The best 7-minute workouts on the planet are the ones you’ll actually do. This is what I know for sure after testing out more than 30 of them over the past few months. That and yes, they really do work. Adding in short blasts of high intensity interval (HIIT) training consisting of various strength, cardio, core, and flexibility exercises whenever I have a spare seven minutes in my day, have helped me get stronger, leaner, faster, and to feel better overall.
My favorites are all free, though you can subscribe for more features to most of them as well. But free works just fine. They’re all available on iOS and Android (except for one). They’re all built around the science-based concept of high-intensity circuit training using body weight, so you don’t need any fancy equipment. I’ve done these in hotel rooms, my office, parks, and even in a quiet corner at the airport waiting to get on a plane.
The study that kicked off this whole seven-minute workout fad four years ago notes that the secret-sauce is to strategically work different major muscles groups (upper body, lower body, core) each time you do the workout. This allows for one major muscle group to rest while you work the next muscle group, resulting in a super-efficient, super-effective routine.
The other important part? It has to be tough — 85 percent or more exertion for 30-seconds to one minute, followed by a 10-second rest. Or, as Heather Tyler, an NSCA-certified personal trainer and owner of Simply Fit LA wrote to me in an email, “you know that feeling like you’ve run up five flights of stairs, your heart’s pounding in your ears, you’re dripping sweat and you sound like a donkey wheezing?”
That’s basically the effort level most will need to strive for, and if you’re not fit to begin with, it’s an effort level you have work up to. The good news? Most of the apps have different workouts for beginners, intermediate, and advanced fitness levels.
Seven minutes of exercise per day a few times a week though isn’t a magical elixir that will give you a bikini-ready body in a few weeks. Michelle Golla, of Denver-based Boost 180 Fitness, says, “it’s important not to set unrealistic expectations for a 7-minute workout. It will not completely transform your body, but it is a great way to get your heart pumping and burn calories all day long when you’re pressed for time.”
Also, my favorite workouts might not be yours. “It’s like asking someone for the best musician, or the best craft beer,” says Daniel Freedman, co-founder of online fitness site, BurnAlong. He recommends trying several of the apps out to see which one works best for you. “Who is going to inspire you?” Freedman says, “find who you’ll stick with week in and week out.”
That said, here are my favorite seven-minute workout apps, based on my past life as a personal trainer myself, current life as a ridiculously busy working mom and tech journalist who reviews this kind of thing for a living.
If you’re looking for a customizable, well rounded, safe and truly free seven-minute workout app, you can download this one and get to work right this second.
It features 12 different 30-second exercises, with five seconds of rest in between. It’s great for beginners and athletes, syncs with your iPhone Health App to take your other daily movement into account, and the workout library has 22 presets that you can customize to create thousands of variations. You can swipe right or left during the exercises to see how much time you have left, watch the instructor, or listen to music from your iTunes.
Chris Jordan, director of exercise physiology at the Johnson & Johnson Human Performance Institute, demonstrates all 72 of the exercises, talks you through proper form, and gives you encouragement along the way.
The Smart Workout feature gauges your fitness and motivation level and recommends different workouts along with intensity increases—so you can’t slack off. Easily my favorite.
Seven App by Perigee
This app has a huge variety of exercises and would have made the #1 spot, if it weren’t for the fact that even though you can do it for free, you’ll end up paying for a subscription to access all of the exercises and motivational tools (such as the $4.99 7 Club that lets you go to each exercise without having to watch a marketing video first).
Seven has you do each exercise for 30 seconds, with 10 seconds of rest in between. It shows each move with 3D illustrations and written prompts for beginners.
What’s really cool about paying for it is the added “gamification.” You basically start out with three lives. If you skip a day, you only lose one major organ, but miss three days in a row and you “die,” or start over again. It’s the same concept as a Snapchat streak, only for your health.
Wahoo 7-Minute Workouts
This app doesn’t give you the fancy video demo’s or illustrations the ways the others do. If you want to see how to do an exercise, you have to watch a video separately, which is a little jarring. Other than that, it delivers just fine in a series of exercises, with a firm voice to get you through them.
The app can take you through one of three regimens, which offer a variety of exercises, including crunches, squats and beyond. If you want, you can upgrade for $1.99 to get more personalization options and the ability to log your workouts.
7 Minute Fitness Challenge App
This is another one you can try for free, but you’ll end up paying $2.99 and more for full access to all of the various exercises. I like that the video instructions are led by both male and female trainers, and they do a great job guiding you through each exercise via video, audio, image and text.
When you upgrade to the paid version, you can also track your weight and visualize your progress, which might help you stay motivated. It also shows a calendar of all of your workouts and lets you see them at a glance. I’ve had this app for three years now and they do a great job of updating it regularly to add new exercises and respond to user requests.
The tagline for this one is, “Train like a beast, look like a beauty.” Again, you can try it for free, but will end up paying $1.99 to access the timer and another 99 cents to access the best videos. (All About That Butt is one of my favorites.) The connects you with a YouTube fitness channel and a style of exercise called “pop-fusion” Pilates.
It’s less about jumping jacks and more about holding a particular pose (like a half squat) until you’re crying. The workouts are designed to tone, strengthen and elongate muscles. You can also search the library of workouts by the area you would like to target making a nice alternative for focussed results.
7-Minute Workout For Kids
Okay, this one if for the kids, but grown-ups can do it to too. With animated instructions, catchy music, and all the basics of the other full-body workouts, this is another top choice overall. The exercises include some more advanced moves, like tricep dips with a chair and push-ups with rotation, so it’s a great one to do with your kids.
Yoga Wake Up (iOS only)
This one is different from the others in that it’s yoga (duh), but also really mellow. You won’t be wheezing or sweating buckets, but you likely will feel better. The best part? You can do the movements from bed.
These short audio-only sequences include stretching and Asana along with breathwork, and setting an intention for the day. This mind-body workout is super convenient and great for someone like me who needs to slow down, in order to be truly healthier overall. There’s a seven day free trial, then it will cost you $5.99 a month.
Jennifer Jolly, Special for USA TODAY