Caroline Shannon-Karasik’s AfterGlo

College Student Edition: Exercises to increase brain power

 By: Caroline Shannon-Karasik’s


Sure, coffee and sugar are two of the average college student’s favorite methods for spiking his or her interest in extensive math equations or ancient world history. But another – albeit healthier – way to give your brain power a jolt is a solid sweat session. What’s more, they don’t have to require a huge time commitment to have a positive effect.

“Exercises that quickly increase your heart rate, while incorporating multiple muscle groups at once, are great for college students or anyone short on time,” said fitness expert Robbie Darby, founder of RAD Experience (

Darby designed these three exercises to specifically target cardiovascular and muscular endurance, in addition to enhanced flexibility and core strength.

“So push away from your desk and perform each of these exercises for one minute each,” she said. “Rest only when needed and complete as many cycles as you can in whatever time you have that day.”

1. Fuel up with power jacks. “Yep, these are the same ones you learned in the third grade,” Darby said of this power jacks exercise. “However, this time [you will] use the power of your brain in order the maximize the power of the movement.”

Darby said, for example, a student should imagine his or her arms and legs are heavier than they actually are so that when performing the jump, the movement will become more explosive and dynamic. Darby also recommends pulling in the abs with each jump “as if you are blocking a punch to your gut.”

“Whew, who knew jumping jacks could be so awesome!” she said.

Benefits: Cardiovascular training not only leads to a healthy heart but burns major calories and reduces stress.

2. Power through long study sessions with lunges. To perform these backward lunges with a power kick, start with your legs together, hands on your hips. Lunge backward with your right leg, creating a 90-degree angle with both legs – the front knee in line with your ankle and the back leg in line with your hips. Don’t lean forward. Then, in one explosive movement draw the right knee up level with your hips, tighten your glute muscles – the muscles in your rear end – and push kick as if you are trying to open a door with your right foot. Return to the back lunge. Return to standing and repeat the back lunge, kick, lunge combo on your left side. Keep alternating right to left.

Benefits: Exercises that incorporate backwards movement are great for creating balance in the body. We primarily move forward, so moving backwards in a training session improves optimal strength. Also, balancing in the power kick improves your posture since it requires both mental focus and core stabilization.

3. Bring some “om” to stressful days. Try these yoga push ups by starting in a strong plank. Hands should be wider than shoulder width apart; feet hip width apart. Knees can be on the ground if you are new to exercise. Tighten your core, tuck your pelvis under slightly and bend the elbows as you lower toward the ground. Then, in one explosive movement, return to starting plank. Repeat. Then, press away from the floor into a Downward Dog (upside-down V); chest stretches through the arms, hips to the ceiling, heels toward the ground.

If you are doing the push ups on your knees you will replace the Downward Dog with a Child pose: hips towards your heels, arms stretching along the floor directly in front of you, stomach rests on your thighs and your forehead towards the ground.

Hold for one breath. Return to plank and repeat push up and Downward Dog/Child pose sequence.

Benefits: Performing a stretching exercise in between strength based movement creates long, lean muscles and allows you to use relaxing breathing techniques in order to facilitate movement.

Darby pointed out that it’s also important to squeeze in sweat sessions whenever time is available. The truth is, college students are like any other person who is looking to exercise more – if they don’t have an hour, then they think it’s not worth it. Take a ten-minute lap around campus to give you a much-needed endorphin rush during long study sessions, or try the exercises above.

“Schedule physical activity every time you register for classes,” Darby said. “Change things up each semester so that you or your body don’t get bored. And lastly, recruit friends in the same way you recruit members for a study group. Accountability is a great way to help you meet any personal goal you set whether it is in the chemistry lab or the gym.”

Like Darby, Certified Personal Trainer and Nutritionist Rachel Murray ( suggests explosive, plyometric-style exercises to fuel brain power, including mountain climbers and burpees.

“Plyometric exercises can decrease stress, challenge anaerobic threshold, increase metabolism and blast fat,” Murray said.

No matter how you choose to break a sweat during long study sessions, be sure to incorporate a few fitness moves into your regular routine. These exercises require no special tools and zero time spent in chilly temperatures, which can only mean one thing – no excuses!

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