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The Truth About the 7-Minute Workout

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Transform your body in just 7 minutes.

The idea seems like something you’d see on TV at 3 am, with some cheesy, fit pitchman making too-good-to-be-true claims. As you process the reported benefits—more muscle, less fat—everything in your body screams “scam,” but the source isn’t QVC—it is The New York Times. And we’re not talking about a piece of equipment that looks like it was dreamt up by 13-year-old boys, it’s research published in the American College of Sports Medicine Health and Fitness Journal.

Next thing you know, Forbes is writing about the workout and the buzz has spread to Good Morning America. The 7-minute workout is real and it works…at least that’s what the mainstream media would have you believe. And yet, doesn’t this feel a little played out? I mean, have we already forgotten about “8-Minute Abs?” It’s been nearly 20 years since it was released, and during that time obesity rates have nearly doubled.

Here’s a disclaimer: new scientific discoveries are capable of uncovering new information that alters what we believe and thought was true; in fact, it happens all the time. The problem is we oftentimes trust what we want to believe rather than seek to prove if it’s true. That’s the issue with the recent release of the 7-minute workout. We’ve been misled by some very false claims.

There’s no denying that exercise—in any dose—is good for your body. In fact, when I travel, I’m constantly settling for 10-15 minute workouts instead of my normal 30 to 60 minute session. And you can have a great workout in less than 10 minutes; and that approach can be part of a weekly routine.

But let’s not confuse the part from the whole: I did not build a healthy body by working out 7 minutes per day and only performing bodyweight exercises, which is the foundation of the program in question. And I’ll go on record saying that you’d be hard pressed to find anyone that has. After all, if it only took 7 minutes to get into great shape, don’t you think fat loss would be less of an issue?

Before you start cranking out the “perfect workout” at home and expecting dramatic results, or buy into the inevitable 7-minute Zumba session coming soon to a gym near you, here’s what you can really take away from the research, and what you can realistically expect to achieve if you follow this routine.

Where the 7-Minute Study Failed

Understand that research in the exercise field oftentimes falls within two categories: Studies that use prior research to validate concepts that are tested, or designs that test something new while building on previous research. The 7-minute workout is more of the former; it looked at the perceived benefits of a 7-minute workout, and deduced many benefits based on research that was already completed.

That doesn’t make the research bad or inaccurate, if not for one small problem: The studies used to “prove” the concepts don’t mirror the workout that is being lauded as the 7-minute fix for your body. That’s like saying that because there’s research showing low carb diets help with weight loss that a diet with no carbs will guarantee that you will drop fat. It doesn’t work like that. As always, the devil is in the details.

In the case of this circuit-training program, the claims outpace reality. That’s why I reached out to Brad Schoenfeld, author of The Max Muscle Plan. Schoenfeld is one of the leaders in muscle-building research, and a guy who literally wrote the book on packing on muscle. Here are some of his takeaways:

Not All Circuit Training is Equal

The general idea of the 7-minute workout is that you perform 12 bodyweight exercises as a circuit. This type of exercise is categorized as “high intensity circuit training.” No problem there, but once we moved beyond how to label the type of exercise that’s where the problems begin. “The authors make big leaps that are not substantiated,” says Schoenfeld.

Remember, the justification of this program is validated by prior research explaining why this type of workout will build muscle and burn fat. And yet, three of the four references cited are based on types of high intensity training—not interval training. “And the one circuit training study they do cite by Murphy et al. 1992 used a protocol that was nearly 3 times as long as the one proposed by the authors,” says Schoenfeld. Even then, that study found a boost in EPOC (consider this your metabolism) that resulted in a whopping 25 additional calories burned. I don’t know about you, but I don’t consider 25 extra calories a fat-shredding workout.

Mistake #1: The type of training in the 7-minute workout is not as good for fat loss as claimed.

Not All Exercises Are Equal

The other big flaw of this workout—besides the fact that the benefits are based on dissimilar types of training—is that the design of the program doesn’t lend itself to some of the big claims being made. No matter what anyone tells you, not all exercises are created equal. Some require more effort, activate more muscle fibers, and will generate more results. Does anyone really think that bodyweight squats are as hard as heavy barbell squats?

The authors correctly state, “When resistance training exercises using multiple large muscles are used with very little rest between sets, they can elicit aerobic and metabolic benefits.” That’s true. But if you look at the 7-minute solution, many of the exercises—crunch, plank, side plank—are not large muscle exercises, says Schoenfeld.

Another issue is that these exercises are all bodyweight moves. That’s not to say bodyweight exercise can’t be effective. I’ve seen enough crazy YouTube videos to know that bodyweight moves does a body good. And they are also extremely convenient for anyone without access to a gym. But the greatest benefit of high intensity training—not to mention the circuit training study mentioned–wasn’t performed with bodyweight exercises; they were done with added resistance, says Schoenfeld, where the weight could be manipulated to correspond to a given rep-max. (In other words, a percentage of your max strength.) The use of bodyweight does not afford this benefit, and for those who are fairly fit it would be difficult to achieve a consistent maximum level of intensity for 30 seconds that would compare to doing a similar length of time with added resistance. To use the squat example: Doing 80% of your 1-rep max on squats for a similar period of time would be much more difficult than doing 7-minutes of bodyweight squats.

What’s more, from an aerobic endurance standpoint, it has been shown that high-intensity interval training (HIIT) can be an excellent alternative to traditional steady state exercise. “However, the types of exercise performed here are not ideal for accomplishing the task,” says Schoenfeld. Exercises such as the crunch, plank and side plank will have minimal effects on energy expenditure and the amount of calories you can burn.

To further weaken their claims, the 30-second duration is not ideal for building muscular endurance. Generally you’d want it to be about twice as long to really focus on local muscular endurance, adds Schoenfeld. Even in terms of muscle building, the research is being stretched to muscle-defying limits

Mistake #2: The exercises in the 7-minute workout as not as effective at achieving the reported benefits.

Strength (and Muscle Building) Requires Added Resistance

Just in case you were wondering, it’s also very unlikely that this routine would optimize strength. The low-intensity studies (bodyweight is low intensity) have consistently showed suboptimal strength gains when compared to heavy weight training, says Schoenfeld. “That’s because the big problem with bodyweight exercise is that you are limited to what you weigh—there is no means to overload the muscles within a given repetition range. Thus, this routine would be a poor choice for anyone looking to maximize their strength.”

Mistake #3: Based on the research quoted, in order to receive the optimal benefits suggested by the 7-minute workout you need added resistance.

So What Does The 7-Minute Workout Really Accomplish?

The 7-minute workout undeniably has some benefits. In fact, I gave it a test drive and it raised my heart rate, and I’ve been training consistently for more than 15 years. To that end, there is nothing wrong with the workout, and it can be a great solution for anyone looking for a quick workout.

The problem is with the claims being made. The suggested benefits are very overstated for anyone who possesses even modest muscular fitness, says Schoenfeld. More importantly, it is not a well-designed routine for anyone who wants to maximize specific fitness goals such as burning fat, building muscle, or increasing strength. The funny part? The science used to “support” the claims is the same science that proves the claims are inaccurate.

While I wish the promises were true, changing your body will still require more than 7 minutes per day.

Make it Count,

Born

About Adam Bornstein

Adam Bornstein is a New York Times bestselling author, award-winning editor, speaker and business consultant. He is the CEO of Born Fitness, a company that specializes in viral content creation, publishing, online coaching, social media, and branding. View all posts by Adam Bornstein →
  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Sean-Burton/527027259 Sean Burton

    Most of your points seem to be problems with the New York Times’ flawed interpretation of the study rather than with the study itself. You say that Murphy et al used a protocol thats three times as long, but if you read this study you’ll notice that it isn’t actually a 7-minute workout at all, it specifically states that the circuit should be done 2-3 times for a total workout time of at least 20 minutes.

    As for it not being well-designed for ‘burning fat, building muscle, or increasing strength’, again it really isn’t meant for any of these things. It’s just meant to maintain a very basic level of health to stop you dying of a heart-attack at 40 years of age. Anything more than that will of course need more time and effort.

  • Born

    Sean: My problem was with the media storm that followed the study. The study itself discussed the fat-burning and muscular benefits and the media ran with it. The Times is what opened the door and everyone else rushed through. Go back and read the study, and it’s “summary” provides bottom line suggestions that this protocol is sufficient for decreasing body fat and improving muscular fitness, and that’s a stretch of reality.

    The purpose of the article isn’t to say, “A 7-minute workout is crap.” It’s to let people know what can actually be achieved and what goals accomplished in 7 minutes of training per day, even with an intense interval protocol. Look around at all the media and people in the mainstream now believe, “All I need is 7 minutes.” And when that 7 minutes proves to not be enough (and it will) we perpetuate frustration and misunderstanding. The real goal is to empower people and set realistic expectations so that they can improve their health and fitness.

    • Andy Bennett

      The article in the ASCM has been referred to as a “study” but it isn’t a study. It’s a summary article, an instructional piece really, about high intensity circuit training. It discusses how HICT can be used, then gives an example workout. The workout isn’t the core of the article, but with the colorful illustrations, it stands out.

      The NYT piece and other mentions in the popular press certainly badly exaggerates to potential of this type of training. But we must also be cautious not to unfairly criticize the article for not being what it never claimed to be.

  • Adam

    I’ve had the same issues with my friends telling me they want to do p90x or insanity for three months and expect to be fitness model ready like the people in the infomercials. Media or the fitness instructors, in my opinion, will never fess up to saying that those people have been through the program 3 or 4 times with a really strict diet before they see results like that. And when they’re pictured looking ripped, most of the time they just got done with an intense workout after drying out. Granted if it boosts their interest in getting fit that’s great, but all training regimens need to be looked at and researched before jumping into them.

    Thanks for the good read and reaffirming why we need to research new training regimens!

  • http://www.healthynomics.com Mark Kennedy

    I see a red-flag in any exercise program that says “efficient”. Efficiency is not a bad thing, but expectations for those doing the program must be set before disappointment and frustration sets in.

    Thanks for your insights Adam.

  • guest

    I think the 7-minute workout is NOT for building serious muscle mass and strength. It is marketing itself exactly for what it is… a quick way to increase muscle tone & strength. I’ve seen nothing about body building or muscle building being overly stressed. Toning up and building muscle mass are arbitrary, thus can not be assumed unless it is outwardly elaborated on in detail.

    Some people do 1 hour or more daily of eliptical, bicycling, or other aerobic machines. For people who are already active but do not use weights, this is a great way to introduce exercises that can motivate working out the entire body while toning up certain muscles and experience the importance of a full body workout.

    The great thing about any type of interval training is it can be done over multiple times. I lost 80 lbs in less than 6 months after I gave birth do my daughter, by combining this type of thing in repetition along with simple cardio – running & high speed walking outdoors. Workouts like the 7- minute workout CAN be very effective!

    If somebody wanted to become a beefcake, they would be lifting free weights…not doing the 7-minute workout. Let’s be real.

  • Doug

    As someone who swears by bodyweight exercise, I have to make a comment on one thing: squats and push-ups alone may not be challenging, but there are variations to add. Replace those with jump squats, spiderman push-ups or any other number of variants and they become many times more effective. Still, the 7-minute workout isn’t going to make you huge, but that’s not what everyone wants.

  • David H.

    You are so stuck up about being some expert on fitness that you don’t know how to reach those who need help. Get over yourself. The 7 minute scientific workout is awesome. Your article sucks.

  • Fred D

    I used to be in pretty good shape in college, but then started working and stopped working out for 3 years. Im now ‘skinny fat’ at 6’4″ 210. In the last 6 months I’ve gone to the gym a FEW times and it was embarrassing how out of shape I was. I rarely went because of that. Then I tried this workout. It kicked my butt by the end of the 7 minutes. I was sore for 2 days. Third day, I did it again. And every other day and so on. It’s not going to turn anyone into an athlete, but its SURE better than not doing anything because its too hard, or because too many people are watching you. I applaud them for coming up with a home work out that can get you started for FREE.

  • KomynCents

    Wow, have you ever missed the point of the 7-minute workout. It is not aimed at the 20% of the population that workout but at the 80% that, for many different reasons, do not workout. If this workout can motivate the sedentary, who would never dream of or able to afford going to the gym, to try getting some fitness at home then it is a good thing.

    It’s like you’ve compared a Lexus to a Corolla. Stop gloating over your literary and physical superiority and start celebrating any idea that gets the population off their duffs and starting to move.

    • sclivin

      Good point.

      People are narcissistic and will look to their own lives to determine an opinion – in this case here on this workout. Comparing it with the 20% who workout constantly, of course this 7-Min Workout is BS. But let’s look at the possibilities of starting this trend… It would be a great reminder to the 80% that anything is possible as long as you start small… just like how the 20% started.

  • Kevinm78

    What is your opinion of the exercise routine called for in “Body by Science”?

  • http://www.jeetchowhan.com/ Jeet Chowhan

    The purpose of the
    exercises should be to build strength in all major muscle groups, and to
    create a balance of strength throughout the body. You won’t do five exercises
    targeting your lower body and just one targeting upper body. Instead, all
    body parts get the same amount of attention.

  • Tasha

    I completely disagree with this. I’ve been doing the 7 minute workout once or twice a day for a week on top of my normal activity and I’ve already lost 4 pounds in a week. For me, that’s pretty satisfying.

  • thedoctorvictorious

    Obviously, the author did his research. He obviously read in the study conducted by the American College of Sports Medicine Health and Fitness Journal where it is stated that the seven minutes was a circuit and that an effective workout regiment included completing three to four circuits. I also struggle to see what this Brad Shoenfeld’s true expertise is in the matter as well. I’m sure that the term “expert” is a relative one, just like the term “Doctor” is a relative one over AC Journal. The fact is Mr. Bourne, that many people that live in the fitness world claim to be experts. This is often a misnomer as they have no real credentials other than that of a fit body. The people at the Journal, however, are doctors, registered Dieticians (whom, by the way, know much, and I stress much, more about nutrition that even doctors), and degreed health and fitness professionals who are in a constant cycle of research and development concerning the human body. I agree that you probably are deft in the world of personal training and most certainly know your way around a weight room, but please do not try and discredit something you truly know little about.

    • Dan

      Schoenfeld is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist and has a Masters in kinesiology and sports science. Moreover, his job is to train physique athletes, and THEIR job is to look lean, strong, and athletic. Maybe they didn’t state his credentials directly, but I assume you know what google is?

      • thedoctorvictorious

        Looking athletic and being athletic are two very different things. Like I stated earlier, I didn’t know , nor care to know his credentials. I don’t need to. I trust the people (many people) at the Journal who have their PhD’s, MD’s, and are RD’s, who say otherwise.

  • robg1

    I’ve been doing this workout for nearly a month now. Started off just doing ten to fifteen reps of each exercise to ease in during the first week.Second week as many repetitions as I could in the time. Week three I started doing the whole routine twice in a row. Week four the same. I’ve still been having my weekend beers and I’ve lost over half a stone. I think for the time invested (plus I never gave up beers at the weekend) this thing works pretty well!

  • Mike M.

    Note, the actual ACSM Health and Fitness article recommends doing the 7-minute routine several times in a row (at least 2-3). They do not actually claim 7 minutes is all you need. You gotta read the actual article, dude.

    Plus, as with any routine, you should modify it to improve it for YOU. Eg, I do jumping squats rather than regular ones, but I do regular ones first, as a warm-up for the much more intense jumping squats. And rather than crunches (which suck), I do full sit-ups while holding my arms overhead. And during the side plank, I hold my down leg up and support my weight with my up leg. And rather than tricep dips on a chair, I do gecko push-ups, and then skip the 10 second rest before plank, which I am already in at the end of a gecko push-up.

    Simple: Don’t be an idiot/drone, and it’s a great work-out…if you do it a few times in a row, as the article recommends, and especially if you add some sensible modifications, as above, if you’re already in good shape. Doing it 3 times in a row with the modifications I described is a hell of a lot better overall work-out than a 45 minute run, I’m certain of that. It may not burn more calories, but who cares. Just fill up on non-starchy fruits and vegetables, and good sources of protein, so you don’t take in too many calories, and you don’t need your work-out to burn a huge number of calories.

    But you can’t (at least, shouldn’t) do a high intensity workout like this every day, and that’s where long walks, moderate runs, elliptical, bike rides, etc come in. Duh.

    • considerphi

      Thanks for the info… I agree.

      I thought it was funny that this article talks about how “the big problem with bodyweight exercise is that you are limited to what you weigh.” I have the opposite problem. I struggle with those tricep dips because I simply don’t have the strength to weight ratio yet, certainly not in my rarely used triceps. And I’m sore for two days afterwards. It appears the target audience of this blog are much much more fit than the average American.

      However, it’s good to see from your post that there are ways to make stuff harder when I do get stronger. I’m doing 2 reps of the circuit 3 times a week to start. I appreciate that I can get home and do this, shower and be done in like half an hour.

  • Courtney_eloise

    You’re right, 7 minutes isn’t much of an intense workout.
    But its good enough to get you started and increase your fitness.
    It’s good because it motivates you to keep working out every day with different challenges.
    And for those more serious, you can obviously repeat the workout! Put it on 5 circuits (40 minutes) and Im pretty sure you’ll feel the burn, even if that’s only 125 calories!

  • Zen Rebeldiva

    For those of us that don’t live to look at our perfectly worked out bodies & don’t disdain those who are not living to work out – this is a great way to start on the road to a healthier life. 7 minutes helps to overcome a psychological hurdle for those who feel they are too far gone to even start helping themselves. It’s perfectionist attitudes like this that keep most average people from poking their heads in the door of a gym. Kudos to the 7 minute workout for opening a door to better health.

  • Zoe O’Leary

    What you say seems right but for me I’m not fat but I haven’t exercised in months. In 7 minutes I was actually sweating. As a woman I’m not to concerned with strength and muscle. I intend on increasing the amount of ‘circuits’ every week because I’ve heard that a good workout should raise ur heart beat for at least 1o minutes. I think it’s a good starting point for people like me.

  • JJ

    Shut the FCUK up! I do the 7 min workout (ONLY 7 MINS) every day and its been burning fat since I started it. Go spend your life in the gym and miss out on making more money, making more friends, having more fun! I’m looking more and more fit the more I do the 7 min workout. I’m not trying to look like The Rock meathead on ROIDS doing this workout, but I get compliments on my fcuking body every day I go out (and not stuck in the damn gym sore as fcuk trying to look like vin diesel). BTICHES!

  • Sonny Zuvich

    OK i think I’m going to put this 7 min workout to the test, just sitting here thinking about it makes me wonder how many pushups i can do in 30 sec. Ive bin working out now blindly for one month with incredible results in strength and body fat loss, without a how to guide or diet plan, i plan to have a six pack by this summer, that’s my goal and i have bin eating healthy foods meaning; no Chocolates, chips, sodas and what ever else is out there that is sinfully delicious. My best friend Lee told me he would do it with me DAILY! with one days rest in a week so muscles can recover. And right now me and lee are devising a diet plan, im also thinking about making you tube Video about the scientific 7 min workout plan for one month + results with 1 before and after photo, now this doesn’t mean i WONT!! mix my workout up a bit…after 1 week or so, i don’t want to get bored with it so I’ll get creative and add weights maybe even a weight vest some day, we shall see just to mix it up a tid bit…ive heard so much about this 7 min shenanigans some good some bad so i said F**** it!! im gonna give this plan/idea a roll on the wagon.

  • debbie

    I a 48 year old former gymnast, am way out of shape! The 7 minute workout has helped me get motivated and not discouraged!! I also added a 1 mile walk-jog to it! Happy so far jet finished week 1…

  • debbie

    Just finished week 1 lol