In May 2013, the New York Times reported on a research-based high-intensity workout for adults that lasts only 7-minutes! It boasts 12 exercises that only last 30 seconds each, with little to no equipment involved. It sounds too good to be true, but there is quite a bit of exercise science to back up the findings. High-intensity interval training, which is the basis of this workout, is a form of endurance training.
Needless to say, I’ve tried out the 7-minute workout myself. It is a pretty tough 7 minutes. These exercises are meant to be hard. But they are also over after 7 minutes. As a pediatric physical therapist, I wondered if the 7-minute workout could be modified for kids.
So is the 7-minute workout something you can do with your kids?
Of course! Intensive endurance training has been proven effective in kids as young as 8 years old. That said, I have also taken bits and pieces of the workout and used them as part of exercise program for kids as young as 5 years old. There are components of the 12 exercises that work on more than just muscle and cardiovascular endurance.
Here is a break down of each exercise in the 7-minute workout and why they are part of a pediatric physical therapist’s repertoire:
1) Jumping Jacks: Kids as young as 5 years old should be able to perform jumping jacks with proper technique. This is an exercise that works on total body coordination, motor planning, and endurance.
2) Wall sit: This is a great way to strengthen the hip and trunk. A lot of children I see have gait deviations related to weakness in their thigh and hip muscles. They also have weakness in their large muscles that are needed for postural control. Modified (less intense) versions of a wall sit can help work on muscles they need for bigger movements such as running, walking, and jumping.
3) Push-ups: A typically developing 6 year old should be able to do 8 push-ups in 30 seconds. Working on push-ups with proper form teach correct use of abdominal muscles and postural muscles in the upper trunk.
4) Abdominal crunch: Doing sit-ups is an obvious measurement of abdominal/trunk strength in children. It is part of many school-aged fitness tests (read about the FitnessGram here). A typically developing 5 year old is able to do at least 1-3 sit-ups without having to use compensations such as pulling up with the arms. Abdominal muscles are important not only for posture, but for the development of balance and ball skills.
5) Step-up onto chair: This is a big muscle group exercise. Steps of different heights can be used depending on age and ability. Often times, the number of repetitions a child can do is not the most important thing. What matters more is the quality of movements. Being able to step-up and down using either leg equally, being able to step-up without using hands, and being able to keep hips/knees in neutral alignment are all the things we look for in a typically developing child. This exercise will help build strength, symmetry, and lower body alignment so your little one can do age-appropriate skills such as stair climbing and jumping.
6) Squat: Whether a child does squats with hands supported or free-standing, squats work on large muscles such as the glutes and the core. In children who walk on their toes, I also have them work on playing and jumping in the squat position. It stretches out their calves and encourages them to shift weight back through their heels.
7) Triceps dip on chair: Triceps dips are hard to master. It is a modified version of the bridge position, or crab position, as I tell most of my 3-year-olds. It is another great way to encourage heel contact, abdominal muscle strength, and upper body strength. Being able to just hold the position for a 5 year old strengthens more than just the belly muscles. It strengthens the muscles that wrap around the trunk, promoting posture.
8) Plank: Ask anyone who has ever held a plank and they will tell you this is a full body workout! From strengthening the shoulder girdle, to engaging all core muscles, to working on balance, this exercise gives you the most bang for your buck. The importance of many of these things has been touched on previously, but it should be noted that proper shoulder girdle strength is imperative for many things, including ball skills, legible hand writing, and other fine motor tasks.
9) High knees running in place: Running in place with high knees encourages forefoot push-off, and strengthening of calves and quadriceps. Strong muscles in these areas allow for increased push-off during running and jumping activities, allowing a child to run faster and jump farther.
10) Lunge: Lunges are another great exercise utilized by physical therapists to address many different areas. Lunges can help improve ankle range of motion, quadriceps strength, and dynamic balance. Just like with squats, this exercise can be performed both with hands supported and free-standing, depending on the child’s strength and balance needs.
11) Push-up and rotation: This exercise is a way to increase the difficulty of a regular push-up, while also addressing the core muscles important for dynamic postural control. A child should only move on to these exercises once he/she has mastered regular push-ups with good form; regular push-ups can be substituted at station 11 if needed.
12) Side plank: This exercise is a way to increase the difficulty of a regular plank, while focusing primarily on rotator cuff strength and stability. A strong rotator cuff is necessary to prevent injury with repetitive overhead tasks, such as throwing and swimming. Many children who play competitive baseball, softball, and swimming, should be on a rotator cuff strengthening program to limit the frequency of overuse injuries.
Incorporating this short work-out into your family’s daily routine is a great way for the whole family to stay active and show your children the how important it is to exercise regularly. Always remember to get cleared by your physician prior to the start of a new exercise routine. If your school-aged child reports pain or if you notice significant difficulty with any of these exercises, please contact our physical therapists at North Shore Pediatric Therapy to set up an evaluation.
Co-written by Andrea Ragsdale PT
Stout, JL. Physical Fitness during Childhood and Adolescence. In Campbell, SK. Physical Therapy for Children ed 3. St. Louis, Missouri : Elsevier, 2006. pp 257-287