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Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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March 22, 2008

Gym Class Chronicles

By Worker Bee
19 Comments

High school gym class. It’s the stuff of comic nostalgia and adolescent nightmares. (Anybody watch The Wonder Years?) The gym teacher personalities, the locker room air, the laps, the team picking, the annoying whistle. Maybe you were one of the jocks, automatic buddy of the instructor, who got away with doing very little because it was your season and you already worked hard. Or maybe you were among those who just tried to stay under the radar and do just enough so gym wouldn’t ruin your gradepoint. Or perhaps you were truly an earnest participant, athlete or not, who found gym a refreshing break from textbook lectures and worksheets.

Whatever our respective roles in high school gym, it was somehow a universal, albeit at times absurd, bonding experience. (Of course, everything seems absurd to a 15-year-old.) We all had to do the drills, and it got us up and off our duffs for a while if nothing else. If we were lucky, we got a gym teacher who was kind of nice and didn’t yell at us too much. Once in a while, it was kind of fun.

But what’s the deal these days with more high schools dropping gym as a requirement? According to the National Association for Sport and Physical Education, “little more than half of students nationwide are enrolled in a physical education class, and by high school only a third take gym class daily.”

The following video out of Canada (the neighbors to the north are having problems as well), while it isn’t particularly flashy or clever, highlights the increasing educational trend in making gym optional, particularly at the high school level. While a few of our adolescent selves might be jealous as all heck, in the back of our minds we know something isn’t right about this trend.

via YouTube via Healthy Living Niagara

And it gets worse. According to the National Association for Sport and Physical Education, 30% of states don’t mandate physical education for elementary and middle school students. Mississippi, ranked the fattest state in the nation, is only now trying to reverse the policy of “optional” gym in its districts, including for grades K-8!

As much as we might joke about our gym class experiences, don’t we agree that they were important? In a time when childhood obesity is at an all time high, can’t we find a way to make sure kids get some activity? It kinda seems like an important lesson to teach.

We agree that gym classes need some work. And we acknowledge that it’s not easy trying to keep 25 children or adolescents in line and vaguely amused enough that they stay out of trouble. But what can a good, affordable physical education program look like? And why do so many states say they can’t make it happen?

And what will come of this hole in the curriculum that won’t allow students enough exploration to find physical activities and outlets that they can enjoy into adulthood? Why can’t we give more than lip service to kids’ health?

Send us your thoughts, answers, arguments and questions.

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19 Comments on "Gym Class Chronicles"

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Mike OD - IF Life
8 years 6 months ago

Funny where the priorities are…you have to be smart in every subject ever known…but healthy? Nah. If someone can tell me when “diagraming sentences” will actually be of use or save my life….I will take it all back.

Chicken Girl
8 years 6 months ago
I’m actually glad that gym class as I knew it is dying a slow, painful death. If it ever comes back I hope somebody clues in to the idea that 45 solid minutes of humiliation every day never got anyone off their ass! The focus needs to be on helping kids find a physical activity that they’re good at and actually enjoy, instead of on forcing the unathletic kids to compete with the jocks in team sports year-round and never allowing them to ever get the impression that they’re good at something. Any motivation I have today to get in… Read more »
Migraineur
8 years 6 months ago
“As much as we might joke about our gym class experiences, don’t we agree that they were important?” No, actually, I disagree vehemently. Am I the only one? Gym class, at least as it was conducted in the 70s and 80s when I was in school, was unmitigated torture with no real benefit. I was a really skinny kid then (what I would now call skinny-fat), had poor physical coordination, couldn’t run very fast, and wasn’t very strong. Gym class did nothing to change that; it just made me more self-conscious about being weak, slow, and poorly coordinated; it also… Read more »
Migraineur
8 years 6 months ago

P.S. Even knowing as much as I know now, if I were whisked back to 1983 and could opt out of gym, I would.

Mike OD - IF Life
8 years 6 months ago

forget gym classes…just give more recess. As we used to run around and throw tennis balls at eachother for fun…nothing motivates one to move than a solid object coming at them quickly. Then again we didn’t have ipods, cell phones or all the other stuff kids use to kill time with now.

Sonagi
Sonagi
8 years 6 months ago
Gym classes have changed since our time in school. Our former and present gym teachers are outstanding. They teach a variety of skills and physical activities, have students set personal goals, and acknowledge improvements in measures of physical ability. With the high stakes testing of No Child Left Behind, it’s no surprise that schools allot little time for physical education. There is abundant research demonstrating a positive correlation between daily physical activity and academic achievement. The interconnection between the brain and the body is explained in the book Teaching With the Brain in Mind and in the works of cooperate… Read more »
Huckleberry
8 years 6 months ago

Like Migraineur, I had dreadful experiences in gym class. I was a slow runner, uncoordinated, and shy. The instructors didn’t do much to help me get better, and it was pretty much an exercise in getting picked last for teams and feeling terrible. Also, they’d come up with all sorts of dreadful game ideas (like tennis ball dodgeball – those things HURT!).

I think physical activity is important but I vote for either outdoor play time like recess or giving kids choices in gym class so that they might actually find something they enjoy.

Food Is Love

Jerry
Jerry
8 years 6 months ago

I could not stand P.E. when I was in school. I’m all for having health in schools, and I do agree that exercise is very important, but I have to side with Chicken Girl & Migraineur on this one. There is a better way to go about it then how public schools have gone about it for many years. Suiting up in P.E. clothes and seeing jocks make fun of super thin or overweight kids was not my idea of beneficial exercise.

glasswright
glasswright
8 years 6 months ago

as a high school student, i do gym is a class that everyone should take, but it’s just not possible. with colleges getting more and more selective and testing being stressed, there is no room in schedules for a gym class. colleges look down on transcripts that have gym classes instead of extra ap’s or honors courses. if you don’t pass the standardized tests, they take away even more of your open classes. there is just no way to fit it in unless you change the entire school system.

sarena
8 years 6 months ago

Ok so I was recently hired to run a youth fitness program at a local high-end gym. The first session we had 3 girls. One who was in 6 th grade said she hadnt had gym in school until the current year! And of the 3 kids, none were able to hold a plank for 10sec!! Horrid.

Sad but true, the program was dropped since there was a lack of interest from the community!!

MikeB
8 years 6 months ago

My kids elementary school has a great physical education teacher. There is alway a “jump rope for heart” or other type activity that they are doing. The also have Girls on the Run program at the school. Because of the PC crowd PE has had to change the way they do things and for my kid there is no opt out.

MizFit
8 years 6 months ago

fellow gym-detester here as well…Im WHOLLY uncoordinated.

I love that the district in which I live has *way* expanded the definition of gymclass (to after school karate no less!) but you have to do SOMETHING.

M.

Anna
8 years 6 months ago
Of course, my son’s gym program emphasis is on running, for the “cardiovascular” benefit (probably also because it requires no equipment to purchase, store, or move around – there is no “gym” room but being in So Cal that isn’t much of a problem. I would much rather they spent gym time doing strength building and coordination exercises, than pounding their joints. My third grader son’s gym teacher is also giving terrible dietary advice. My son comes home asking why I serve butter, whole milk, red meat (grass fed), not very much bread/grains, etc. because his gym teacher says something… Read more »
Sonagi
Sonagi
8 years 6 months ago
think physical activity is important but I vote for either outdoor play time like recess or giving kids choices in gym class so that they might actually find something they enjoy. Limited choices in gym class, yes. More recess, no. The problem with recess is that the least fit kids tend to move the least. They’ll run around the first five minutes, get pooped, and sit around for the rest of recess. Some structure and supervision keeps the kids active. Besides a great PE program, my school also sponsors before and after school PE activities that are very well attended… Read more »
Marie
Marie
8 years 6 months ago

The problem w. PE is the same problem w. modern life: we should have physical activity built in to our daily lives rather than having to do a “separate” activity for fitness. But, since most of us aren’t going back to chopping wood or churning butter any time soon, I guess there should be some good PE programs…hope they’re better than what I had though.

Kaitlin
Kaitlin
8 years 6 months ago
When I was in high school, our district was experimenting with block scheduling–instead of 45-minute class sessions, they were twice that length. I had a phys ed class every year until I was a junior, and those last two years were hell . . . not just because it was degrading and embarrassing, but because it was *interminable*. Often the instructors only chose one activity for the entire period, and it was almost always dodge ball (ouch) or “mat ball”. Think kick ball but (if this is conceivable) even less fun. Instead of running the bases and ending at home… Read more »
Amy
8 years 6 months ago
I also side with Chicken Girl, Migraineur, and Jerry on this point. Looking back to my elementary/junior high/high school years (just 4 years ago!) I have to say that P.E. was by far the worst part of school. I remember dreading the days I had class since it was likely I would either get hit with a ball, get picked last, or just be uncoordinated and laughed at. Throughout these years I hated any sort of physical activity just because I thought I was horrible at it. However, in high school, my school district formed a crew team and I… Read more »
EricBrandom
EricBrandom
8 years 6 months ago
Gym class, for me, not that long ago, was far and away my favorite class. I had the opportunity to opt out of gym because of sports, but I never did. It also helped that my school (public, might I add) held six sections of gym per school year. Two sections for each season with the opportunity to pick your choice between things like, soccer, fitness, yoga, floor hockey, badminton and the like. It worked at our school and still works (my younger brother is a freshman). Why other schools don’t model after this I won’t ever understand. I figure… Read more »
Lauren
Lauren
7 years 11 months ago
Who ever is saying they don’t like gym because, it makes you sore or tired geeze your just plain lazy. That is the whole point of exersise, to make your body push itself to make you a stronger and better person. Gym teaches healthy habbits and life skills I don’t think there are anymore classes that will provide you with that knowledge. And how hard is it to do 40 stomach crunches I mean c’mon most schools don’t even do that many. Lets face it our society is getting has been obease and people complain about it but, if you… Read more »
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