Sample Class: Cardio Brain Fitness

by Ken Alan on Jul 28, 2012

Cardiovascular exercise comes in two flavors: mindless and mindful. Why not layer cognitive tasks into your class design to train the brain as well as the body? Help participants meet the rigors of everyday life by adding mental challenges that also enhance balance, reaction time and agility.


Class Details

Total Time: 45 minutes
Format: low-impact cardio
Equipment Needed: none, except a positive attitude
Music: 115–135 beats per minute (depending on abilities)

Warm-Up (7–10 minutes)

Establish the movements. Keep things simple. Introduce four movements, one at a time. Perform 32 counts of an exercise before going on to the next one. Label each move with a number. For example:

  • march in place: move #1
  • step-touch: move #2
  • knee lift: move #3
  • hamstring curl: move #4

Embed the numbers. After establishing the movements, cue by number, not by name. When you say, “Number one,” for example, march in place for 16 counts. Next, call out, “Number two,” and then perform step-touch for 16 counts, and so on. Once everyone has learnt the movements and their numbers, cue by number in random order for a few sets. Switching it up adds another layer, challenging participants to think about what they’re doing rather than just passively following your lead. Reduce the number of reps as participants demonstrate proficiency, working down to 8 counts of each move.

Introduce the walls. Assign a number to each wall. The front wall is #1, the right wall is #2, the back wall is #3, and the left wall is #4.

Cardio Training (20–30 minutes)

Below are just a few strategies you can use to give students a mental challenge.

Layer the moves to the walls. When you call out, “Number one,” participants march in place (move #1) while facing the front wall (#1). When you cue, “Number two,” they turn to the right wall (#2) and perform step-touch (move #2). “Number three” means they face the back wall (#3) and change to the knee lift (move #3). And “Number four” cues them to turn to the last wall (#4) and perform the hamstring curl (move #4).

As you cue by numbers, not only do participants change movements but they change orientations to face the corresponding wall. They have to think about which way to face and which move to do. Use numerical reduction: 32, 16 and then 8 reps. After performing in numerical order, switch it up by calling numbers in random order. Are neurons getting exercised? Who needs complexity when the ability to make quick directional changes is more beneficial?

One movement, with travel. Bring everyone back to “Number one,” marching in place, facing front. Add travel--walking forward and back, 4 counts each. Repeat several times. Instruct participants to march in place again.

Split the room. Divide class in half. Instruct the left (L) half to continue to march in place. Instruct the right (R) half to prepare to walk forward and back, 4 counts each direction. When ready, cue the R half to begin doing this. The R half continues walking forward and back as you prepare to direct the L half of the room.

Create a zigzag. As the R half walks backwards, cue the L half to walk forward, creating a zigzag effect. The locomotor movement has not changed, but you’ve created a different dynamic by splitting the room and staggering the walks.

Add a push-pull. As the zigzag walk continues, change orientation by asking everyone to take smaller steps, covering less space, as they prepare to turn slowly and face the opposite group. Each group continues moving forward and backwards until they have gradually turned 90 degrees toward the center of the room and are facing the other line. Once everyone catches on, you have a push-pull effect--one group walking forward toward the other group (which is backing up). Switch directions.

For several more examples of how to add mental challenges to your cardio class, please see “Sample Class: Think With Your Heart” in the online IDEA Library or in the June 2012 issue of IDEA Fitness Journal.

IDEA Fit Tips, Volume 10, Issue 8

© 2012 by IDEA Health & Fitness Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction without permission is strictly prohibited.

About the Author

Ken Alan

Ken Alan IDEA Author/Presenter

Ken Alan and Shannon Fable recently co-authored, "Class Design and Delivery" in ACSM's "Resources for the Group Exercise Instructor". Ken holds certifications from and has served on various committee...

1 Comment

Trending Articles

How to Teach HIIT to Everyone

High-intensity interval training has been riding a wave of popularity, and it seems everyone wants to give it a try. However, intense interval training is nothing new. Group fitness instructors have b...

Nuts and Peanuts Reduce Cardiovascular Risk and Prolong Lifespan

While there have been numerous studies in recent years touting the health benefits of nuts and peanuts, new research published online March ...

20 IDEA World-Renowned Presenters Share Advice on Success and Happiness

We asked some of this year’s most influential and motivating IDEA World Fitness Convention™ presenters to share the single piece of advice they would give another fitness/health pro to hel...

Mindful Walking

Walking can be more than just moving physically from one location to another. It can be a metaphor for your larger life journey. Things you&...

Smooth Move: Creative Additions to Consider for Smoothies

When looking for a quick breakfast or post-workout nourishment, almost nothing beats a smoothie. Whirl in the right ingredients and the blen...

Yes, You CAN Develop Better Eating Habits

Analogous to laying out your exercise gear so it’s the first visual reminder you have of your commitment to exercise each day, imagine...

Cut Risk of Alzheimer’s with MIND Diet

Conservative adherence to a new diet, appropriately known by the acronym MIND, could significantly lower a person’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, according to a paper published o...

7 Ways to Help a Client Boost Adherence

Once a client has decided to make nutritional changes to support weight loss, you can play a key role in developing an action plan that is m...

Rice-Cooking Technique Cuts Calorie Absorption in Half

In a molecular gastronomy-meets-lab-science moment, researchers at the College of Chemical Sciences in Colombo, Sri Lanka, have discovered a...

Recipe for Health: Picadillo-Stuffed Peppers

If you don’t believe that authentic Mexican cookery is “whole” and healthy, you need to take a deep dive into Mexico: The Cookbook (Phaidon 2014), the first truly comprehensive bible...

Show More