I Worked Out Every Day For 30 Days — & This Was The Biggest Thing I Learned
By Jessica Chou
Pretty much everyone knows someone who is constantly going to the gym, training for a marathon, or eating a kale salad for lunch after an intense morning workout. Unfortunately for my health, I am not that person.
I am the person who loves to sleep in, considers stretching to be legit exercise, and refuses to buy a pair of running shoes (why bother, when they’ll never get used?). I’ll eat the kale salad, sure, but forgo the morning workout.
But I don’t want to be this way. As most adults know, exercise is an important part of being alive and healthy — and even my lazy ass can recognise that my sedentary lifestyle isn’t ideal. So I decided to try the lowest of low bars and see if I could work out for seven minutes, every day, for 30 days straight.
The “seven-minute workout” first made news back in 2013, when an article in the American College of Sports Medicine’s Health & Fitness Journal claimed a short, high-intensity interval training- (HIIT) based workout with 12 varying movements could be just as effective as a longer, less-intense session. The New York Times Magazine picked up the concept and branded it “The Scientific 7-Minute Workout,” and a short-workout movement was born. Proof: the endless amount of HIIT fitness DVDs and classes out there today.
Back then, my exercise ambitions peaked at a ballet class I made it to every other week, and truthfully, I didn’t give working out a second thought. Nowadays, however, I’m feeling less invincible than I used to. After a trip with my friends where they bribed me with gelato to do a daily five-minute workout with them, I was finally intrigued enough to try it on my own. After all, even I should be able to exercise for less than 10 minutes. And that’s the idea.
“A lot of the time when you think about exercise, you think of a class that’s going to be an hour long, and an hour is intimidating,” Brett Klika, a personal trainer and the author of 7 Minutes To Fit, tells me over the phone. His book — and method, which draws upon the ideas posited in that now-famous ACSM article — is meant to make working out feel slightly more accessible.
Of course, seven minutes isn’t technically enough exercise, even if you do it daily (sorry to burst your bubble): The American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise, or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise, per week for overall cardiovascular health. So 49 minutes a week, even at high intensity, is hardly going to cut it. But if you’re a total non-exerciser like me, starting with something small and manageable helps you ease in, Klika says, and that can lead you to bigger and more intense workouts.
So did it work? Here’s what I learned during my 30-day quest to becoming a little more fit and active.
Yes, sometimes working out can feel stupid, and you won’t want to do it.
This is how Klika’s book takes on the seven-minute workout: Each chapter focuses on strengthening sections of your body (upper body, lower body, abs, or whole body). Every page within the chapter gives you a full workout of 10 movements (planks, lunges, push-ups, sit-ups, etc.). You do as much of one movement as you can for 30 seconds, then take a 10-second break before moving on to the next one. If timed perfectly, the entire thing should take 6 minutes and 40 seconds.
The first couple of days of my experiment, however, I spent more time thinking about working out than actually working out. Instead of randomly choosing a set of exercises and getting it over with, I would pore over Klika’s book to find a page that didn’t include anything I felt silly doing, like shadow boxing or worm walkouts.
I eventually had to face the fact that sometimes I would feel dumb, and that’s fine — but it’s also totally fine to swap those exercises out for something I can do without cringing. When I felt silly running agility circles (what exactly are those good for, anyway?), I would half-ass the movement and get even less of a workout — which isn’t that great when you’re only getting seven minutes of exercise a day to begin with.
Variety is key.
At first, 10 seemed like so many exercises for someone who doesn’t know a barbell from a dumbbell. (Seriously — my editor added that. I don’t really know what those terms mean.) So I decided to start with just five movements and repeat the set to get up to seven minutes total.
After one week of repeating 5 exercises, however, I realised I was zoning out 3.5 minutes in, right after the first set.
Turns out, there’s a reason why the book offers 10 exercises. Not only is repeating a set boring, it also means doing the things I hated (like, you guessed it, shadow boxing) not just once, but twice. Instead of trying something new, I had to spend another 30 seconds punching aimlessly at the air.
One week into the experiment, I switched to doing a full set of 10 exercises — and powered through the movements that made me feel silly for a mere 30 seconds before moving onto something else. It made the moderately embarrassing exercises less embarrassing, and made the entire routine more palatable. You only have to do this for 30 seconds, I would tell myself, before starting a round of burpees.
I Hate Working Out With Other People — & That’s Totally Normal.
There are some things workout buddies are good for — holding you accountable for going to the gym; telling you you’re doing push-ups wrong; maybe even spotting you a few bucks for a coconut water at the end of a particularly gruelling workout. But while my boyfriend at the time did decide to join in on a few workout sessions, I found myself committing more to the workout when he wasn’t there.
Why? Being around people, especially while exercising, makes me feel extremely self conscious — and it’s even worse when I know the people around me. I can go to a barre class and feel stupid but still not care because I don’t know any of these people. But with people I care about? Well, let’s just say I’m a little insecure — and that insecurity would often get in the way of a perfectly effective workout.
It’s Okay To Take Breaks.
I confess, just going from zero exercise to 7 minutes of it made me sore for three whole days. It’s embarrassing, but true.
“Considering all of the different movements in the workout, it will probably make you sore for the first week,” Klika told me over email, noting that he typically tells clients to take a break in between days when they’re first starting off. “Don’t be afraid to take a day off.”
Of course, I didn’t listen, and instead half-heartedly attempted the workouts for the following two days. I still wonder if I would have recovered more quickly, and been able to work out more effectively, if I had just let my body rest.
I did end up doing a workout every single day, but I know there were days when I should have just skipped it. Day 10, for example, ended with me having a bit too much wine with dinner, but I powered through a workout only to have a searing headache after jumping jacks. “Some of the workout was hell — do not recommend,” I wrote in my daily notes. My editor later told me that exercising under the influence is actually really unsafe, so I repeat: Don’t work out while drunk. The bragging rights are not worth it.
7 Minutes Isn’t Enough — But It Definitely Helps.
Despite the fact that 49 minutes of physical activity a week is not nearly enough exercise for a grown woman, I still experienced noticeable results. I never had a magical moment when I found myself waking up and jumping out of bed every morning, but after the first few days of soreness, I found myself getting stronger and pulling off strength-building moves more easily. I also felt a bit more energetic, and on Day 24 I walked home from Whole Foods with a heavy watermelon in my arms and didn’t even break a sweat. That’s progress!
Of course, as Klika said, the seven-minute workout is a starting point. “You could even do it for 15 minutes a day and you might see some improvements in cardiovascular fitness, but this is mostly a gateway,” Klika said.
I wish I could say that this experiment made me a 6 a.m. morning run, smoothie toting, yoga-pants loving exercise guru, like those Instagram stars who always seem to have their shit together. I wish I could even say that it inspired me to renew my Classpass membership. None of those things happened, obviously. Instead, it just made me realise that exercise isn’t really that bad. Sure, I’m going to look awkward and goofy and I won’t always like it, but that’s okay.
The experiment also hammered home for me that you can exercise literally anywhere, and you don’t need a gym. I worked out in my friend’s apartment in Portland, shutting myself off in the guest bedroom for 10 minutes. I worked out after a wedding in my hotel room. I worked out at 1 a.m. in another hotel room after a flight home from said wedding was cancelled.
It also made me wake up and stop making excuses. As a fully-functioning adult, I have all I really need to be healthier. I can choose to work out if I want, or choose to take the day off because I had a little too much wine. And if I don’t exercise? That’s a decision I make — not something that’s entirely dependent on how expensive classes are, or how intimidating the gym is to me.
The “right” ending to this story would be that I now work out every day, religiously, for at least seven minutes. But I’m only human — on day 30, I decided to try shadow boxing one last time, felt dumb as ever, and decided to celebrate by taking a week-long break. Just this week, however, when I was feeling particularly lethargic and tired, I pulled out the book for another seven-minute set before work. It was easy, and really, not a big deal at all.
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