On a recent business trip, Chris Jordan struggled to find time for some much-needed exercise. "It was one of those moments when there are all sorts of barriers to training," he says. "I was in a hotel in Hong Kong. I wasn't sure whether there was a gym or not."
But Jordan didn't blink. With some space on the floor, a wall and a chair, he blasted through a seven-minute workout scientifically designed to deliver the maximum training effect in a minimum amount of time.
A longtime strength and conditioning expert, Jordan is the Director of Exercise Physiology at the Human Performance Institute in Orlando. For three decades, the Institute has focused on issues like long-term performance, psychological endurance and stress management, working with exercise scientists and sports psychologists to conduct research on Olympians, NFL players, soldiers in elite military units—and plenty of "normal folks" too.
One of the key takeaways from all of that research? "Skipping a workout should be the last resort," Jordan says. The danger in blowing off a training session, he adds emphatically, is that you lose that consistent dose of reinforcement that helps an athlete be at his best both physically and mentally. Skipping one workout also makes it easier to keep skipping workouts, creating a pattern of inconsistency that leads to unrealized development potential. So Jordan has set out to make exercise accessible to more people, despite time-crunched schedules and limited equipment.
The 7-Minute Workout—a high-intensity circuit-training routine that can be performed with little more than a chair and some space on a floor—is one solution he's developed.
"When we look at exercise, intensity and duration are the two important variables," Jordan says. "When intensity increases, duration can decrease. There's an opportunity to get the same benefits of a long workout in less time. There's some research saying that we get even more results from the high-intensity/low-duration workout."
In a 2013 ACSM article, Jordan and his colleague, Brett Klika, referred to studies suggesting high-intensity circuit training (HICT) can—within a matter of minutes—deliver benefits that meet or even exceed the benefits of long, low-intensity bouts of traditional cardio exercise, like riding a bike for 90 minutes.
Jordan designed the 7-minute workout to capitalize on the benefits of HICT, like improved VO2max, full-body strength gains, fat burning, decreased insulin resistance and a powerful hormone response, while also requiring the bare minimum of time and equipment. His workout includes 12 bodyweight exercises performed for 30 seconds each, with minimal rest intervals between movements. You recover in just the time it takes to transition from one exercise to the next.
The 12 moves:
- Jumping Jacks
- Wall Sit
- Abdominal Crunches
- Step-Up onto chair
- Triceps Dip
- High Knees/running in place
- Push-Up and Rotation
- Side Plank
"It's actually quite a hard workout," Jordan says. "It's vigorous and it's non-stop. You really get your heart rate up."
These 12 moves constitute a sample routine. Exercises can be interchanged and moved around. If you want a longer workout, you can repeat the circuit.
Jordan believes that, despite their apparent simplicity, functional-fitness bodyweight movements are in many ways superior to exercise machines, which restrict you to isolated movements. "You have an expensive machine for each muscle group that isolate movements," Jordan says. "These movements aren't natural. It's not how the body works." Jordan says you're much better off going for a run around the block or performing bodyweight movements like Push-Ups.
"People think that the Push-Up is just a chest exercise," Jordan explains. "In fact, the Push-Up engages the entire body." To Jordan, a Push-Up is a compound movement that works a number of major muscle groups, including the core. The onslaught of compound-muscle bodyweight movements in the 7-minute workout—stripped clean of significant rest—is what drives up the heart rate and intensity of the workout.
Jordan emphasizes that it's critical to be consistent with exercise—not just for athletic performance reasons, but also because consistency can be likened to the psychological demands placed on corporate executives, race car drivers, soldiers and students. He mentions the work the Human Performance Institute conducted with American chess star Josh Waitzkin, who was the inspiration for the movie Searching for Bobby Fisher.
"Josh made the connection between physical fitness and the high-stress situation of how to best move a pawn," Jordan says. "The value of physical fitness has universal applications."
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