Photograph of an hourglass-style egg timer.

“sands of time 7Dii0937” by coldpenguin1952 is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

I have announced a lot of projects on this blog, and Sweat, the chatty workout timer that I first made public earlier this month, has become one of those rare projects that continues to grip my interest afterwards. The projects I love the most are those that lead me to start researching topics outside the strictly technological: how The Warbler’s Nest led me to study a certain folk-legend beyond the bare sketch I already knew, or how BumpySkies required a dive into the specifics of modern aircraft navigation. This week, Sweat joined this group by encouraging me to read the original journal article that first introduced the seven-minute workout to the world. This fired me up with indignant impatience for everything I didn’t know from years of using only third-order workout timers (based on newspaper articles based on that journal article). I feel more driven than ever to work on Sweat, bringing in more in-line with the workout’s original intent. But first, I want to fix the workout’s common name.

“The seven-minute workout” caught attention, and not for the wrong reasons, when the first mainstream news articles about it appeared — such as this New York Times piece, contemporary with the original ACSM’s Health & Fitness Journal article, that has served as my own go-to bookmark when I want to link to a primer on these exercises. Indeed, in the original article, authors Brett Klika and Chris Jordan cite the workout’s brevity as among its most attractive features. But, as I wrote years ago, “the seven-minute workout” is a terrible name, and recent work has given me both less patience for it and a suggestion for a sensible replacement.

Beyond its inherent hokeyness and ambiguity, “seven-minute” proves itself an unhelpfully misleading descriptor in light of the framework that Klika and Jordan propose, even given their design-emphasis on keeping things short. While it does indeed take seven minutes to run through one lap of their proposed workout, they unequivocally intend the exerciser to cycle through it more than once per workout session. Quoting the article:

Participants can repeat the 7-minute bout 2 to 3 times, depending on the amount of time they have. [ … ] Because most individuals may not be able to execute the program at an intensity significantly greater than 100% of their V˙O2max, following the established ACSM guidelines for high-intensity exercise of at least 20 minutes is recommended. This may require multiple repetitions (or circuits) of a multistation exercise circuit.

I found this shocking to read. For one thing, it puts the lie to literally every seven-minute workout timer I’ve ever tried, all of which declare you done after completing the twelfth drill. I don’t call any of them out for deceitful or inaccurate design, mind you; in retrospect they all clearly derive either from news articles touting this amazing new science-backed seven-minute workout routine, or from previous timers. That Times article from 2013 ends with “after seven minutes, you’re done,” and that misconception naturally percolated through all the future media and technologies that it wrought.

Certainly, Sweat counts itself among the misinformed, beginning life as yet another response to all the seven-minute-timer apps and videos that have jumping-jacked through the internet over the years. Reading the workout’s published origin drives me to pull Sweat out of this category, basing it more on first principles — and I want to begin with the name of thing it purports to implement. As the title of this post already spoiled, I intend to call it the Klika-Jordan workout from now on. (Non-alphabetical, yes, but it replicates the order of the authors’ names as they appear at the top of the Health & Fitness Journal article, and frankly I find it more pleasant to pronounce this way.)

As for what Klika and Jordan themselves call the workout — well, their article leaves that uncertain, actually. They do name their creation “HICT”, for “high-intensity circuit training” — but that describes the general class of a workout consisting of short, fast drills that exercise different major muscle groups in a cycle, while requiring no special equipment. The paper explicitly labels the twelve drills of the seven-minute workout as a “HICT sample program”, showing one possible way that a trainer could construct a HICT-based workout — and, perhaps inevitably, this example froze into immutable gospel as soon as the invention’s appeal hit mainstream news outlets.

And so, as a formal defintion, I might offer this:

The Klika-Jordan workout is a short but intense exercise routine described by Brett Kilka and Chris Jordan in the article “High-intensity circuit training using body weight: Maximum results with minimal investment”, published in ACSM’s Health & Fitness Journal, Volume 17, Issue 3. Specifically, it is the application of HICT described in the section “HICT sample program”, comprising twelve unique exercises to be performed in seven-minute bouts, with the whole circuit repeated up to three times.

I feel good about at last having a proper-sounding name for something I feel increasingly enthusiastic about — and which, I very recently learned, I haven’t spent half as much time with as I ought. So, this new term will go into all future discussion of Sweat, more of which I’m afraid you can expect so long as I dwell in this project’s honeymoon period.

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