Does the seven-minute workout work?

by Nancy Foley, PT, DPT, OCS

Does the seven-minute workout work?

Last summer, yet another fitness fad/trend received some attention. It was first published in the American College of Sports Medicine’s Health & Fitness Journal, and then it received coverage in a variety of newspapers and websites, including the New York Times. While high-intensity circuit training (HICT) is not new, the specific circuit training cycle discussed in the article received attention because the circuit duration lasted approximately 7 minutes. In addition, the authors theorized that it could also benefit “the masses.”

It is important to understand that this article was a case report on how the two authors manage limited training schedules and environments for their elite-level athletes: using body-weight resistance without any other equipment, in a seven-minute workout cycle, and repeated as many as 1-3 times based on time availability. For their purposes, the authors felt that this training tool was an effective way to help their athletes manage their workouts while maintaining intensity and improving aerobic conditioning in the presence of busy lives.

Even though the article was published by a scientific body, there was no study.Even though the article was published by a scientific body, there was no study. There was no comparison to other methods of training. The population participating was an unknown number of “high-performing professionals.” The authors’ conclusion was that this program “seems like” it has health benefits, and that individuals who believed they did not have time for longer periods of exercise may use this form and get similar or better benefits. Or not. They didn’t claim to know, and had no proof.

It was a convenient workout for these exercisers, who may have nothing in common with the rest of us, and certainly by their description alone, have nothing in common with sedentary people. As with all forms of exercise, seven minutes is better than zero minutes as far as being active. But, as with all exercise, what’s the purpose? Are you exercising for stress management? For weight control, weight maintenance or weight loss? Or are you trying to increase endurance and speed, or expand your anaerobic tolerance?

The majority of sedentary Americans simply need to get up and stay moving for at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise per week.The majority of sedentary Americans, who still die most frequently from heart disease (the disease with the most modifiable risk factors), simply need to get up and stay moving for at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise per week in 30-60 minute bouts. Unfortunately, those are daunting numbers. Sadly, when it comes to weight loss, the equation is still this simple: calories in must = calories burned off (doing ANYTHING) in order for no weight to be gained. If you eat a Snickers bar, ride the bike until you burn those 250 calories. Now think about how many pounds you want to lose. It’s going take time and work and commitment. It’s going to take changing your mindset and your lifestyle for most people.

That said, several of the exercises in the seven-minute workout appear to have great value (wall sits, push-ups, crunches, squats). Others have higher risk-to-benefit ratios (steps up on to chair, triceps dips, planks, lunges), and a few may be completely inappropriate in the presence of certain conditions prevalent in most adults over 40 (jumping jacks, push-up and rotation, high knees running in place). If one is already fit, this routine is probably a great adjunct or hotel gym alternative. If one is unfit, this program is probably six exercises too many and 23 minutes of aerobic exercise too short.


Talking to a physical therapist is a great way to determine
the best fitness routine for your current level of conditioning and your goals.
Click here to find the Physiquality therapist nearest you.


Nancy Foley, PT, DPT, OCS Nancy Foley, PT, DPT, OCS, is the clinical director of the Edgewood office of Allegheny Chesapeake Physical Therapy, a Physiquality network member with 10 locations in Pennsylvania. Nancy is an adjunct faculty member at Chatham University, serving as a problem-based learning facilitator in the musculoskeletal course. A board-certified orthopaedic specialist, her interests include orthopedic and vestibular rehabilitation.


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For further information, look through our selection of articles on sports and fitness, in addition to the below links:

Hensley, Scott. Failing to get off the couch may contribute to heart failure. NPR, January 22, 2014.

Is a boot camp right for me? Physiquality, January 6, 2014.

Reynolds, Gretchen. The scientific 7-minute workout. New York Times, May 9, 2013.

Klika, Brett and Chris Jordan. High-intensity circuit training using body weight: Maximum results with minimal investment. American College of Sports Medicine’s Health & Fitness Journal, May-June 2013.

Physical activity. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, December 1, 2011.

Triceps dips. Health.com.

Video: Step-up exercise. Mayo Clinic.

Seven smart push-up improvements. Men’s Health.

Wall sit. WebMD A-to-Z guides.



The material and information contained on this Web site is for information only and is not intended to serve as medical advice or consultation.

Consult your personal physician before beginning any exercise program or self-treatment.