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7-minute workout app puts a personal trainer in your pocket

The 7 Minute Workout Challenge app for the iPhone creates a balanced workout that's just long enough to make it worth your efforts and just short enough that you might do it regularly.

Aside from a weekly pick-up basketball game, I have not stuck with anything approaching regular exercise in my life. I have neither the time nor the inclination to join a gym, and any exercise program I devise at home seems to last only a week or two before it fades out and then stops altogether. Also, I hate jogging. Thankfully, I'm easily amused outdoors and can frequently be found skiing, skating, and biking in addition to playing tennis, touch football, and softball. (OK, softball doesn't count as exercise.) Despite my various athletic endeavors, I have never felt like I was in great shape. As I ease into my 40s, I feel an increasing need to get regular exercise for fear I may soon have to trade most of the sports I enjoy for golf and only golf. (I have nothing against golf except for the fact that it is impossible.)

Screenshot: Matt Elliott/CNET

But enough about me, let's talk about an iPhone app that may provide an exercise regimen that just might stick. At the start of the month, I spied a seven-minute workout app near the top of the iPhone charts. Such an app isn't new -- there are a number of them, including some that are free -- and I was dubious of their claims (or maybe lazy is a more accurate description) until I gave one a go a few weeks ago. I chose the 7 Minute Workout Challenge. It costs $1.99, which isn't free but decidedly cheaper than any gym membership.

The seven-minute workout is based on the concept of high-intensity circuit training -- a combination of aerobic and resistance training with limited rest in between. Some studies claim that such a workout can achieve greater gains than longer exercise routines with longer rest periods. I don't believe that working out for seven minutes a day in my bedroom is better than going to the gym for an hour, but the thing is: I won't go to a gym for seven minutes, let alone an hour.

You can knock out a seven-minute workout almost anywhere; all that is required is a chair and a wall. The seven minutes are divided into 12 exercises, each of which is done for 30 seconds with a 10-second rest in between each. The exercises are a mix of aerobic workouts (jumping jacks and high knees running in place), upper-body workouts (push-ups, push-ups with rotation, and chair triceps dips), lower-body workouts (chair step-ups, wall sit, squats, and lunges), and those that target your core (planks, side planks, and crunches).

Screenshot: Matt Elliott/CNET

The 7 Minute Workout Challenge provides a description, a photo, and a video for each exercise to teach you how to perform each correctly. The app provides audio that lets you know when to start each exercise and which one is coming up next. It also alerts you when you are halfway through an exercise or, in the case of the side plank, when to switch sides. The app supports AirPlay, and it plays alongside any music you may have going to get your blood pumping.

Screenshot: Matt Elliott/CNET

The app provides great motivation to stick with the program. For starters, it gives you achievements for such things as working out three days in a row, or every day for a month, or twice in a day. There is also an activity calendar that marks off each day you complete a workout. And there are three other workouts you can purchase for 99 cents each or unlock for working out for two weeks, one month, or two months straight.

Screenshot: Matt Elliott/CNET

You can also change the length of each exercise and the rest time in between workouts or cycles, and randomize the order of the workouts, but such changes are not recommended. Instead, it's recommended you do multiple seven-minute cycles if you are looking to increase your efforts. The first week, I definitely felt sore in a few areas, particularly my abs since the last time I did a sit-up was in gym class.

I'm three weeks in and hoping to get to a point where I'm going at least one cycle per day. I hope next month to begin working in two cycles a few times a week until that becomes the norm to where a few months down the road I'll be banging out three cycles a day. After all, working out for 21 minutes in the comfort of my home isn't asking too much. And even seven minutes a day beats zero minutes a day, and it certainly beats going to the gym.