Fitness: How to Use Fitness Breaks to Keep Students Alert in the Classroom

Fitness: How to Use Fitness Breaks to Keep Students Alert in the Classroom

Dick Moss

There isn't a teacher alive who has not stood in front of a classroom of drowsy students. There's no doubt that teaching effectiveness is much reduced when students can barely keep their eyes open. Fortunately, physical activity can be used to energize such classroom lulls.

Energy Breaks
A short fitness break of three to four minutes can get the blood pumping again, relieve boredom, reduce tension and increase your students' level of alertness. The result will be better learning by students and a better teaching experience for you. While it is not time spent on-task, it will make your students more able to learn, so it is definitely worthwhile.

Some of the best energy breaks are performed to music, using on-the-spot aerobics movements designed to move the limbs and get the blood flowing. Be sure to have a tape full of 3-4 minute songs suitable for such a routine. A good tempo for such songs is 20-24 beats in a 10-second time span. The exercises you select should be appropriate for a teacher and studens wearing typical classroom clothing.

Office Worker Routines
This is also a good opportunity to introduce exercises your students can use once they are in the work world and stuck at a desk all day. Such exercises include wrist rotations, shoulder shrugs, heel lifts, neck movements and the soldier press, all of which can be performed while seated.

Sample Energy Break Movements
Here are some sample movements you could use in your routine:

  • High knee marching.
  • Jogging lightly on the spot.
  • Race walking on the spot.
  • Arm rotations, forward and back.
  • Skip rope movements and variations such as crossovers, and backwards arm rotations.
  • Swimming movements with the arms, mimicking different strokes.
  • Throwing movements.
  • Jump shot movements.
  • Various dance step variations: sideways steps, forward steps, backwards steps, etc.
  • Touching various body parts: head, shoulders, hips, knees, shins, toes (i.e. playing Simon Says while marching).
  • Various weight training movements: bench press, pull-downs, arm curls, triceps extensions, bent arm raises, squats, hamstring curls, soldier press, adductions and abductions, lunges.


  1. A nice touch is to use music that matches the theme of upcoming holidays. For example, Christmas music with a good aerobics beat and with Christmas-related movements such as trimming the tree, making Christmas bread (kneading the dough, rolling it out), chopping the firewood, etc.
  2. After you have performed some sample energy breaks, you could assign students the task of leading a class. It will be their job to select the music and matching movements. Preparing for their leadership role can be an assignment.

Reference: Jenni Coombs (Strathern Elementary/Junior High School, Edmonton, Alberta), Energy breaks. Teaching Health-PE in the Early Childhood Classroom, Health and Physical Education Council of the Alberta Teachers Assn.


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