Last week, the New York Times published a story about a “new” miraculous 7-minute workout that burns fat fast and helps you boost your metabolism. The news of the workout went viral—perhaps you saw several friends sharing it on your Facebook newsfeed.
Here’s the thing: The workout was just an example of a high-intensity circuit training (HICT) workout—a circuit of exercises performed back to back to back with little to no rest in between. HICT workouts have been around for a long time now, and their fat-torching, metabolism-boosting benefits have been widely lauded (such as in many issues of Women’s Health). In fact, the famed 7-minute workout you’ve been hearing about all week was just an example of an HICT workout, used in an academic article published in ACSM’S Health & Fitness Journal. That article reviewed 18 prior studies about HICT workouts, with the purpose of laying out guidelines for the most effective HICT routines—because HICT has become so popular. And while the article authors offered the 7-minute workout as an example of a workout that matched their guidelines, they clarified that it’s certainly not the only one that meets the requirements.
So, yes, the 7-minute workout is going to bust your butt. But you can do any good HICT workout to see similar fitness and cardiovascular benefits.
Want to know if a particular HICT circuit is worth your time? According to the study authors, it should involve these 7 components:
It targets all areas of your body equally
The purpose of the exercises should be to build strength in all major muscle groups, and to create a balance of strength throughout the body. You won’t do five exercises targeting your lower body and just one targeting upper body. Instead, all body parts get the same amount of attention.
It alternates between major muscle groups
One of the reasons that HICT is such an intense and speedy fat-blaster is because many HICT workouts alternate moves between major muscle groups–from legs to arms to core, for instance, so you’re not working legs for two or three moves in a row. This means that you don’t need to take long rest periods between moves, because while one muscle working, another is resting. Jumping from move to move to move with little to no rest in between guarantees that your heart rate stays elevated (and it helps you finish the circuit faster, because there’s no resting in between moves). And if you have one move that jacks up your heart rate (like jumping squats), you can lower your heart rate with the next move that’s less intense (like a stationary plank).
It targets each major muscle group with intensity
Old circuit training protocols called for 9 to 12 individual exercise stations, but the article authors say that the exact number isn’t as important as it is to make sure that all muscle groups are hit.
It keeps the intensity up throughout
The key to making an HICT workout work is to keep the intensity really high throughout. But the longer you do one move (push-ups, for instance), the harder it is to do that move at the same intensity as when you began. The article authors recommend that you give yourself enough time to do 15 to 20 repetitions of any particular move before switching to the next—30 seconds ought to be enough.
It minimizes rest time
Long rest time undermines the benefits of HICT workouts. You’re not supposed to recover completely between exercises, but you should be able to perform each exercise with proper form and technique. The best bet is to keep rest periods to 30 seconds or less—the authors say 15 seconds or less is ideal.
It actually lasts about 20 minutes
If you push yourself at 100 percent, you can achieve the health benefits of HICT in as little as seven minutes (some studies have even found four minutes to be effective). But most people can’t push themselves at 100 percent for that long, so considering your own limitations, you’ll actually get the biggest boost from doing two or three circuits total at around 80 percent intensity, for a combined time of about 20 minutes. Seven minutes will help you see results, but twenty minutes will be even better.
It’s adjustable, based on your physical ability and limitations
If you are overweight or obese, previously injured, or have other physical limitations, the authors recommend caution before trying an HICT workout. If you have high blood pressure or heart disease, avoid isometric exercises (like wall sit, plank, and side plank), and substitute in dynamic exercises instead.
So. About that famous 7-minute workout. To try it, perform each of these exercises for 30 seconds with less than 15 seconds of rest/transition time between moves: jumping jacks, wall sit, pushups, crunches, step ups, squats, triceps dips, plank, high knees, lunges, push ups with rotation, and slide plank.
And if you’ve already given the lauded 7-minute workout a try and are looking for something new, try one of these workouts from the editors of Women’s Health for similar results in very little time:
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