On a mild night in mid-December, a handful of people (including yours truly) shuffle into an exercise studio at New York Sports Club. It’s a typical Manhattanite bunch—mostly young, mostly fit—and we’d be pretty nondescript, except for one quirk: Everyone is holding a lightsaber.
We’re here for the Star Wars: Awaken Your Inner Force workout, a sweat-inducing mashup of cardio and strength moves created by New York Sports Clubs in collaboration with Disney and Lucasfilm. Besides the plastic saber (I got a blue one, thereby assigning myself to the “Light Side” of the class), the only other equipment is a set of sliders.
Front and center at the studio is Amira Lamb, C.P.T. She’s wearing fitness gear instead of a Jedi’s robes, but for all intents and purposes, she’s the master of the class. And as we launch into the first circuit of Star Wars-themed lunges and pushups, it soon becomes clear that the Force—or at least supreme cardio-and-lightsaber skill—is strong with her.
The workout incorporates martial arts, calisthenics, and bodyweight moves (hello, burpees) that wiped out all but the fittest people—Jedi masters, one might say—in the studio. If the Force was flowing through me, it was at a trickle. (Then again, that may have been the sweat running down my face.)
Scoff at the nerd factor, if you must. But know that this is a demanding workout, especially for guys who don’t dedicate much gym time to cardio or conditioning. It takes discipline to control your breathing and balance, especially during martial arts moves like the kicks.
Ready to try it on your own? Read on for the full workout and specific exercises. And remember: Do or do not—there is no try.
Lamb, at right, faces off with
the Sith one of the participants.
THE JEDI WORKOUT
The workout consists of a warmup, three intense circuits of four exercises (completed AMRAP for time), and a cooldown. Besides a lightsaber—which you can substitute with the light training tool of your choice, like a wooden dowel or a 3' piece of PVC pipe—the only thing you’ll need is a pair of gliding discs. (And if you don’t have those, you can substitute with rags on a hardwood floor or paper plates on a carpet.)
After performing each circuit, rest for 60 seconds by focusing on your breathing and restoring your energy. “This will help to sustain you throughout the workout,” Lamb says.
Oh, and make sure you maintain proper form. “While performing the exercises, embrace the Light Side of the Force and emphasize form, technique and execution,” Lamb says. “Resist the temptation of the Dark Side, which means to just use momentum or simply ‘go through the motions.’”
Add this workout to your routine—Lamb offers it twice a week at New York Sports Clubs—and your endurance and total-body strength will become more powerful than you could possibly imagine. Oh, and this workout is spoiler-free.
Stand relaxed, with your feet set slightly wider than your hips. Breathe only through your nose, with the tongue at the roof of your mouth. “As you inhale, imagine lifting your abdominals up,” Lamb says. “As you exhale, feel your abdominal wall compress. Your core should feel like it’s becoming energized without exerting effort.” Let your arms float upwards on the inhale, and let them fall naturally on the exhale.
Easy breathing air squats
The goal here is to sync your breath with your body’s motion, Lamb says. “Breathe OUT as you lower your body into a squat, and then breathe IN as you lift your body again.”
Skywalker Lunges (with lightsaber chops): 45 seconds per leg
Begin in a lunge while holding the lightsaber in both hands. Flex your shoulders so your upper arms are near your ears and the lightsaber is behind the head, ready to chop forward. Press into the foot of the front leg to lift yourself out of the lunge. Bring the knee of the rear leg forward (hip flexion) while pulling the light saber downwards so that arms are in front of the chest (shoulder extension). Exhale strongly to engage the abdominals and latissimus dorsi on the “front chop”. Do this exercise for 45 seconds on one side, then 45 on the other.
You’ll feel this exercise in your legs (quads, hamstrings, glutes), abs, shoulders, and lats.
Dive-Bomber Pushups: 60 seconds
Start in a downward dog yoga position with your hands planted on the floor, slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, and push your butt in the air. Keep your back straight, so you look like an inverted ‘V.’ Lower your shoulders and swoop down so your chest brushes the ground. Hold the position for 2 to 3 seconds, then press yourself up so that your back is arched and your arms straight. Now reverse the movement by lowering back down so your chest brushes the ground again, and you return to the starting position.
You’ll feel this in your “pushup muscles”: deltoids, pectorals, lats, triceps, and erector spinae.
Front Kick while holding lightsaber: 45 seconds per leg
Hold the lightsaber up at your right shoulder with both hands. Keeping your right leg slightly bent at the knee, pivot on your right foot and kick forward with your left leg. Try to fully extend your left leg, making sure to keep a “soft” knee and maintain your balance. Repeat AMRAP, making sure to maintain your form and balance, for 45 seconds. After 45 seconds, switch sides: Hold the lightsaber at your left shoulder, pivot on your left leg, and kick with your right.
You should feel the burn in your abs, hip flexors, and your quads.
Jedi Jacks: 90 seconds
Squat while holding light saber in both hands (one hand stacked above other). Jump up in the air and ADDuct at the hips. The legs come together while in the air. Land toe-ball-heel into the squat and repeat for 45 seconds. The next 45 seconds are a plank jack (hands on floor directly beneath shoulders).
You should feel the burn in your legs—glutes, quads, hamstrings, calves—as well as your transverse abdominis and shoulder stabilizers.
Chewbacca Chop: 45 seconds to each side
This is a standard wood chop, except named after everyone’s favorite Wookiee. Start with your feet in a wide stance, holding the lightsaber in both hands over your right shoulder. Rotate your torso from your pelvis while rotating the ball of your right foot and “chop” the lightsaber dowards toward your left foot. Exhale during the chop and inhale as you bring the saber back up.
Targeted muscles: Quadriceps, adductors, abductors, gluteals, abdominals (particularly the obliques).
Starfighter Pushups: 60 Seconds
Grab your gliding disks. Start in the plank position with a disc under each foot. Bend your right knee, flexing at the hip, and bring your leg underneath you across your body. Extend your knee, so that ultimately your right leg is fully extended near your left hand. Bring your leg back to starting position. Do a pushup. Repeat on the other side.
You’ll feel this exercise in your shoulder stabilizers, abdominals, and hip flexors.
Front Snap Kicks: 45 seconds per leg
Holding the lightsaber up in front of you, perform front kicks, aiming to fully extend your leg. After 45 seconds, switch to your other leg.
This exercise will challenge your quads, glutes, calves, and abs (specifically your rectus abdominis).
Lightsaber Burpees: 90 seconds
Set your lightsaber on the ground, pointing forward. Stand on one side of it. Jump lightly to the other side of the lightsaber, then do a burpee. After you push yourself up, jump lightly back to the other side of the lightsaber, then do another burpee.
This exercise will leave no muscle group unscathed.
General’s Curtsy: 90 seconds
Hold the lightsaber in both hands. Put one glide disc under each foot. Hold the lightsaber over your right shoulder, and chop diagonally downwards to your left leg. As you’re chopping, cross your right leg behind your left leg into a lunge. Bring the saber back up, and then alternate to the right. Continue alternating to sides. Make sure you move with control, and don’t move too fast.
This exercise hits your quads, adductors, abductors, glutes, hamstrings, calves, transverse abdominis, and obliques.
The Fall: 60 seconds
Start with a “crab” or “table” position, so your shoulders are externally rotated and your fingertips point to the back. Keep your feet flat, chest lifted, and knees bent. Push your hips up high and reach one arm over in an arch above and behind your head. Bring your arm back to starting position, and then repeat on the other side.
Muscles targeted: The entire back, plus hamstrings.
Roundhouse Flutter Kick: 45 seconds per leg
Bring your lightsaber up to your right shoulder. Pivot on your right hip [AGAIN, IS HIP WHAT YOU MEAN HERE?], keeping your right leg bent slightly at the knee. Kick your left leg from the knee, keeping your upper left leg still, and just kick the lower half of your leg. Switch to the other leg after 45 seconds.
Besides testing your balance, this will target your hip abductors, quads, hamstrings, abs (specifically the obliques and transverse abdominus), and calves (both the gastrocnemius and soleus).
Rey’s Speeder Jumps: 90 seconds
Run in place with your arms held naturally. Every few seconds (vary the intervals depending on how winded you are), jump and bring your hands to your knees, then go back into running in place.
This demanding exercise will challenge your lower body and your cardio ability.
Cooldown: Focused breathing (a.k.a. the "Yoda Flow")
"During the Yoda Flow, you want to feel as though you're breathing through your whole body—not JUST the lungs," Lamb says. "The goal is to sync your movement with your breath."
1. Start with your feet apart. Think of anchoring your feet into ground. Let your muscles settle and relax as much as possible. Breathe in, fill up your arms on the sides, and lift your arms in front of your torso, making sure to keep your joints soft. Then exhale and lower your arms back to your sides. Repeat the breathing with arm movement for approximately 1-2 minutes.
2. With soft knees, step to the right (exhale), lift your left knee (inhale), and lift your arms with soft elbows and hands, "as if you're blocking your face in a battle," Lamb says. Continue with the alternating side step and lift. Exhale on each side step. Inhale with every knee lift. "This move makes me think of Karate Kid, where Daniel balances on one leg," Lamb says.
3. Begin with your feet apart as in the first part of the cooldown. As you breathe in—raising your arms from the sides of your body and palms facing upwards—keep going until your palms meet above head. Keep your palms connected, and rotate the wrists and fingertips away from your body until they point downwards as you bend your knees into an "ass-to-grass" squat so your fingertips touch the ground. Ideally, your feet should stay flat to the ground. Breathe in as you raise your arms, and then exhale as you lower into the deep squat.