Primer Exercises 1

Welcome to the first of my Primer Exercises series. I’ll sprinkle these throughout my blog posts, but here is the first bite!

After having done a plethora of group exercise classes and workout videos, I’ve found that there are certain exercises I actually like doing. Not because they feel good, but because they are, well, easy to add spice to. You know, how you have something like…boring old rice, but then you add sirarcha and suddenly it’s amazing?

Yeah…that’s exactly what I mean.

This is going to be a first of a series of primer exercises posts. With most aerobics exercises, there is usually some kind of baseline move. Once you master the baseline move, you add a modification to make it more challenging. I call the additions “extra credit” because I’m a nerd, but they’re really just ways to make a simple exercise more spicy. I mean, challenging. I think I’m done with metaphors for the day. It’s easy to just do more reps, but wouldn’t it be more fun to just change the exercise? You know what they say…change is the spice of life.

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Primer Exercise #1: Alternating knee lifts aka High knees

Anyone can do these – you pretty much do a version of this when you walk. Now start lifting your leg, leading with your knee, so that your knee is at or above your hip (hint: use a mirror). When you’re lifting, you should be contracting your core (it’s a core exercise…in disguise!!). Knee lifts are a low impact exercise so they’re easy on the joints, plus they require no equipment, so you can do them anytime you’re standing – waiting in line if you don’t mind drawing glances in your general direction, while cooking, while showering…


For the record, I don’t usually banana smile like that while I’m doing these. Too focused for that.

Extra credit:

– Do them in slow-mo, you know, for important things, like…balance.

– Do them on your toes. See how long you can do them without putting your knee down.

– Lift your arms straight out to the side while doing them.

– And of course…as you get warmed up, go a bit faster. Maybe start hopping from one leg to the other. Maybe start speed knee’ing. Go as fast as you can! Start moving, forward and backward…

Primer Exercise #2: Jumping jacks

Like really, I haven’t done these since middle school?! Jumping jacks are amazing at getting your heart rate up and they’re so easy to do. When I first started going these again after many years of not going to gym class, they were a lot harder than I remembered. Make sure you do these on your toes to avoid banging your knee joint.


Extra credit:

– Keep your arms straight and touch your ears every time with your arms.

– Hop twice when you’re extended and when you’re not extended. Or three times. Or four…

– Speed jacks – like sprints, but you’re jumping as fast as you can.

– Squat jacks – Do jumping jacks while you’re squatting. Be careful to keep your knees behind your toes!

Primer Exercise #3: Plank

I could do a whole post on plank variations. Holding a straight arm plank or a forearm plank is going to force you to tighten up all the muscles in your core, back, arms, legs…basically, well, everything? The hardest part about planks is form, so check a mirror. You’ll want your shoulders directly over your wrists and your back to be straight. You’ll want to contract your core so that your back so that you can keep a champagne glass on it.

In this first picture, my back is straight, but my but is not quite aligned with my upper back. Your core should be contracted and your butt muscles (glutes) squeezed. If your wrists hurt, try a forearm plank. I know it’s tempting to clasp your hands, but unless you’re trying to work your pecs, you’ll want to keep them unclasped so that you can strengthen your core.


Extra credit:

– Try holding it for thirty seconds, or a minute, or several minutes. I’m sure all of you can spare a minute of your day holding a plank.

– Go up into a straight arm plank, then back down to a forearm plank. Repeat until exhaustion.


– Do a push-up. If your elbows are flaring…you have some work to do on your triceps and lats.



If you are struggling doing a single push-up, drop down to your knees and do push-ups from there. Don’t worry! I’ve been there!


– Donkey kicks. Lift and kick your legs. Lift and kick your legs. Like uh, a donkey…

– Do floor sprints (also known as mountain climbers). Run while you’re in plank. Careful not to let your butt rise too high while you’re doing these!


– Do oblique abs by bringing your knees to your elbows (or as close to them as possible). These will work your oblique (side) abs.



Primer Exercise #4: Tricep dip (using a chair)

Triceps are too often ignored. They’re not the classic “glamour muscle” like biceps are, but they’re so easy to work. All you need is a – a stable one – and a wall, or a bench. In the left picture, I’m doing them with knees bent, but with the real deal, you’ll want to keep your legs straight. When doing these, think of two things: 1. Get your elbows as close to a 90 degree angle as possible and 2. Squeeeeeze your elbows together. They won’t touch unless you’re super ridiculously flexible, but the idea is to isolate the triceps.




Extra Credit

– One-legged tricep dips! Keep one leg high while you do these.

Primer Exercise #5: Pencil jumps

AKA jumping in place, but you’ll want to use your arms. When you’re getting ready to jump, bring your arms back…


Then bring your arms forward…


And up to the sky!


Extra credit:

– Squat at the bottom…and it becomes a squat jump!

– Star jump (or X jump) – make an X with your arms and legs when you’re at the highest point in your jump. Like a cheerleader. Better yet, cheer for yourself while doing it.

– Tuck jumps/”power squats’ – jump and bring your knees to your chest! These are a very high impact move, so be careful with your knees. You may want to stand on a mat to ease yourself to the floor, and remember to land with your knees bent.


Primer Exercise #6: Lunge pulses

Does anyone actually like lunges? This is one way to really work your glutes and stretch out those hip flexors. If you sit all day at work like me, you’ll want to stretch out your hip flexors for sure. What you’ll want to do is pulse up and down – just up an inch, down an inch (hey, are we in barre class or something?!). Repeat 20 times on each side.



Extra Credit:

– Straighten out your back leg for a nice quad/hip stretch!

– Bring your hands up in the air while doing it!


So there you have it: start out with 6 exercises. Do these for 5 minutes every morning and you’ll have some new skills under your belt!

I’m wearing:

Top: Tranquility Tank by Beyond Yoga

Sports Bra: Energy Bra by Lululemon

Bottoms: Flutter Skort by Athleta

Shoes: inov-8 F-Lite™ 240

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