Sitting Saps Our Energy!
Ever tried sitting for hours on end? It stinks. Yet, we expect kids to do it in the classroom, and adults to do it for work. Bleh!
Sitting is not healthy for our bodies, minds, or productivity — so let’s find ways to add short movement breaks throughout our day. These quick exercises and stretches only take a few minutes, but make a world of difference in boosting wellbeing.
Movement Breaks for the Classroom or Work
As a teacher for the past 17 years, I’ve found that even a 30-second stretch or easy exercise can energize the whole room and refocus us all — students and adults alike.
Recently, I was asked by The Teaching Channel to create a video of some of these movement breaks to make them widely available. Exciting! Unfortunately, I had decided to cut my own hair the previous week, and there was… an uneven mop upon my head.
I persevered nonetheless, and produced the short film embedded in this article… which I hope will be useful to you despite my lopsided coiffure. Below is a written version of the exercises performed in the video, as sometimes that’s an easier format to work from. As with any fitness work, please use common sense, follow your doctor’s orders, and listen to your body to avoid injury.
1. Breathing Deeply 3 Times With Arm Raises.
I start every class with this: “Inhale through the nose as you lift your arms above your head and stretch, then exhale through the mouth as you flop down.” Do this three times, and you’ll find everyone’s focus and clarity far improved.
2. Peanut Butter and Jelly.
This is a challenging one, but I decided to start the video with it because it’s fun and silly. Balance on one leg, and with the other leg, bend it to form a triangle with your other leg, and then move your knee to make the triangle going in the other direction, then back the original way: kind of like a knife spreading peanut butter on bread! Don’t forget to do the other leg to even it all out — and add the jelly.
3. Arm Swirling.
Imagine a paddle wheel boat with swirling blades. Those blades are your arms, and you rotate them forward as fast as you can spin them, then yell “STOP! REVERSE!” and spin them the opposite way. Repeat until laughing and exhausted.
4. Isometric Hand Pushing.
Your own resistance can be better than any weight. Put your hands together (like a meditative prayer position) and when someone says “GO!” push your hands against each other as hard as you can. At “STOP!” release and shake it out. Repeat as desired. This is surprisingly hard, and can cause wrist discomfort if you’re not careful, so be alert to your body’s messages.
5. Goal Post and Scarecrow Arm Stretch.
As with many of these exercises, this can be done seated or standing. Put both arms up in a “Goal Post” formation, like the lower half of a rectangle and hold them up, pushing both elbows backwards to really feel a stretch in your chest and shoulders. (This is perfect for combatting the strain and poor posture that comes from hunching over a desk.)
Next, rotate your hands and lower arms downward, on the axis of your elbows and upper arms, until you’re forming “Scarecrow” — the upper half of a rectangle. Hold it here, then repeat. (Shout-out to the #mbf Beachbody workout for the inspiration.)
6. Leg Balancing Challenge.
Balance on one leg with the other leg frozen upwards in an exaggerated “marching” stance (kind of like you’re hiking Mount Greylock or Bash Bish Falls in slow motion). Have someone be the leader and call out “SWITCH!” to reverse so the opposite legs are down and up.
It becomes a funny game when the leader tries to trick people into moving by saying different words, or being about to call for a switch, then stopping. See who can stay standing! Love to “The Work” and “The Prep” for this exercise idea.
7. Punching Forward and to the Sides.
Get out that aggression by punching the air! If you do this with students, make sure they have enough space between them so they don’t accidentally smack each other in the face.
8. Wiggle, Shake, and Dance it Out!
A fan favorite! With or without music, trade fun dance moves. Consider having one student be the leader and teaching each other. Bonus for ridiculous and goofy ideas!
Just be careful everyone in the room knows how to avoid injury and doesn’t attempt unwise, extreme exercises. I once had a middle school student attempt to do back flips across my hard classroom floor, and I had to yank her out of the air to protect us all!
Reflecting About Exercise Effects
After the movement break, have students (or adults, or yourself) metacognitively reflect: How does your body and mind feel different from before we moved around? What does that suggest? Expect smiles, laughter, and a happily lightened mood — along with better focus after everyone’s settled back.
Other Resources for Movement Breaks
There are a zillion fantastic videos for kids’ and adults’ mini-exercise and stretch breaks out there, and many of them are free. Our favorites include Cosmic Kids Yoga, Kids’ Bop Dancing, and the classroom favorite, Go Noodle. Oh, and if you can, make a DIY standing desk to help that posture.
Love Movement Breaks?
Which movement breaks do YOU most love, whether they’re in this video or ones you’ve found elsewhere? Should I make another exercise and stretching video? Do share!
The author, Lillie Marshall, is 6-foot-tall National Board Certified Teacher of English, fitness fan, and mother of two who has been a public school educator since 2003. She launched Around the World “L” Travel and Life Blog in 2009, and over 3.7 million readers have now visited this site. Lillie also runs TeachingTraveling.com and DrawingsOf.com. Subscribe to her monthly newsletter, and follow @WorldLillie on social media!