The Scientific 7-Minute Workout

7 minute workout
The 7 Minute Workout – a Circuit Training routine with 12 bodyweight exercises. Originally called the 12-station HICT program. Illustration by Ben Wiseman for the New York Times (see link below)

The Scientific 7-Minute Workout follows on from Michael Mosley’s findings that short bursts of intensive exercise can help to reduce many health risk factors and reduce the chances of developing diabetes and heart disease while also helping to manage weight.

The 7 minute workout is a simple circuit training workout which consists of 12 bodyweight exercises – the only equipment required is a chair, which is used for 2 of the exercises (the step-ups and the triceps dip).

Each exercise is performed for 30 seconds with 5 seconds rest between each – so 12 exercises will take 7 minutes (35 seconds x 12 = 420 seconds / 7 minutes).

The 12 Exercises

The exercises cycle through the 3 main areas of the body plus provide a full body exercise, i.e. each exercise is classified as either Total Body, Lower Body, Upper Body or Core.

  1. Jumping Jacks (Total Body)From standing position jump to land with feet apart and clap your hands above your head. Jump again to return to standing position. Perform as one fluid movement, minimizing pauses
  2. Wall sit (Lower Body): Simply squat against a wall and hold the position for 30 seconds
  3. Push-up (Upper Body): Classic old-school gym exercise – do it on your knees if you cannot perform push-ups for 30 seconds without stopping
  4. Abdominal crunch (Core): The core exercise to tone the abs. Keeps abs engaged, do not hold the neck
  5. Step-up onto chair (Total Body): Ensure your chair is solid first. Then step with one foot up onto the chair. Alternate leading leg each time. Ensure that you stand up straight on top of the chair
  6. Squat (Lower Body): The air squat – squat as low as you can but ensure that your torso remains upright – extend arms in front and upwards to help balance and keep body upright
  7. Triceps dip on chair (Upper Body): With hands gripping the edge of a chair, lower your bodyweight down and then push back up with your arms. The triceps are the largest group of muscles in the arm so work them hard
  8. Plank (Core): The classic core stability exercise, engage abs and hold position for 30 seconds
  9. High knees running in place (Total Body): Focus on lifting your knees to waist height and go as fast as possible. Be more like Usain Bolt than The Jitterbug
  10. Lunge (Lower Body): Step forward, keep body upright, bend both legs with rear knee touching the floor and the front knee not extending beyond the toes
  11. Push-up and rotation (Upper Body): Perform a standard push up as in exercise 3, and then move straight into a raised side-plank by lifting one hand off the ground and raising direct overhead
  12. Side plank (Core): Perform the plank on your side, resting on your elbow. Hold for 30 seconds

A Word Of Caution:

While this workout may indeed only take 7 minutes to complete, if you do not warm up before hand you will be at greater risk of injury during the more intensive exercises. If your hamstrings are not warmed up before a deep squat there is a risk of straining them. 30 seconds of jumping jacks and 30 seconds of step-ups may not be enough to warm up those muscles sufficiently.

Also, the original recommendation by the American College of Sports Medicine is that the circuit is repeated 2-3 times, making a 14 or 21 minute workout – 7 minutes is the absolute minimum.

Also, HIIT (high intensity interval training) does pose health risks, especially to those who are just starting exercise again. Read this health warning from the BBC by Michelle Roberts.

Similar Workouts

The idea of short and intensive workouts is not new. Prof. Tabata from Japan originally developed the idea while researching ways to boost athletic performance. Tabata training is now a very popular fitness method (see MetCon – Using Metabolic Conditioning To Get Fit Fast for more on this topic). These concepts are also at the core of the CrossFit method which mixes cardio, bodyweight training and weightlifting to develop powerful and athletic muscles while also torching fat. In fact, just about any of our circuit training workouts will produce the same results if you limit the rest between each exercise to increase the intensity of the workout.

References and Resources

This workout idea was originally published in the American College of Sports Medicine’s Health & Fitness Journal in June 2013. The workout was originally called the 12-station HICT program, HICT being high-intensity circuit training. The main takeaway from the research is that “HICT can be a fast and efficient way to lose excess body weight and body fat”.

HIGH-INTENSITY CIRCUIT TRAINING USING BODY WEIGHT: Maximum Results With Minimal Investment by Klika, Brett C.S.C.S., B.S.; Jordan, Chris M.S., C.S.C.S., NSCA-CPT, ACSM HFS/APT.  May/June 2013 – ACSM’S Health & Fitness Journal, Volume 17 – Issue 3.

Gretchen Reynolds from The New York Times then wrote The Scientific 7-Minute Workout, where the above circuit training diagram is sourced.

If you prefer to follow a workout guide on your phone, there is now a smartphone app that will guide you through the exercises – “7 min full workout” available on Google Play.

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