Forget 8 Minute Abs, this is only seven, says the fitness expert

Credit: Courtesy Harley Pasternak

Is seven minutes of exercise all you need to get red-carpet ready?

A few years ago, the U.S. government came up with a set of pretty aggressive guidelines that every American should meet for physical activity. The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommended that adults get at least 2.5 hours each week of moderate-intensity, aerobic activity, such as walking, or 1 hour and 15 minutes a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity, such as jogging, or a combination of both.

The guidelines also recommended adults do muscle-strengthening activities at least two or more days every week.

In an era when people are working more hours a week than ever, and seem to fill every waking hour with emails, texts and phone calls, only one in five Americans have actually achieved the 2.5 hours of aerobics and two strength workouts/week goal suggested by Uncle Sam.

An article in the most recent issue of the American College of Sports Medicine’s Health & Fitness Journal has made quite the splash by suggesting that you can get fit with only a few minutes of exercise a day.

The authors compiled years of research and data and determined that we can improve our physical health by losing weight and building muscle in a seven-minute workout. That’s right – forget 8 Minute Abs, this is only SEVEN!

The seven-minute exercise sequence the researchers utilize combines aerobic and resistance training into a single high-intensity circuit that uses our own body weight. That means that not only can you get a good workout in under 10 minutes, you can do it without a gym and with no equipment, anywhere, anytime. And this is no gimmick – the ideas here are based on sound scientific evidence.

The high-intensity exercise circuit hits all most major muscle groups, alternating upper and lower in a specific order, while sustaining an increased heart rate and maximizing the metabolic impact of the exercises. The key here is high-intensity, as in 80-100 percent effort.

High-intensity circuit training (HICT) has consistently been shown to be highly beneficial for weight loss and overall physical health. Not only are you getting your heart pumping and burning calories by the cardiovascular effort, but you’re also speeding up your resting metabolism by building muscle with the resistance work. Studies show that these metabolic benefits can be present for as long as three days after HICT.

Here’s what I like about this program:

The authors explain that you don’t need gym equipment or even a gym membership to get in an effective workout – all the exercises are very simple and use only your body weight, so you can work out in your living room, in your office, in a hotel room, wherever.

As a result, “no time” and “no equipment” have essentially been eliminated as barriers to exercise. Also, in the time it might take you to drive to the gym, you can complete a thorough workout.

I appreciate that the program emphasizes the importance of intensity. With the popularity of Pilates and yoga (both have many benefits), people often forget that you need to push your body a little harder to see results a little faster.

There are, however, a couple of elements to their suggested circuit that I’m less enthusiastic about. There is no mention of physical activity (i.e., aerobic/walking/stairs) outside of the seven-minute circuit. Completing this workout does not mean we should be couch-bound the rest of the day. I suggest still wearing your FitBit and taking at least 10,000 steps a day ON TOP of doing a resistance training circuit.

If you already work out, and are looking to build muscle mass, or are training for a specific activity, one circuit may not be enough.

Another shortcoming of the program is that you shouldn’t repeat the same circuit of exercises every day for the rest of your life. This leads to repetitive stress injuries and results in plateaus. I recommend splitting the circuit into two equal circuits and alternating them.

I also want to be sure that a message of caution goes along with this workout, as the suggested intensity may be too great for the average person and therefore poses a potential risk of injury. You should be exerting enough effort to be uncomfortable, but you should never be in pain.

Lastly, the circuit of 12 exercises focuses too much on the front muscles of the body (the quads, front of the abs, etc.).

Below, I’ve designed my very own version of a seven-minute high-intensity circuit that is more balanced and strengthens the posterior muscles of the body (the back, glutes, hamstrings) as much as the front, ensuring proper posture and balance.

If you wish, split them into two workouts (Circuit A # 1–4, Circuit B #5–8) and repeat it twice. Make sure there is no more than 10 seconds of rest between each exercise!

1. REVERSE FLY – 45 Seconds
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Stick your butt out and lean forward until your upper torso is parallel to the floor. Raise your hands out at your sides. (Imagine you’re flying away – think of your arms as wings.) Stop when your arms are parallel to the floor, then slowly lower your arms back down toward your sides. Keep a slight bend in your elbows throughout the exercise and squeeze your shoulder blades together at the top of the movement.

For increased difficulty, add water bottles or light hand dumbbells to each hand. Rest 10 seconds.

Squat (beginner) – Stand straight with your feet a little wider than shoulder-width apart. Extend your arms out straight so they are parallel with the ground, palms facing down. On an inhale, push your hips back and bend your knees, like you’re sitting in a chair (you can actually use a chair for a reference point if you like). Keep your back straight and your weight on the arches and heels of your feet (not on your toes). Keep looking straight ahead the whole time and never lower your butt past your knees. Your thighs should end parallel to the floor.

Skater Lunge (advanced) – Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. With your right leg, step back and across your body, dropping your right knee behind your left heel. Then return to the beginning stance and do the opposite – step your left leg back and across your body, dropping your left knee behind your right heel. Rest 10 seconds.

3: TRICEP DIPS – 45 Seconds
Begin seated on a bench or chair (or the edge of a tub). Put the heels of your hands on the edge of the chair, slide your butt forward, and place your heels about hip-width apart on the floor. Slowly bending your elbows, lower your body 6 to 10 inches. Drive through the heels of your palm and contract your triceps keeping your elbows straight back (not flaring out at the sides). Now press your arms back up until they’re straight. Repeat.

For increased difficulty, extend your legs farther away from you. The farther your legs are away from your body, the more difficult the exercise. Rest 10 seconds.

Lie on your stomach, propped up on your forearms, with your hips down and your back as flat as possible. Rest the laces of your right shoe on top of your left heel. Repeat the exercise using your left hamstring, with your right leg working as dead weight. Do all the reps on your left leg, then repeat with your left shoe on your right heel. Rest 10 seconds.

5. SUPERMAN – 45 Seconds
Lie face down on the floor with your arms and legs fully extended. From this position, lift your arms toward the ceiling, as if you were flying. Lower back down and repeat.

For increased difficulty, add your lower body, lifting your legs at the same time as your arms so that your body looks like the letter “X” from above. Tap the floor with your hands and feet between reps. Rest 10 seconds.

Works chest, shoulders, triceps
Lean against a bench or desk with your arms straight and your palms on the edge of the desk. Keep your body rigid and in a straight line, forming a 45-degree angle. Line up your hands right above your collarbone and in front of your chest. Bend your elbows and slowly lower your body toward whatever surface you’re using. Extend your elbows and repeat. Rest 10 seconds.

7. STANDING SIDE BEND – 45 Seconds
Works external and internal obliques (aka love handles )
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, with your left hand behind your left ear and your right arm straight against your side. Gently twist your upper body to the right. Do 20 reps. Repeat in the opposite direction. Do two sets on each side. To step up the difficulty, do the exercise with light dumbbells (or a soup can or jug of water) in the hand of your straight arm. Rest 10 seconds.

8. PLANK – 45 Seconds
Rest your forearms on the floor and extend your legs back so your toes are on the ground and there’s a straight line from your heels to your shoulders. Contract your midsection and hold as long as you can.

What are your thoughts on this recent study? Do you think it’s possible to achieve your ideal body in only seven minutes each day? Tweet me @harleypasternak

Check back every Wednesday for more insider tips on Hollywood’s hottest bodies – and learn how to get one yourself! Plus: follow Harley on Twitter at @harleypasternak