12 exercises deploying only body weight, a chair and a wall, fulfill the latest mandates for high-intensity effort, which essentially combines a long run and a visit to the weight room into about seven minutes of steady discomfort — all of it based on science.
“There’s very good evidence” that high-intensity interval training provides “many of the fitness benefits of prolonged endurance training but in much less time,” says Chris Jordan, the director of exercise physiology at the Human Performance Institute in Orlando, Fla., and co-author of the new article.
Work by scientists at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, and other institutions shows, for instance, that even a few minutes of training at an intensity approaching your maximum capacity produces molecular changes within muscles comparable to those of several hours of running or bike riding.
Interval training, though, requires intervals; the extremely intense activity must be intermingled with brief periods of recovery. In the program outlined by Mr. Jordan and his colleagues, this recovery is provided in part by a 10-second rest between exercises. But even more, he says, it’s accomplished by alternating an exercise that emphasizes the large muscles in the upper body with those in the lower body. During the intermezzo, the unexercised muscles have a moment to, metaphorically, catch their breath, which makes the order of the exercises important.
There’s a lot of scientific support for the benefits of this sort of high-intensity interval training. In recent months, articles have reported that even a few minutes of interval-style exercise increase endurance, squelch appetite and improve metabolic and cardiovascular health in sedentary adults more effectively than traditional prolonged-endurance exercise. In other words, seven minutes or so of relatively punishing training may produce greater gains than an hour or more of gentler exercise. What’s more, study subjects who did a combination of prolonged exercises (like running or cycling) and high-intensity interval workouts typically reported preferring the intervals.
Interval programs based on cycling, walking and running come with a downside, however: They improve overall fitness and health but do little to improve muscular strength other than in the legs. By contrast, the New Scientific 7-Minute Workout does more than build the large, obvious muscles that most of us can name-check, as Mr. Jordan puts it — the quads and glutes, for example; its exercises also engage smaller, often overlooked muscles in the back, abdomen, shoulders and hips that, when neglected and weak, contribute to back, neck and knee pain.
The 12 exercises should be performed in rapid succession, allowing 30 seconds for each, while, throughout, the intensity hovers at about an 8 on a discomfort scale of 1 to 10, Mr. Jordan says. Those seven minutes should be, in a word, unpleasant. The upside is, after seven minutes, you’re done.
The workout should combat a desk job’s “aches, pain and fatigue,” Mr. Jordan says, as well as teach “clean and efficient movement patterns,” even to those of us who tend to be clumsy. The exercises demand precision and, over time, should instill graceful, athletic coordination. Done correctly, they should make you healthier, stronger, less prone to injury and athletically more capable.
As a whole, the routine is also “extremely scalable,” Mr. Jordan says. People who are out of shape today may be able to complete only one or two exercises during the 30 seconds intervals. But after several weeks of practice, they may be able to perform five or more repetitions, he says, and can continue to intensify the routine’s physical demands by adding as many repetitions as possible in the time allotted.
It should be noted that the 7-Minute Workouts, the original and the advanced versions, are not meant to be your sole exercise. “Any routine, if that’s all you do, will become monotonous and demotivating,” Mr. Jordan says. So mix up your workouts. Perhaps alternate the old and the new seven-minute regimens over days or weeks. Go for a run at lunch. Join an over-40 rugby league. Buy a bike or a Speedo — use them together in a triathlon.
“The idea is to develop a relationship and routine with your body,”Jordan says, “so that it feels strong and healthy and you feel energized and excited to be up and moving.”