Recently, I watched a round of articles appear on the web regarding a “Seven-Minute Workout” coming out of the Human Performance Institute in Orlando. Essay after essay appeared out of nowhere, heaping praise on the program’s ability to produce gobs of sweat and show the challenger just how unfit they are (“I could barely do 6 tricep dips, let alone 12!”) and how true the science is behind it.
In an attempt to spread the good word about high intensity interval training, some very well-credentialed coaches created a sample circuit training program—a series of exercises intended to be completed in repeatable circuits at full intensity— which was quickly billed by many outlets as a “scientific 7 minute workout that anyone could do.”
High intensity circuit/interval training is glorious, and the research shows us as much. It is a fantastic way to train the muscles, become more agile, and even develop strength. The speed at which one completes the exercises can, also, contribute to cardiovascular health and endurance. I mean, HIIT is amazing stuff. However, the circuits the coaches created for their research were never intended to be the perfect training routine for everyone, because they know better: each individual is different, and when it comes to training, we are all in different places. There’s no possible way one training program could work with or for us all.
Even a cursory glance tells me that the program is lacking in training for everyone, because most people – practically all people – need training in side-to-side movement. Something as simple as side lunges train ankles, knees and hips for people who might otherwise struggle with the ability to balance and might be weak in joint support; and strengthen muscles for those of us who could stand to use a little extra support. That’s nowhere to be found in the plan.
There’s also no mention of progressions – that is, everyone won’t be able to do a tricep dip, and there’s no telling how far away they are from ever being able to do one. There’s more than one way to train a tricep, and challengers should know that they can ask for a different exercise to go in its place – something that will help them develop the muscle necessary to be able to gradually achieve a tricep dip. You can do 3 sets of 2 tricep dips, and take a year to get to do a full set, or you can do bent-over tricep rows with low weights to get you started. You can do tricep dips with your legs straight, or you can do them with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor. You need to develop muscle to work your way into the ability to accomplish the exercises; you shouldn’t be defeated before you’re even half-way through your set.
When it comes to looking at circuit training programs that other trainers have posted on the web or other pre-made workouts, it’s great to get an idea of what a “good workout” might look like, but you need to understand your own limitations and your own needs. Can you really do “high knees, running in place” if you have bad knees? Bad hips? These things matter, and seeing as how there are ways to train that not only help those with specific injuries or limitations, but ways to train those limitations out of you… it should be more than enough reason to take great care when approaching pre-made workouts. Not only could it be leaving out important training components you might need, but it could harm you, individually, way more than it could help.
What can you do, instead? Don’t be afraid to swap out exercises with other exercises that consist of the same movement. Can’t do a push-up from your legs on the floor? Do them with your hands on your bed, feet on the floor instead. Can’t lunge on your own? Hold onto a wall, a chair, or a desk as you get down. And definitely don’t be afraid to ask me via Twitter or Facebook for alternative movements. Like I always say, your body will thank you for it!
Erika Nicole Kendall is the writer behind the award winning blog, A Black Girl’s Guide to Weight Loss, where she blogs everything from fitness to food, weight loss to wellness, body image and even her own journey of losing over 150lbs. A trainer certified in women’s fitness, fitness nutrition and weight loss coaching, she can be found taking over your Internet on Youtube, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.