No weights, just me, my body and the mat. This is going to be easy, I thought. But the intensity and the burn, even in those few short seven minutes, was quite amazing to me. Still, I didn’t expect to feel it the next day. There was, however, a mild sensation of my glutes having been worked, so I decided to stick with the glutes workout for the entire week. By the end of the week, I can honestly say my jeans fit more snugly. This was the perfect result for results-driven impatient me. I had barely noticed the extra seven minutes I was giving up here and there, but I was seeing results! So then I tried other for-butt quick workouts and I found that as long as I did those same workouts several times over a few days my muscles responded how I wanted. After three weeks my butt had gone from chair-squashed shapeless to rounded and perky enough for a spaghetti strap bikini. I’m not kidding. The results were amazing.
With this new and exciting development, I went on to check out other seven-to-ten minute workouts for my abs. If anything, the results here blew me away more than the butt workouts. And what amazes me is how different the ab moves are, from workout to workout, but because you’re doing each move in an incredibly intense session (usually one minute on each move) you crank up the effort on some very specific body parts, in a way that you simply wouldn’t in a class or gym session. So, for example, I’d really feel my obliques burning while doing side planks with a hand sweep under (reaching up high, then sweeping that same arm under your body at chest level). And doing low and fast butterfly kicks with my legs extended (on my back) was a killer for my lower abs. Because it’s only a seven minute workout, I give each move my absolute all. If these simple moves were part of a larger workout, I wouldn’t be as focused, I’d likely perform them somewhat sloppily and my muscles wouldn’t grow as much as a result. But really, the reason these seven minute workouts were great is because they got me superfast visible results.
Seven-minute workouts are great, I’ve concluded, especially for me, but there are reasons why you might not want to bother: one, they won’t really help you lose much weight; two, they won’t really build much muscle compared to longer sessions at the gym, for example. The reasoning goes like this – if you’re aiming to burn calories for weight loss, seven minutes just isn’t going to do much. That’s absolutely true. I wasn’t aiming for weight loss anyway, but I’d argue that you could use seven-minute workouts to lose weight by doing several a day if you really wanted. In fact, if you’re results-driven and impatient like me, then doing a high-intensity seven-minute workout burn four times a day is definitely going to work better than doing a class three times a week, simply because you’re more likely to stick to it.
But, you’re thinking, maybe I was just lucky and it won’t work for you. After all, if it was that easy, why are we constantly being told to do at least three sessions of exercise per week of at least 30 minutes? The thing with government recommendations – any recommendations really – is that they’re generalized. And, for many people, adding three sessions of thirty minutes’ exercise per week is great and will get them healthier and fitter. But that doesn’t mean that putting in fewer minutes at greater intensity doesn’t work. In fact, science suggests that it is effective. Research from McMaster University published in medical journal >PLOS One found that even a few minutes of very intense exercise can produce health benefits similar to longer endurance-style training. Researchers compared sprint interval training (SIT) to moderate-intensity continuous training (MICT), looking at cardiorespiratory fitness and insulin sensitivity, both of which are good indicators of overall health. One group did three weekly sessions of intense exercise, another did moderate training, while another group did no exercise, for 12 weeks in total. The study participants had been sedentary prior to starting the programme. The SIT programme involved three 20-second ‘all out’ cycle sprints, with a two-minute warm-up and three-minute cool-down, and two minutes of easy cycling between the hard sprints, a total of ten minutes. The MICT group did 45 minutes of continuous cycling at moderate pace with a warm-up and cool-down. After 12 weeks, the results for study participants were not significantly different, suggesting that the intensity of the ten-minute workout gave similar benefits as the far longer 45 minute, less intense workout.
And the benefits of these shorts bursts of exercise are actually touted by government health bodies, alongside the advice to get those 30-minute blocks of exercise in – how many times have you heard the advice to take the stairs instead of the elevator? That advice is based on the science that adding exertion to your daily life, even if it’s under a minute of exertion such as when taking the stairs up two flights, is worth it. “Guidelines have suggested that moderate-to-vigorous activity could provide health benefits, but only if you sustained the activity for 10 minutes or more,” says Professor William E Kraus, of the Duke University School of Medicine, USA. “That flies in the face of public health recommendations, like taking the stairs instead of the elevator, and parking farther from your destination. Those don’t take 10 minutes, so why were they recommended?” As it turns out, they’re recommended because yes, they do actually have a beneficial effect. Kraus’s research, published in the >Journal of the American Heart Association, found that even those brief efforts of going up the stairs counted towards accumulated exercise minutes producing health benefits, as long as the intensity reached a moderate or vigorous level (moderate being defined as a pace where it’s hard to carry a conversation). Accumulating around 60 minutes per day of this kind of exercise, no matter whether it’s several flights of stairs, a seven-minute workout plus some cycling, a brisk walk to work, a ten-minute workout, and star jumps in your kitchen or whatever, produced a reduced risk of premature death of 57%. Suddenly those seven minutes seem even more valuable.
Then there’s the muscle argument. The argument against these short types of workouts for building muscle are based on the fact that to keep getting stronger you need to incrementally increase your load. That’s why we have weights and can adjust them, so once a move gets relatively easy, we can task our muscles with even more weight. But I found that by changing my seven-minute workouts from one video to another, my muscles were always given a great workout. I kept doing a workout until I could do it with perfect form without feeling the strain, then I’d switch to a different workout. And each workout was fine-tuning one small set of muscles and because of that I’d really feel it. A gym session might make all my muscles work hard but if I don’t feel it in a powerful way the next day, I’d lose motivation so for me, at least, the shorter workouts are a better way to build muscle, albeit in a more focused way.
Now, if you’re the kind of person who does regular hardcore gym sessions and you’re motivated to continue, great, carry on. But there are seven-minute workouts that might still benefit you. For example, if you’ve got tight hamstrings or problems with your hip flexors, a seven-minute workout focused on just that aspect could be exactly what you need to avoid injury. Similarly, adding a seven-minute intense Pilates workout can help work those tiny internal muscles that regular workouts simply don’t target. The key is to figure out where you need to fine-tune and then find or create a seven-minute workout focused exactly on that muscle area. I knew exactly how my sedentary job was taxing my body – my hip flexors needed serious attention, my glutes and my abs. So by focusing on those areas specifically, and changing the workouts I did regularly, I consistently ‘felt’ the effects over several weeks and then saw visible improvements not just in my shape but my posture too.
The fact is, a seven-minute workout can change your life and your body, you just need to pack those seven minutes with the right exercises for you, give it your all, and you’ll see the benefits. So in answer to the question, is seven minutes enough? I’ll give it a resounding yes. Just don’t even think about asking me to do eight minutes… I’m too impatient for that!