Ask the Expert: Is the 7-Minute Workout For Real?

We asked a sports medicine doctor if the ‘seven minute workout’ really does anything.

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Is seven minutes enough? Stopwatch photo via Shutterstock

When we saw the New York Times article reporting on an American College of Sports Medicine-conceived, virtually equipment-free interval training workout that could reap the same benefits as a run and a weight lifting session in only seven minutes last month, we heard a hallelujah chorus. No more hour-long treadmill slogs! No more sweaty, painful bootcamp classes! A workout we can do in the comfort of our own apartment! Since then, everyone from Dr. Oz to CNN have reported on the workout.

So we tried this miracle workout, which is comprised of 12 exercises like squats, planks, high knees, and push-ups performed at high intensity for 30 seconds each with 10 seconds of rest in between, and found ourselves surprisingly out of breath by the end. But still, we couldn’t help but think that exercising for less time than it takes to watch a Friends re-run was, well, a little pointless. To settle the debate, we went to Bridget Quinn, a sports medicine specialist at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, for the low-down.

Q: Is working out for seven minutes really beneficial?

A: Yes. High intensity interval workouts are great for cardiovascular fitness (both aerobic and anaerobic), endurance, fat loss, and maintenance of muscle mass. Unfortunately, many workout regimens involve repetitive linear movement (e.g. the elliptical, bike, etc.) which can be great for aerobic conditioning but does not address the body as a whole, especially from a functional perspective. It’s funny, but many of these 7-minute workout exercises are things we had to do for our Presidential Fitness Test in elementary school! You should consult with your physician first, especially if you have any underlying cardio-pulmonary disease or musculoskeletal issues.

These exercises should be done with correct technique first. Once that is established, high intensity interval training works best with maximal effort. This should be gradually worked up to. From an aerobic perspective, you can target the heart rate to 70 to 85 percent of your maximum heart rate. The maximum heart rate [beats per minute] is roughly calculated as 220 minus your age.

If time is of the essence, then seven minutes of high intensity exercise is great in addition to keeping an active lifestyle (walking, using the stairs, etc.). If you have more time, then two or three repeats can enhance your aerobic and anaerobic fitness as well as strength.