Coached by the Best

By Erica Jenkins

If you’re looking for a way to fit exercise into your day without going to the gym, try these coach-approved exercises.

Step-Up + Backward Lunge

By Leslie Gillies, Assistant Head Coach of the UT Martin Women’s Soccer Team

  1. Step with right foot onto box, pressing the right heel down while pushing off with the left leg and bringing it next to your right foot.
    Leslie standing upright with right foot planted on step
  2. Pause then step your left leg down in a slow, controlled manner 6-12 inches from the box. Let your right foot follow once the left has safely made contact with the ground.
    Leslie stands upright on step
  3. Step the foot back, landing on the ball of the foot. As this occurs, bend both knees and drop your hips straight down.
    Leslie standing upright with right foot planted on step
  4. When your front thigh is parallel with the floor, extend your knees and hips to stand back up to the start position. The leg you step up with is the same leg you step back with on the backward lunge.
    Leslie lunges in squat position with left foot forward and her right knee bend downward


Novice: Novice individuals should use a box that is significantly lower (i.e. ankle or shin height)

Active: Individuals who are very active in strength training may select a box that is no higher than knee height and add dumbbells held at one’s side.

No box: If no box is available, using the bottom step of a stair would also work.

High Plank w/ Variations

By Chris Gillies, UT Martin Strength and Conditioning Coach

Performing the high plank and its different variations can offer excellent options for those who are looking to improve their fitness level. A high plank is simply the “up” position of a push-up and can be performed on time (i.e. 30 seconds) or by number of repetitions (i.e. 10 touches per side).

Proper Positioning

Chris Gillies with both hands on floor balancing on toes

    • Hand Position – Hands are placed under one’s shoulders while being shoulder width apart. Fingers point forward and elbows are fully extended.
    • Foot Position – Feet should be no wider than hip width with weight pressed forward on the tip toes.
    • Flat Back – One’s head should be in front of their hands, forcing the chest to be located between the hands. Force the abdominals and lower back to tighten by squeezing the buttocks together while drawing in the belly button to the spine.


      1. Add an alternating toe tap
        Chris Gillies plants both hands on floor stretching right leg
      2. Alternate moving the knees to the chest
        Chris Gillies in crouching position with one knee forward
      3. Incorporate an alternating shoulder tap (touch the right shoulder with the left hand, return to the high plank, followed by touching the left shoulder with the right hand, repeat)
        Chris Gillies positioning one hand on his chest, one hand on floor

Common mistakes include the hips rising up due to the weight shifting back and the head no longer in front of the hands, and the hips sinking to the ground because of not drawing in the belly button and tightening the buttocks. As one begins to tire, these mistakes can become more evident.

Benefits of the Exercise: Many times individuals feel they must go the gym and use weights and machines to get a proper workout. This could not be further from the truth. One’s own body weight can provide great challenges.

What the Exercise Targets: Holding this position challenges the chest, shoulders, abdominals, and back.

Erica Jenkins HeadshotErica Jenkins  Contact
UT System Administration

Erica joined the UT System Office of Communications and Marketing in 2011 and currently serves as public relations associate, specializing in measurement and analytics and managing communication planning for government relations and advocacy initiatives. When she’s not involved in community and campus organizations, Erica enjoys deep sea fishing with her family and working on music. 

Posts represent the views, expertise and recommendations of their authors and do not necessarily reflect an endorsement by the University of Tennessee. Furthermore, the content of the blog is for informational purposes only. The content of the blog is not, and is not intended to be used as, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.