I find the seven-minute workout the worst-named best thing I’ve discovered in years. I wish it carried any other name. As currently labeled, it smacks of The Four-Hour Work Week or Learn JavaScript in 30 Minutes or countless other completely disingenuous promises to magically improve one’s life with little to no time investment. It sounds so phony, and as such I always feel self-conscious recommending it to others.

However, as I dig into my fifth decade in earnest this month, I sincerely believe I possess a level of bodily strength and overall physical fitness I have never before enjoyed. To a significant degree I credit the seven-minute workout, which for the past 18 months or so I have practiced with a frequency approximating the rate at which I floss my teeth; perhaps three times a week, on average. From time to time, when I feel particularly restless and cooped up in my home office, I launch Cardiio on my iPad (one of the countless seven-minute-supporting health apps now present on any mobile platform), start playing a podcast on my phone’s surface speaker, and hit the floor.

Yes, we must admit that the name does exaggerate a little. Like all project estimates that cross my desk, I wish to double its budget, and then add a little extra time for slop. In fifteen minutes, though, I can prepare my exercise area — cleared floor-space as long as your height, an accessible wall, and a chair safe to stand on — and dress myself appropriately before hitting the button. This still gives me enough time left over for a short water break at the four-minute mark or so. At the end of this quarter-hour, I always feel amazing, a feeling that stays with me for the rest of the day, making me feel that much more apt with anything else I might do before bed.

And, let’s be clear: I do not credit the workout entirely for this. My long bachelorhood drawing to a close a few years ago played at least as major a factor. It spelled an end to my daily greasy microwaved breakfasts and pizza-box dinners, as well as the mixing in of all the other thoroughly documented benefits that entering into a mutual-care agreement with another adult human brings. (I strongly recommend applying some personal research into this route as well, should you find yourself in a position to do so.)

This fact ties into my somewhat oblique route to discovering what we may term software-assisted exercise. At the start of 2013, my doctor pronounced my blood cholesterol level unacceptably high, and my partner’s parents bought us a Kinect. I reacted to these coincidental phenomena by purchasing a copy of Nike+ Kinect Fitness, and I don’t mind saying that this transformed my entire attitude towards regular exercise. Far more than the impressively experimental but sleepily paced and ultimately anemic Wii Fit, I found the Kinect-driven workout a challenging and exhilarating way to engage in timed, high-energy, prompted exercise with clear goals and continuous, meaningful feedback. I loved it, and worked hard with it for months.

By that fall, I very much looked forward to purchasing an Xbox One, which included the next hardware revision of the Kinect, and in its marketing materials stressed exercise programs as a primary selling point. And then I noticed that Cardiio, an iOS pulse-reading app I’d already purchased as a novelty some time prior, had included seven-minute workout support in a free update. I had heard of this thing, and had naturally dismissed it as a silly fad among my fellow desperately lazy information workers. “Seven minutes”, ha ha, sure, pal.

Curiosity must have gotten the better of me, though, because clearly I took it for a spin. And within a few weeks, any desire to drop $500 or more on a new console-based exercise rig had faded away completely. Against all my expectations, the pure convenience inherent in packing a tough, full-body workout into just a few minutes, and allowing me to deploy that workout anywhere I could clear the space for it, made up for the lack of a wider variety of drills led by a cartoon coach on my TV who literally watched me through robot eyes and objected when my form became sloppy. As amazingly cool as I found the Kinect setup, it just couldn’t beat a three-dollar iPhone app for offering me the best results-to-time-investment ratio I have found in a software-assisted exercise program.

I urge anyone who doesn’t exercise regularly but who does have the ability to complete the workout’s twelve drills to please find a good seven-minute app and try this program. This remains true even if you can just barely do some of the drills, or if you need to apply “cheats” at first, such as the pillow I put under my chest for a long time until I became strong enough to perform good-form push-ups unassisted. It feels so good to get stronger, and I believe you can’t help but become a better person for it.


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