The Truth About 7 Minute Workouts: A Guide For Regular People

Easier Push Up Exercise
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Workouts With Benefits, If You Can Do Them

If you’ve looked at any of the 7 Minute Workout apps you might feel the exercises are too much.   You aren’t alone, and here is an explanation of why it’s too intense for many of us.  We also got the advice of PFP Trainer of the Year Andrea Leonard for some recommended easier exercises to help everyone start this popular workout.

How did it get so popular?  First of all, the popularity began with the New York Times writing in 2013 on the benefits of a 12 exercise, high intensity workout program outlined in ACSM’s Health & Fitness Journal.

Secondly, because no equipment is needed, and the time commitment is easy the 7 Minute group of apps contributed to the explosion in downloads with hundreds of apps between Apple’s App store and the Android Google Play store.  Because of the popularity you’ll find dozens of options on the App Store for iPhone/iPad apps (We list the 86 iOS apps here for you) and well over 100 for Android apps.

The Exercises Need to Be INTENSE – Be Careful!

The science shows benefits for the use of high intensity workouts at all ages.  And according to Andrea, it means the goal is to exert 85%-100% of your maximum effort for short time periods.  That’s hard and uncomfortable.  And for many of us that can be a recipe for frustration and injury.  Because it is so intense the basic 7 minute workout (actually 7 minutes, 50 seconds) that is used in the apps may need starting exercises that are easier and safer for many of us.

12 Exercises Tailored For You


 
In fact the authors of the workout recommend caution in using these exercises if a person is
  • overweight/obese,
  • detrained,
  • injured or previously injured,
  • elderly
  • has hypertension
  • has heart disease

How To Start Gradually

There are few reasons most of us should take a gradual approach to high intensity exercises.
 
First, 70% of US adults (1) fall into the “proceed with caution” category based on BMI (Body Mass Index) and should start with easier exercises.
 
Secondly, many of us don’t push outside our comfort zones into intense effort on a daily basis, so it’s best to prepare yourself to work into higher intensity gradually.  According to the study authors, “Proper execution requires a willing and able participant who can handle a great degree of discomfort for a relatively short duration.”
 
Lastly, form and technique are both important to prevent injury.  So easier exercise techniques (like walking in place vs jumping jacks) allow us to work up gradually to more intense techniques.
 
You can get the highest benefit of the High Intensity Circuit Training when it’s performed at your maximum effort for about 30 seconds per exercise.  This means you should be very uncomfortable for a short time because you are pushing toward your maximum effort and heart rate.
 
Because the intensity will stress your major muscles and joints, it is important to proceed safely:
 
a) first, if you haven’t done these exercises in more than a few months, or at all… start slow and work your way up
b) second, make sure your doctor has cleared you for this type of activity
c) third, consider a heart rate monitor to help measure your efforts
d) lastly, mix in other activity to help your muscles recover: walking, strength training and nutritious foods during the week will help build your overall health.
 

If you’d like some guidance, then try the free 7 Minute Workout Calculator to see how you should start.

 

The Original Exercises in the 7 Minute Workout

The authors of the ACSM Journal article, Brett Dlika and Chris Jordan (see Resources, reference 2), “High Intensity Circuit Training Using Body Weight” say “All exercises can be done with body weight and implements easily acquired in almost any setting (e.g., home, office, hotel room, etc.). The exercise order allows for a total body exercise to significantly increase the heart rate while the lower, upper, and core exercises function to maintain the increased heart rate while developing strength.

Exercises are performed for 30 seconds, with 10 seconds of transition time between bouts. Total time for the entire circuit workout is approximately 7 minutes. The circuit can be repeated 2 to 3 times.”

We reviewed one of the more popular apps, the J&J Official 7 Minute Workout with the 12 original exercises and 60 others that the app creators say will “ensure variety and provide different challenge levels in your workouts”.

The app is very easy to use with clear instructions for each of the basic exercises, a 30 second timer for each exercise and then a 10 second rest timer before the next exercise.  There are voice prompts also, so once you know the exercises you can go through the workout without having to look at your phone.

Jumping Jacks – do jumping jacks for 30 seconds, followed by a 10 second rest

Jumping Jacks Exercise Image
J&J Official 7 Minute Workout – Jumping Jacks

Wall Sit – get into the wall sit position for 30 seconds, followed by a 10 second rest.

Wall Sit Exercise Image
J&J Official 7 Minute Workout – Wall Sit

Push Up – do push ups for 30 seconds, followed by a 10 second rest.

Push Up Exercise Image
J&J Official 7 Minute Workout – Push Up

Abdominal Crunch – do abdominal crunches, followed by a 10 second rest.

Abdominal Crunch Exercise Image
J&J Official 7 Minute Workout – Abdominal Crunch

Step Up – do step ups for 30 seconds, followed by a 10 second rest.

Step Up Exercise Image
J&J Official 7 Minute Workout – Step Up

Squat – do squats for 30 seconds, followed by a 10 second rest.

Squat Exercise Image
J&J Official 7 Minute Workout – Squat

Triceps Dip – do triceps dips for 30 seconds, followed by a 10 second rest.

Triceps Dip Exercise Image
J&J Official 7 Minute Workout – Triceps Dip

Plank – do the plank position for 30 seconds, followed by a 10 second rest.

Plank Exercise Image
J&J Official 7 Minute Workout – Plank

High Knees – walk or run in place with high knees for 30 seconds, followed by a 10 second rest.

High Knees Exercise Image
J&J Official 7 Minute Workout – High Knees

Lunge – do lunges with alternating legs for 30 seconds, followed by a 10 second rest.

Lunge Exercise Image
J&J Official 7 Minute Workout – Lunge

Push Up and Rotation – do push ups and rotations alternating arms for 30 seconds, followed by a 10 second rest.

Push Up and Rotation Exercise Image
J&J Official 7 Minute Workout – Push Up and Rotation

Side Plank – do the side plank on each side for 15 seconds to complete the workout!

Side Plank Exercise Image
J&J Official 7 Minute Workout – Side Plank

Be careful and assess what you can do before you start too quickly.

Easier Exercise Options – 7 Minute Workout

Because of the intensity and difficulty of the ACSM example exercises we asked Andrea to use her expertise to suggest easier options.  These easier exercises help you start gradually and work up to the harder exercises.  You can choose exercises that match what you are capable of today, keep you safe, and prevent injury.  If you are uncertain the best thing is to work with a trainer who can help you fully assess your fitness and customize your workout plan.

Exercises can still be performed for 30 seconds, with 10 seconds of transition time between bouts.  The key is to assess what is comfortable for you as a starting point.  Listen to your body as you go through the workouts and only push to 85% or more when you feel ready.  As you progress work in the harder exercises.  If you’re at all uncertain about how to put workouts together for yourself, a personal training coach can help!

Suggested Options By Exercise

Easier options for Jumping Jacks

  • Walk in place
  • Mix in high knees while walking in place
  • Jog in place
  • Mix in high knees while jogging in place

Easier Options for Wall Sit

  • Wall sit with your legs at 45 degrees instead of 90
  • Wall sit for 10–15 seconds, stand up and repeat for 10-15 seconds
  • Do squats up and down from a chair to provide more support

Easier Options for Push Ups

  • Wall Push by standing arm length from a wall and leaning in to the wall and then pushing back
  • Counter, Bench or Stair Push-Up – make sure you have a stable surface to push against that is 3-4 feet off the ground.  Keep your body straight from toes to shoulders and do inclined push ups against the counter, bench or stairs.
  • Knee Push-Up – Push Up from the ground using your knees instead of your toes.  Work towards keeping your body from your knees to shoulders as straight as possible

Easier Options for Step Ups

  • Walk in place with high knees
  • Step Up onto the first or second stair in your home

Easier Options for Squats

  • Use a chair for support and your starting position.  Squat down partially instead of all the way to the chair.
  • As you progress squat closes and closer to the chair until you are comfortable with squats where your legs are at 90 degrees.
  • As you gain strength remove the chair.

Easier Options for Triceps Dips

  • Wall Push by standing arm length from a wall and leaning in to the wall and then pushing back
  • Counter, Bench or Stair Push-Up – make sure you have a stable surface to push against that is 3-4 feet off the ground.  Keep your body straight from toes to shoulders and do inclined push ups against the counter, bench or stairs.

Easier Options for the Plank

  • Do the plank using your elbows  and knees on the ground, keeping your body straight from knees to shoulders.
  • Start with 5 – 15 seconds at a time.
  • As you progress try short planks with your toes and elbows and increase the time you can hold the position.
  1.  

Easier options for High Knees

  • walk in place
  • walking in place mid raising knees slightly for 5-10 seconds
  • walk in place with high knee raises
  • jog in place
  • As you progress increase the elevation of your knees and the time for high knee raises.

Easier Options for Lunges

  • Step each foot forward with a slight bend to your knee instead of fully bending your knee for a full lunge.
  • As you progress increase the bend of your knees and how far you lunge toward the ground.

Easier Options for Push Up and Rotation

  • Since this is a difficult exercise, start with wall pushes and knee pushups adding in the rotation.
  • Wall Push by standing arm length from a wall and leaning in to the wall and then pushing back, alternating the arm rotation
  • Counter, Bench or Stair Push-Up – make sure you have a stable surface to push against that is 3-4 feet off the ground.  Keep your body straight from toes to shoulders and do inclined push ups against the counter, bench or stairs and adding in the alternating arm rotation.
  • Knee Push-Up – Push Up from the ground using your knees instead of your toes.  Work towards keeping your body from your knees to shoulders as straight as possible.  Add in the alternating arm rotation.

Easier Option for the Side Plank

  • Similar to the plank, use your knees as support for the side plank instead of your feet.  Keep your body as straight as possible from knees to shoulders.

Use 7 Minute Workout Apps With a Holistic Health Approach

Is a 7-minute workout the only activity you need?  The short answer is no.  So don’t forget to mix in longer bouts of walking and cardio.  And if weight loss is a goal, then the best mix will include short intense workouts, longer cardio sessions and focus on your diet to reduce calorie intake.

Because there are plenty of short duration, high intensity workout apps to choose from it’s easy to try a few and find the 7 minute workouts, cardio and diet ideas that help you to stay motivated and stick with it.

7 Minute Workout Apps with Heart Rate Tracking

Wahoo’s 7 Minute Workout app is the easiest one to find with a Google search, and has this description, “The 7 Minute Workout app is the #1 fitness app in 127 countries. Become your own personal trainer to lose weight and get fit with fast, simple daily workouts.”  This 7 Minute Workout app can be used for free, and can also be tied to Wahoo’s $79.99 heart rate monitor, a great way to help assess and build the intensity of the 7 minute workouts.
 
The Cardiio: Heart Rate Monitor includes the 7 Minute Workout and adds in heart rate tracking using light reflection off your face using the selfie camera and your finger on the back camera.   With an upgrade you can change the voice of the coach voice prompts to Darth Valor (half human, half machine) or Kayla (Gymnast and ballroom dancing champion).
 

Popular 7 Minute Workout Apps

Two apps to try at the top of the download list are the J&J Official 7 Minute Workout and the many variation of short workouts in the Workout for Women Fitness App.
 

More Workout and Fitness Apps

Try the apps from Azumio for more tools to help with your overall health and fitness.  They have apps for home workouts, walking, running, heart rate monitoring and calorie tracking.

Because there are plenty of short duration, high intensity workout apps to choose from it’s easy to try a few and find the 7 minute workouts, cardio and diet ideas that help you to stay motivated and stick with it.

Resources

(1) According to data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), 2013–20142,3,4,5  70% of adults in the US are overweight or obese: https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-statistics/overweight-obesity

(2)Twelve Exercise example of High Intensity Circuit Training in ACSM’s Health & Fitness Journal.

NY Times, “The Scientific 7 Minute Workout” , “https://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/05/09/the-scientific-7-minute-workout/”

ACSM Journal Article, “High Intensity Circuit Training Using Body Weight”, “https://journals.lww.com/acsm-healthfitness/Fulltext/2013/05000/HIGH_INTENSITY_CIRCUIT_TRAINING_USING_BODY_WEIGHT_.5.aspx”

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