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Courtesy Jessica Talisman

Four seated exercises to improve focus in class

By Christie Melhorn, November 1 2016 —

As students, we spend more time sitting than we should. Between long lectures, hefty papers and pressing exams, much of our time and energy is spent in a chair. However, this doesn’t mean that you can’t sneak in a decent workout while sitting down.

Fitting in time to work out in class may sound ridiculous and counterproductive. However, working out in class is entirely possible without looking totally insane. Exercise can improve concentration and memory retention. Jennifer Cohen, a personal trainer and representative for Weight Watchers, told Forbes that even 15 minutes of movement increases energy production in your body, helping you stay alert and think clearly.

While little bouts of in-class exercise may not melt off fat or chisel muscle definition, alleviating fatigue or restlessness will help you feel better and make class more constructive.

I struggle to stay focused in class after about 30 minutes. In back-to-back lectures, I have to fight the urge to browse my Instagram feed. Based on the amount of fellow students I see with their eyes cast down at the phone tucked between their legs, I know I’m not alone in this. 

So the next time you catch yourself drifting off in class or mindlessly cruising through your phone, try some of the following workout moves borrowed from Shape magazine.

Abs and arm lift:

This subtle but effective move works the arms and abs. Place your hands flat on your seat with your fingers facing forward. With your legs crossed and your feet off the ground, press down into your hands to elevate yourself. Engage your core and hold for 20–30 seconds followed by a 30-second rest. Do this five times over. If you’re willing to, bring your feet up to the edge of your chair for an extra challenge.

Arm press:

This exercise targets your shoulders, triceps and back. To prepare, sit up straight on the edge of your chair with your legs together and your core engaged. Without smacking the person beside you, let your arms extend behind your back with your palms turned inward. Press your arms on the back rest of your chair, holding as tightly as possible for at least five seconds. Aim to repeat 10–20 times.

Booty and thigh squeeze:

Sitting on the edge of your chair, bring your legs and feet together. Place your hands beside the outside of your thighs with your palms facing forward and a slight bend in your elbows. Pressing your knees together and straightening your arms, squeeze your glutes tightly and engage your thighs. Unlike the abs and arm lift, do not elevate from your seat. Cycle through 30 reps in a row. I like to follow this one by a one-minute hold to really fire the gluteal muscles.

Mini Leg lifts:

Also known as the “wooden leg,” this move is a little less discrete than the others but can work your lower body and abs while also stretching your legs. Sit with your arms beside you and your hands lightly resting on the seat, palms forward. With a flat back, recline slightly to engage your lower abs. Extend one leg in front of you as high as you can and either pulse or hold for 10 seconds. Perform 15 reps on each leg. If you want an extra challenge, cross your arms over your chest. In super tight spaces, just elevate your knee as high as you are comfortable with.

When performing these exercises, it’s important to be mindful of the people around you and the space you are in. I’ll spare you the movie theatre “don’t be a Suzy seat-kicker” spiel, but try to avoid bumping into the people around you or making a lot of noise. Thankfully, these moves are quite subtle, allowing you to get in a decent mini-workout without causing a scene. In addition, they don’t demand too much cognitive attention, so you can still listen to your professor.

It’s fair if you worry about looking weird. But you can empower yourself in knowing that by doing these exercises, you are listening to your body and taking care of your needs. The curiosity or judgement of others is irrelevant to how these little exercises are benefitting you in the moment. If anything, you may inspire others around you to give it a try.

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