Could a 4-Minute or 7-Minute Workout Really Work?

Have you wondered? Could a 4 or 7-minute workout really work?

The truth and science about doing a 4 or 7-minute workout is coming right up.  Improvements in fitness can be reached in as little as 4 minutes total exercise time. However, you need to read the fine print. The intensities required to do that have to be equivalent to greater than 100% of VO2 max.

What is that?

Uncomfortable. Very uncomfortable. I often use a 0-10 scale with clients to define their “feels like” perception of exercise. Clients don’t usually reach a “10” whichis exhaustion. Working at an intensity greater than 100% feels like vomiting. That’s when you see athletes at the end of a race leaning over the side of the track. Few of us want to exercise there or want to repeat it, which is the whole point of finding exercise you love.

Still, there’s hope for adapting the protocol that works so well in science with young, fit men, to the needs of women in midlife. [Thus far there is no research on protocols featuring 100% intensities on women in peri-menopause and beyond]. So I’m exploring it here.

The research on these 4-minute workouts of a newer type show they aren’t as exhausting as those Tabata intervals done to 110% intensity. They involve exercise targeting Nitric Oxide (NO) release. NO release improves immune function, mitochondrial health and brain health.

Encouraging NO release requires high intensity exercise, but nothing like the original HIIT studies, at least featured in recent videos by the popular and respected Dr. Mercola, and Dr. Zach Bush, who Mercola credits for initiating his routine. Bush’s routine features four sets of four exercises done ten times.

Mercola’s spin on things:

  • deep squat or a jump squat
  • jumping jack (includes arms up and overhead)
  • shoulder presses

I have a few concerns as Mercoloa demonstrates with poor form (head coming forward, back arching). Had he had better form, it’s a doable, routine most of us can fit into a day no matter what. You’ve got to get up from that chair at some point! You can find other ways to activate muscles that will be more joint-friendly. Keep in mind any of the videos in this post are not the only way. Mercoloa (and Bush) suggest you repeat again three times during the day with at least two hours between. (6am/10/6pm)

Thankfully, Mercola does say, his 3-4 minute exercise – doesn’t replace weight training or stretches/yoga. But according to Mercola, may replace cardio. I’d suggest that a base of cardio endurance is important. We build a more intense exercise program on top of (not instead of). If you’ve got significant weight to lose, you also want to find movement that helps you feel good doing it.

What is Nitrate Oxide? (NO)

It’s stored in blood vessels and when you run out of oxygen in the muscles you release NO. You rebuild it every couple hours. It feeds the muscles for growth.

The goal is to run out of oxygen at the muscle groups (to fatigue).

Think back to some of your early exercise sessions when you heard:

feel the burn”and you did 100 of every (tiny little) move. Those classes are back and a part of their often short-lived success may be this phenomena. (Short-lived because often overuse injuries began to occur when repetitive movements required to work muscles caused injury to joints).

Consider why people swear by their sit-ups and crunches even with mounting research that lumbar and cervical (lower back and neck) injuries are directly correlated with performance of sit-ups and crunches.

Having more nitrate oxide makes muscles more efficient requiring less oxygen to work out at higher intensities.

Our NO levels dip as early as age 25 right around the time muscles peak and then begin to drop (unless you’re consciously doing something about it, aka lifting weights, ingesting adequate protein, and getting your sleep).

Cardio revs heart rate and blood flow. A 30-minute session (of adequate intensity) regularly will increase your body’s daily production of NO. When you don’t even have 30 minutes? I’ve got you covered with a 7-minute workout below.

Beet juice flies off the shelves where endurance athletes live. I’ve seen trainers of world champions hand their athlete a bottle of beet juice after a session. Other foods like spinach also gives you a NO edge. Studies show there was an immediate performance boost after drinking 5-9 ounces of beet juice then cycling among elite athletes.

Rotate this pre or post beet smoothie (from the You Still Got It, Girl fat burning breakfast smoothie book) into your routine and enjoy the health benefits along with potential performance benefits. Combine it with an NO producing 7-minute workout

7-minute workout finisher

Just Can’t Beet It Smoothie

  • Vanilla Paleo or Plant Power Protein
  • Handful of spinach
  • 1 cup pure filtered water
  • 1⁄2 medium avocado
  • 2 celery stalks
  • 1 cup frozen strawberries
  • 1 medium beet, cooked or prepared
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • 1 apple, cored
  • 4 ice cubes (optional)

Now, “the performance gains aren’t as big for amateur athletes, but the nutrients certainly won’t hurt, especially since beets have a lot of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties,” stated primary researchers.

Another Easy Answer?

A study in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology said 20 minutes of sunlight (UVA rays) increased NO and decrease blood pressure. It’s not an easy fix (we’d all love one). You need to focus on the rest of your diet and lifestyle. The bottom line is you do have to exercise. You just don’t have to feel guilty about not being able to get in an hour. And on those days or weeks when you can barely get 10 or 20 minutes? It’s OK as long as you stay consistent and use that time wisely.

There could be some small benefits to exercising short, outdoors, and following it with NO rich foods. Every little bit counts.

How to Best Use Your Precious Time: 7-minute workout

You’ve really got to make the exercise anaerobic. It makes me question whether “air-pumping” arms to the ceiling for 30 seconds will take your muscles to the point that you have no more oxygen available to them. If you’re fitness level is extremely low, it might. But if you’re here reading this my, guess is that your fitness level is higher and you’ll require a little more taxing exercise.

What can I expect from a 7 Minute Workout?
Results? Really?

In High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) there’s an alternating play of high intensity and very low intensity exercise allowing recovery. You’re able to work at much higher capacity for a short duration than you could ordinarily so long as you actually do take the recovery. If you’re someone who finds it hard to rest and begin too soon, or don’t actually rest between, your ability to exercise at the level intensity during work phase will be reduced and the entire activity becomes blurry. It’s potentially more risky than beneficial, as you get tired, sloppy, and lose form without recovery and fail to reach the high intensity you need to reap the physical benefit of the HIIT exercise.

In this High Intensity Circuit Training (HICT) there’s a one-and-done type strategy. You don’t have to repeat it. You’re going to take very little rest between but you are going to rotate through a variety of major muscle group exercises. This is not the high intensity of a 30 second interval. However, that could be good. The oxidative stress of HIIT means a “more is better” approach stops giving you more benefits and starts breaking down through oxidation. This short-form workout fits research findings that moderate-to-high, not low intensity, and not extreme high intensity has a sweet spot in small doses.

I’ve created a HICT set that mimics one I posted a couple years ago during “travel season.” I was off to a conference and getting ready to go, being there, and returning make a two-day trip like seven days of limited time to exercise. I can flip, trip, and fit my workouts in fast and easy anywhere, living room to hotel room when I don’t have time to get to a gym.

The 7-Minute Workout

You don’t need equipment, other than what’s nearby. A chair, counter, or ottoman will be the only prop you need. If you have knee or shoulder issues you do have to be a bit more careful. You have a few less options since body weight exercises are limited. To modify the exercises, you can go for the less stressful version or eliminate some exercises altogether and substitute the ones that do work for you.

I alternate upper and lower body exercises for two reasons:

  1. While doing an upper body exercise the lower body is allowed recovery
  2. The peripheral heart action involved means you’re working the heart a bit harder as it pumps blood upstairs then downstairs.

The goals of this short 7-Minute workout:

  1. Keep good form
  2. Keep the heart rate elevated
  3. Allow some but minimal rest between exercises
  4. Allow rest for muscle groups between exercises for same body part
  5. Alternate harder and easier exercises
  6. Insert full body cardio exercises between upper and lower body exercise

I’ve made this as knee-friendly as possible using body weight only. There are some exercises that could be too much for your knees, or shoulders and wrists. Modify or substitute another exercise, preferably that uses the same body part.

Spend approximately 30-40 seconds doing each exercise and 10 seconds in recovery as you transition to the next.

7-Minute workout set I

  1. Front Kicks & Punches
  2. Wall sit
  3. Push up (chair or wall to modify)
  4. Abdominal roll back
  5. Step up (stair, chair, or step)
  6. Squat
  7. Triceps dip on chair or step (use caution)
  8. Plank
  9. Knee Chambers
  10. Rear lunges
  11. Plank- renegade row
  12. Side plank (r/l)

7-Minute workout set II

  1. Front Kicks
  2. Wall Sit
  3. Push up
  4. Bridge – leg extension
  5. 1-2-3 knee (hop optional)
  6. Squat
  7. Triceps push ups
  8. Plank rear lift
  9. Front kick back kick (hop optional)
  10. Side lunges
  11. Pushup rotation
  12. Prone “swim”

I love to throw this workout alternative in to a reset week (I’m doing one right now) or a recovery week (for me or for a private client) that might also include conscious altered eating. Occasionally, I take an entire month and shift way down into no more than 20 minutes a day of exercise except for additional yoga (not power, not hot, for you type A’s reading). During that month I increase my vegetable intake and consciously support gut health with green smoothies, pre and probiotics, as well as plenty of rest. I don’t ignore protein but give my body a digestive break by lightening up with mostly soups, smoothies, and increased amount of plant-based* protein.

[*I know by personal testing that a purely plant-based diet does not work for me. It feels amazing for a month or so. The initial weight loss is so tantalizing. But muscle loss and weakness show up significantly during month two for me and by month three it’s noticeable not only to me but everyone. It’s temporarily sexy… we boomers (women for that matter) love a good diet right? We love those, “you look like you’ve lost weight” comments. Until we don’t. Slowing metabolism long term is not the answer, it’s part of the problem. Skinny jeans now, elastic waistband later. There isn’t a short cut.]

Is a 7-minute workout all you need ever? No. It’s a fair trade though on busy days, on recovery weeks, or days when you’re just thinking, “I’m not feeling it,” because moving a little may convince you otherwise. You will change your brain chemistry within seconds of starting exercise and you will feel a little more “badass” for having done it, and staying consistent.

That is what a #youstillgotitgirl does.


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