Do those 7-minute workouts and 7-day challenges really work?


HIIT is not for the faint-hearted or those who are overweight or obese. — Photos: AFP

Seven is the magic number that is currently rolling off the lips of fitness enthusiasts.

Take a look at the amount of seven-minutes-a-day home workouts and seven-day challenges that are flooding the Internet and trending on YouTube.

They make all kinds of claims, but is that duration really sufficient enough to make you lose fat and drop inches off your body parts?

Or is it a scam?

The whole seven-minute rage started in 2013 when the original high intensity interval training (HIIT) workout was published in the American College of Sport Medicine’s (ACSM) Health and Fitness Journal.

The intention was to get people to move and maximise their health benefits in the shortest amount of time, i.e. alternating between 30-second bursts of maxed-out exercise (making you breathe hard) and brief, 10-second periods of rest.

People jumped in and wholeheartedly embraced this short and sweet workout.

Subsequently, new research revealed that HIIT is only effective for improving cardiovascular capacity when performed at 60-second intervals, i.e. performing six to 10 exercises for 60 seconds each, and having a 60-second break between exercises.

The mechanics of HIIT are not new – elite athletes have been doing different versions of it since the 1930s.

Repackaged HIIT

Fitter people will find it difficult to see results with most of the HIIT workouts unless they add on resistance during the exercises. — 123rf.comFitter people will find it difficult to see results with most of the HIIT workouts unless they add on resistance during the exercises. — 123rf.com

Now HIIT has veered off its initial two to three times a week workout and is being “sold” as a seven-day home workout challenge.

Some trainers totally eliminate the rest period so that by the end of the seven minutes, you’re wiped out!

Cardiothoracic surgeon and television personality Dr Mehmet Oz talked about it on his show and brought in several trainers who say the time span is enough to maximise fat-burning as the body moves through aerobic and anaerobic phases.

Aerobic, or something that occurs in the presence of oxygen, is a type of cardiovascular conditioning where your breathing and heart rate increase for a sustained period of time.

Examples include swimming, hiking, skiing, running and cycling.

In contrast, anaerobic (without oxygen) exercises are activities that involve quick bursts of energy and are performed at maximum effort for a short time.

These activities cause you to be quickly out of breath, like sprinting, jumping or lifting heavy weights.

Generally speaking, aerobic exercises help increase endurance, whereas anaerobic exercises help increase muscle mass and strength.

HIIT combines both.

Does it work?

For starters, one circuit of this seven-minute HIIT workout may motivate the sedentary and relatively inactive folks to get moving – seven days is a pretty achievable target to hit.

Shorter workouts are effective for certain populations as a bit of movement is better than nothing to jumpstart the body.

Go as hard as you can and don’t stop until you feel your body is really burning out.

Some studies show that increasing the intensity of training and limiting rest time between exercises leads to greater gains, even for shorter overall exercise time periods.

Realistically, you may only see a slight difference in your body in seven days as the exercises become easier to perform.

Perhaps a pound (or about half a kilo) off the scale at the most, and minimal body fat loss (particularly subcutaneous fat), but not beyond that if you’re not eating a balanced diet.

But promises of a flat belly in seven days?

Come on. Spot reduction does not work.

You have to work your overall body to lose fat and see a difference – we can’t choose where to lose fat from.

While seven minutes of high intensity exercising will inevitably get your blood pumping and your heart rate up, it may not be enough to give your body a full workout.

Fitter individuals should aim for two or three circuits (i.e. 21 minutes), or add the seven minutes to the end or beginning of their existing routines.

Or to really maximise gains, separate the two workouts.

Start your day with one circuit of the seven-minute workout in the morning, then follow up with your regular workout in the evening or vice versa.

Measure your progress at the end of the week.

Alternatively, if you have no time for your regular workout, you can do one set of the seven-minute workout in the morning and another in the evening, which takes up only 14 minutes of your day.

Often we neglect our core and cardiovascular fitness, so this science-based workout can help to fill in those deficiencies.

Create your own mix of exercise sequences and include those for the total body, lower body, upper body and core.

This allows muscle groups a chance to recover in between.

And here’s a tip for you: Exercisers can burn up to 20% more body fat when working out on an empty stomach.

This is a much more attainable feat in the morning before breakfast, than after a full day during which you would be eating regularly.

If like me, you cannot exercise on an empty tummy, have a light drink or bite first, do the seven minutes, then eat breakfast.

Not for beginners

Remember to stretch at the end of the workout to cool your body down.Remember to stretch at the end of the workout to cool your body down.

If you’re relatively fit, it’s not going to get you far because your body needs more stimulus to progress further.

Most of the HIIT workouts use bodyweight exercises, and unless you add on resistance, it would be difficult to achieve a consistent maximum level of intensity for 30 seconds. One minute works better.

If you are untrained or overweight, there is potential for injury and pain if proper alignment and technique are not used.

These are hard workouts, so it’s not unusual to experience muscle and joint soreness afterwards.

The HIIT programme only works if you give it your all.

This is not a low impact activity, so it’s not for everyone.

Moves such as jumping jacks, squats and lunges can be hard on the knees.

Push-ups can be stressful on your wrists and shoulders.

Planks will be tough if your back muscles are weak.

Non-exercisers should try something simple first, such as marching in place for seven minutes.

For anyone who has tried the original seven-minute workout consisting of 12 exercises and found it too difficult to complete, the study’s co-author Chris Jordan recently released a newer and “gentler” variation: The Standing 7-Minute Workout.

In this version – as the name suggests – he has eliminated all the exercises that may cause strain on the person’s body by having them drop to the floor, including more difficult moves such as planks, push-ups and crunches.

The idea behind this new version, as Jordan explained to The New York Times, is to make the workout more accessible to as many people as possible, including “my triathlete elder brother and my 82-year-old mother”.

As with all workouts, it is imperative that you combine the workout with a balanced diet, warm up at the beginning, and stretch at the end.

Exercise is hard work, especially if you don’t enjoy it.

But, if you don’t push a little, you won’t get the results – not in seven minutes or seven days.

Revathi Murugappan is a certified fitness trainer who tries to battle gravity and continues to dance to express herself artistically and nourish her soul. For more information, email starhealth@thestar.com.my. The information contained in this column is for general educational purposes only. Neither The Star nor the author gives any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to such information. The Star and the author disclaim all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.

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