The Science Behind Shortcuts

7 06 2013


The internet is an interesting place. People can post whatever they want and let the masses determine the integrity of the information. One of the hottest trends going right now is the magic of short workouts that claim to offer the same benefits as full gym sessions; and why wouldn’t these be popular? By nature, humans are lazy. We’ve been programmed to take the path of least resistance at every possible turn. Escalator instead of the stairs? Driving instead of walking? A 7-minute workout instead an hour!? Sign me up!!

I wrote up a quick piece on complexes a few days ago; an exercise technique that is not for the faint of heart. If you’re out of shape, you won’t even be able to get through your first set of complexes, let alone 4 sets with minimal rest. And I prescribe these as a finisher to normal workouts; something to be done on top of a full workout. So not only do you have to be in good shape to entertain the idea of doing these incredibly intense circuits, but in order to truly capitalize on them, you need to do other exercises beforehand. Could you do nothing but complexes and get into great physical condition? Sure you could, but Average Joe off the street can’t just jump into the gym and start ripping off complexes; you first need to learn the basic weight training movements, then graduate to more advanced movements, understand proper warm-up and cool-down techniques/prehab and rehab exercises, and of course gradually increase your work capacity over time until you’re finally ready to tackle and benefit from such an intense workout plan. Oh, and even if you become a master of complexes, your body will quickly adapt to your cute 10-minute gym sessions and your results will wane. Did I mention that you’ll also have to eat right if you want lean results? Right…

So anyway, this rant was brought to you by phenomenons like the much-ballyhooed Scientific 7-Minute Workout. Oh boy. Where to start? First of all, the fact that this was published by the American College of Sports Medicine is pretty sad. The concept of the workout? Do 12 consecutive bodyweight exercises in 7 minutes and that’s all the exercise you need:


My issues with this?

  1. This is great information to get people moving, but words like “scientific” and “high-intensity” have no place alongside this workout.
  2. You’d have the same issues here that you would with complexes, in that you’d first need to learn the movements before having any hope of putting them together in some form of concurrent, no-rest circuit. Furthermore…
  3. If you are not overweight and are in decent shape, this workout will be challenging for a few weeks, but your body will quickly adapt, and you’ll need to increase the resistance… but you can’t, because this is a bodyweight workout. If I’m prescribing much more challenging weight training complexes as a finisher to a real workout, how much benefit is this bodyweight routine actually going to provide? And how long do you expect the benefit to last if you can’t increase the resistance/intensity??
  4. If you are overweight or obese (ie, unhealthy; and the population that we want to encourage to move more, especially with simple bodyweight movements), this workout will be excruciating. Not only will your work capacity be a limiting factor, but it is almost certain that you will not be able to perform some of the movements; especially considering the two hardest movements (push-up & rotation and side planks) are the last two exercises of the circuit (of all the ridiculous things about this routine, I think this one actually takes the cake…)

Long story short, this is a fine little workout for fit individuals who are traveling and want to get a little sweat on in their hotel room, or for generally healthy people who eat right and are fairly active but don’t like going to the gym. Aside from that, there really isn’t a practical application for this routine, and it really has no place for people who are significantly overweight and unhealthy because it will be far too challenging and could be downright dangerous. The National Post actually just put out a piece challenging this 7-minute workout as well, and they cover a lot of what I just said: sure, this is fine for the fit, but could be dangerous for others. Also, can I just point out that if you’re super fit, you’re probably interested in doing more than this little bodyweight routine every day…


Moral of the story? If something sounds too good to be true, it surely is. The point of Fit in a FAT World is to promote health and fitness but with an emphasis on the most efficient ways to get into the best shape in the least amount of time. Super short workouts aren’t going to get you anywhere over the long haul, but there are “shortcuts” (ie, efficient ways to do things) and I’ve already compiled a lot of information on this site, and will continue to do so. However, some things won’t change:

If you are looking to get strong, you need weights. Period, stop, end of story.

If you are looking to add muscle mass, you need weights. Period, stop, end of story.

If you want to have a lean, toned physique- you guessed it- you need weights. Period, stop, end of story.


If you are looking to improve your health, lose weight, or burn some fat, you simply need to move more and eat higher quality food. That’s it. It’s not rocket science. And the more you move, the more challenging you make those movements (read: intensity!), the better you eat, and the more consistently you do all these things together, the faster you’ll see results.

Fitness and health is a continuum. You can move forward by doing the right things, or backwards by being sedentary and eating crap. The closer you get to the fit end of the spectrum, the harder it is to see results, which is why I put such an emphasis on intensity, weights, and eating unprocessed food. My main goal is to show people how important it is to stay active and get some sort of basic exercise, but in a perfect world I’d have everyone training for some sort of specific goal, because that would mean that we’d all be a lot closer to being in good health!

For more information on sustainable training “shortcuts”, check out my section of fitness articles from the drop-down menu above, or as always, drop me a line!

Happy Friday!