Get fitter faster with a seven-minute workout

Do you want to get fitter, faster, especially as you move into the new year?

More people are trying brief, intense periods of exercise, without breaks, since a report came out last spring that seven minutes can do the trick. The idea isn't new, but its appeal has caught on: It's fast and can be done without equipment (other than perhaps a chair) and workout facilities.

Seven minutes can give a person the fitness benefits of an hour or more of conventional workouts by combining aerobic and resistance training in a single burst of high-intensity activity, according to Brett Klika and Chris Jordan of the Human Performance Institute in Orlando, Fla., in their article published in the journal of the American College of Sports Medicine. The body's own weight is used in the resistance training portions of their sample workout.

7 Minute Workout

Certified personal trainer Jackie Polak demonstrates 12 exercises that are part of the 7 Minute Workout. (Video by Rebecca Droke;12/30/2013)

Traditionally, fitness experts recommend that resistance training and aerobic training be conducted separately, typically on alternate days. Current ACSM guidelines recommend getting at least 150 minutes of aerobic exercise a week, and eight to 12 repetitions of a resistance exercise for each major muscle group.

But high-intensity interval training (also known as high-intensity circuit training) is winning over the experts, and it is increasingly popular both with those who seek a faster way to get fit, and with those who want to spend less time at the gym. In ACSM's annual survey, high-intensity interval training topped the list of 20 fitness trends for 2014.

"This form of exercise has taken the fitness community by storm in recent months," said Walter R. Thompson, lead author of the survey.

This was the first year that interval training -- which includes the Klika-Jordan seven-minute workout as well as P90X and CrossFit commercial training programs -- was included in the survey. It bumped from the top spot the trend for educated, certified and experienced fitness professionals, which had been No. 1 since 2008.

A key element of high-intensity interval training was another newcomer to ACSM's list of fitness trends: body weight training, which nudged past fitness professionals to take second place. Body weight training uses minimal equipment for resistance exercises to make them more affordable.

When you combine resistance training and aerobics in a single workout, you gain more than time, say Mr. Jordan, the director of exercise physiology, and Mr. Klika, a performance coach at HPI. Research indicates you'll burn more fat during your workout, and your metabolic rate will stay higher for longer (up to 72 hours) after it, they reported in their article in the May/June issue of the Health & Fitness Journal.

"To maximize the metabolic impact of the exercise, time should be sufficient enough to allow for the proper execution of 15 to 20 repetitions," they say. For most, that's about 30 seconds.

They've devised a program consisting of 12 exercises, each to be performed for 30 seconds, with 10 seconds of rest in between. No equipment is necessary. The exercises can be performed in almost any setting -- at home, at the office, in a hotel room.

The order in which exercises are performed in a high-intensity circuit training workout is important, Mr. Klika and Mr. Jordan say.

"Exercises in an HICT circuit should be placed in an order that allows for opposing muscle groups to alternate between resting and working in subsequent exercise stations. For example, a pushup (upper body) station would be followed by a squat (lower body) station," they say.

It's also important to alternate between exercises that significantly increase heart rate and those that slow it down a bit.

The exercises in their sample program are: jumping jacks, wall sit, push up, ab crunch, step up, squat, triceps dip, Plank Core, high knees running in place, lunge, pushup and rotation, and Side plank Core. Local fitness experts think the seven-minute workout is a very good idea.

"There is a good amount of scientific data that supports high-intensity interval training," said Victor Prisk, an orthopedic surgeon for the West Penn Allegheny Health System and a champion body builder. "The main thing is that you really have to focus on getting your heart rate up. If you are not getting up to 85 percent of heart rate max, you won't get much benefit from the workout."

"It's a good idea. I do it myself," said Ron DeAngelo, director of sports performance training for UPMC Sports Medicine.

Because the resistance training is done with your body weight, there is little risk of injury. But high-intensity circuit training isn't for beginners, caution Dr. Prisk and Mr. DeAngelo.

"It requires an already high level of fitness to do the circuit properly," Dr. Prisk said.

"If you haven't exercised in a long time, it might not be good," Mr. DeAngelo said. "You may need to ramp up a bit before you can handle that kind of intensity."


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