Turns out your elementary school gym teachers knew what they were doing. Those gym class exercises you loved (or hated) as a kid were actually working your core, helping your stability and increasing your heart rate. "You might not have known the benefits you were getting from gym class, but most workouts for kids pull from the primary five categories for sports training: movement prep, core stability, lower extremity stability, plyometrics and agility," says Jimmy Russomano, MS, CSCS, manager of education for the Injury Prevention Programs at HSS.
They also form a solid basis for a foundational workout you can do as an adult. Go through this routine to warm up before more rigorous activity or repeat the entire series several times for a total body workout. “After doing all of these exercises, you’ll be a bit sweaty, a little fatigued and your legs could be tired,” says Russomano. “Repeat the exercises or go onto something different. It’s perfect for priming your body and mind and warming up before running, tennis, basketball or another sport.”
Russomano recommends doing each exercise for 30 seconds to one minute based on the amount of time you have. “If you have five minutes, do each exercise for 30 seconds — that’s between five and 10 reps. If you have 10, 15, or 20 minutes, go through the entire workout three times, or spend a little more time on each exercise. The more times you do it, the more challenging it will be.”
Kickstart your workout with full-body movements to get your heart rate up, but don’t go all out right away. “These exercises get your heart pumping and build a little bit of flexibility,” says Russomano. “Beginning nice and slow sets a healthy pace for your workout, so you don’t burn out too quickly.”
For your jumping jacks, you should land in a slightly wider than shoulder-width stance as you jump out. Knee hugs are exactly what they sound like: Lift one knee at a time up toward your torso, hold it there briefly with both hands, then release and switch sides.
Strengthening your core helps you avoid back injuries, among other benefits. “Your core controls the position of your pelvis,” says Russomano. “When your pelvis is in a neutral position, there’s less stress on your back.”
Tip: Keep your body correctly aligned throughout the exercise. “Don’t crank your neck up to look forward or down at your toes,” says Russomano. “Look at a spot directly between your forearms.”
Improved balance and stability help reduce the likelihood of injury and improve all your movement. These bodyweight exercises strengthen the fronts and backs of your thighs, buttocks, hip flexors, and calves as well as improve balance.
Tip: Focus on your form rather than how deep you lower down. “Like your gym class teacher told you, technique is the most important thing,” says Russomano. “It’s not about getting as deep as you can, it’s about getting as deep as you can without compromising form.”
Double-leg heel raises:
Plyometrics are exercises in which you exert maximum effort for short bursts. They get your heart rate up and help you build power. “Exercising at different intensities works out your heart at different rates and makes all the activities you do all that more enjoyable,” says Russomano. These exercises are tiring, so plan for 30 seconds or more of intense work. “You’ll be pretty exhausted, no matter how much you exercise,” says Russomano. “If you go for a minute, you’ll be cooked at 45 seconds in.”
These combine progressive squats and heel raises and add vertical jumps.
Tip: As with the squats, focus on the correct technique, controlling your movement and landing in an athletic stance. “Land with your knees over your shoelaces and make sure that your knees aren’t rotating inward during takeoff or landing, and that your feet are quiet when you land” says Russomano.
Agility, the ability to change speed and direction while running, is critical for most sports. “You can’t change direction safely if you can’t change speed first,” says Russomano.
Stop and chops:
For this exercise, “chop” your feet at your destination by quickly moving into an athletic stance, feet slightly wider than hip-width apart.
Stop, chop and vertical jumps:
Tip: “Stick your landing after the jump,” says Russomano. “Make sure you’re completely in control.”