Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
12 Oct

How I Would Change Gym Class

Gym class was not a great time for me.

To understand exactly how painful grade school PE was back in my day, you must experience “Go, You Chicken Fat, Go.” Back in early 1960s, PE was all about preparing for and passing the Presidential Fitness Test, which was JFK’s youth fitness standards. “Go, You Chicken Fat, Go” was a ridiculous song written expressly for the Presidential challenge and sung by a guy named Robert Preston. Every single day during PE class, we did calisthenics as it blasted over the PA system on repeat. We’d do pushups, jumping jacks, squat thrusts, chinups, all while listening to this masterpiece – I think I’m finally realizing why I hated strength training and gravitated toward long distance endurance events for the bulk of my youth! We occasionally got to play dodgeball, and those were good days. Head shots were allowed and even encouraged. No PC stuff anywhere.

My first year of high school gym was rough, too. You see, I placed out of a few of my classes, so they bumped me up to an all-senior PE class as a freshman. I actually don’t remember all that much about the PE curriculum. It might have been great, but I wouldn’t have known because I was too busy avoiding purple nurples and dodging rat tails in the locker room. Oh, and back then we had to shower during gym, so wet towels were exclusively used for rat tail production. Let’s just say that you really don’t know pain until you’ve felt a sopping wet rat tail inscribe itself across your lower ribcage. Fun stuff. Once spring track season rolled around, though, I was the top point man on the team, usually winning the mile and two mile, and placing in the pole vault. That got me some cred and made the rest of high school bearable.

But gym was never great for me.

So today, I’m going to explain what I’d change about gym class if I was given the chance to teach or administer it. I suppose the first thing I’d change about physical eduction in schools is to make sure it still exists! Standardized testing, and all the madness that surrounds and enables it, along with tight budgets, have forced schools to cut the “non-essentials,” including gym, music, and art. I’ve definitely got nothing against math, social studies, science, and English, but being active is just as essential as those subjects. Heck, even recess is getting cut in some places. That’s just criminal.

No, I’m not considering a new career path, and no, this isn’t a policy discussion. I’m not proposing comprehensive school reform (although that’s probably what it’d take to work). I’m just having fun. In the process, hopefully I outline some tangible activities you parents find helpful enough to try. The “revolution,” if there’s going to be one, must start at the local level. You start legislating education from afar and you end up with stuff like the “Go, You Chicken Fat, Go” song playing on repeat over an aging PA system and scaring an entire generation away from pullups. You can’t rely on that. You have to be the change you seek, whether that’s playing tag with your kids on weekends, banding together with other concerned parents for “PE meetups” outside of school, or putting pressure on your kids’ schools to make time for gym and recess. Maybe you could even be a PE teacher and start the change from the inside (though I don’t know how much freedom PE teachers get to construct their own programs).

If I was put in charge of leading gym class, I’d only employ competent coaches with athletic or training backgrounds. No more math teachers filling in because there’s no money to hire a dedicated coach. They’d have to be certified through something like NCSA, and there would be a lengthy interview process. All teachers would have to be physically fit themselves, able to perform and teach (including scaling up or down for all fitness levels) basic strength and conditioning movements, and be willing to go on record against Chronic Cardio (Ok, that last one’s a joke. Kinda.).

For grade school kids, I’d:

Abolish chairs. You ever see a kid squat? They do it effortlessly. Toes pointed forward, nice neutral spine, butt to calves, and they can sit there forever. They don’t need chairs at school. Desks are tall enough and the ground is perfect for sprawling out and getting work done. Yeah, this isn’t a gym class thing, but so what? It’s my post.

Instate a mix of free play and structured exercise, including:

MovNat. This is the prime time to teach kids to move naturally through the environment. Balance, climbing, crawling, jumping, all of it. Their joint mobility is unencumbered by years of sitting and sedentary living (because, well, they’ve only been alive for half a decade), so MovNat will come naturally (get it?). Erwan, you down for a career change?

Strength training once a week. A lot of bodyweight basics – pullups, pushups, squats, planks, overhead presses – plus some light weighted movements, like learning how to hip hinge to pick stuff up off the ground (deadlifts, basically, not for weight, but for the movement pattern). Most kids do this naturally, but that goes away pretty quick. This basic weekly refresher course would keep it. And no, strength training does not stunt growth.

Sprints once a week. Six or seven all-out sprints with a couple minutes of rest in between. Kids love to run and this is a great outlet for it.

Mile runs every week. If you can run a mile well, you’re in pretty good shape.

Field trips to the wilderness for long hikes. Maybe two or three times a month get kids outside for daylong hikes. Bring along the science teachers and make it educational! This would also be a great opportunity to teach MovNat fundamentals.

A fully outfitted jungle gym with the regular stuff – swings, ladders, multiple levels, slides – and not-so-regular stuff – rings, dip bars, horizontal bars, climbing ropes. Kids would learn how to climb, swing, and play on and around the equipment, maybe even with a gymnastics day every couple weeks, but there would also be free days. I’m thinking epic matches of hot lava monsters, personally.

Lots of free time, with the equipment and space (and some nudging if necessary) to do the following:

Dodgeball. It develops catching, dodging, throwing, spatial awareness, hand-eye coordination, agility, pain tolerance, with just enough healthy competition to teach you how to win and lose.

Tag. This will usually sprout up organically, but just in case it doesn’t, I’ll be “it” first.

Capture the flag. Teamwork, strategizing, sprints. The perfect fusion of brains and brawn. And, it’s super fun.

For high schoolers, I’d do much the same, with a few changes:

Push strength training to twice a week. Bodyweight exercises, employing all the essential movements, with the option to progress to weighted exercises if the student prefers. Just three or four compound exercises each session, two or three sets per. I doubt the school could stock enough barbells and weights for forty kids at once, so we’d have to use a lot of cheaper, more versatile equipment – sandbags, kettlbebells, medicine balls, slosh tubes. Imagine if everyone knew how to squat, deadlift, and press with perfect form that was ingrained at a young age?

Mobility work, daily, as a five to ten minute warmup. Teens are not quite as limber as kids, but far more mobile than most adults, so we can get ’em before they stiffen up. I’d draw from MobilityWOD‘s trove of movements.

More MovNat.

Wrestling. I remember doing a bit of this in grade school PE. I wasn’t very good (too small and there were no weight classes), but it was fun. I could definitely see wrestling as a great way to teach kids practical self-defense. And wrestling makes for an interesting, visceral anatomy lesson.

Lots of play. Of course, I’d promote Ultimate as the, well, ultimate fun game for teens. Lots of running, jumping, changing directions, throwing, catching, predicting flight paths, orchestrating plays and generally having a blast. A kid who can learn the basic skills of Ultimate can probably play any sport with competency later in life. I’ll admit that I’m having a hard time imagining cynical teens playing without a shred of irony, but maybe if those same teens came up in my mythical grade school PE curriculum, they’d be different. Who knows.

It’s not about burning calories. I’m not overly concerned with seven year olds failing to engage in high intensity interval training or deadlifting their own bodyweight. Kids simply need to move. At their age, they need to jump, leap, and flail their arms as often as possible. They need to twist out of the way of an incoming rubber ball or classmate’s outstretched hand. Bruises, grass stains, and scraped knees need to be part of the normal curriculum, and I want to see some of the more arcane versions of tag unearthed and field researched by our youngest scholars. It is during childhood that the innate human need to move must be encouraged, rather than stifled, because it will set the tone for the rest of that child’s life. Look, kids pop out of the womb wanting to move and touch and grab and experience. You know how babies are always looking wide-eyed and amazed at everything? That’s because they are. And once they figure out how to clamber onto their two feet, they’re off climbing, running, waddling, and yes, falling to explore this interesting new world. We gotta keep that going!

I think my “program” would work (if competent teacher/coaches were widely available and lawsuits were rare) and it would help get kids off on the right track toward a lifelong appreciation of movement. At the very least, it’d be better than whatever we have now.

What do you think? Readers, parents, teens? Is my vision for PE pure fantasy without any real chance? Are things really as dire as I’ve been led to believe? If you could change something about gym class, what would it be? Let me know in the comment section.

As you may know, next Tuesday – just six days away – marks the official release of my new book, The Primal Blueprint 21-Day Total Body Transformation. It’s designed to walk you through, step-by-step, the first three weeks of going Primal, getting healthy, and taking control of the rest of your life. Since three weeks is a relatively short period of time, I worked hard for the better part of two years to iron out the details and make sure that it actually works. Well, it does, and I’m confident that this could be the bridge to break through to the mainstream. If you couldn’t tell already, I’m pretty excited. I’ll be releasing more details next week, but I’m gonna need your help. Are you with me?

You want comments? We got comments:

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  1. I am an Elementary P.E. teacher. I teach K-5, and I totally agree that we need more physical fitness in our schools. I only see each class for 40 minutes once a week. I love my job and try to introduce my students to as much health and fitness along with sport and game. I am also a certifited CrossFit trainer, so I implement some of that in my classes. I have coined your W.O.W. and try to have my classes go through a quick 5-10 workout of the week before we get into the skill work or sport specific stuff. I have medballs, kettlebells, abmats, and much more. I wish I could have them more then once a week but I try and give them as much as possible in the time I have with them. The P.E. teacher before me never took them outside, so I try and get them outside as much as possible. I hope that by the time they leave elementary school they have a positive outlook on physical activity and look forward to moving outside. I am happy to say that all 700+ students can do what I call a “Superhero Squat.” (basic squat)

    We need activity!!!!

    Jeramy wrote on October 12th, 2011
  2. Great post! I think I am one of the lucky few who have no idea what song you’re talking about! I also remember PE as play when I was in grade school. Lots of softball and soccer when the weather allowed. The majority of the time was indoors with kickball, dodgeball, floor hockey, etc. Our PE coach was actually a very fit guy that was always fun. Jr High and High School I did have the standard grumpy old man with a giant potbelly that made us run laps for half the period. Really took the fun out of it.

    FoCo Girl wrote on October 12th, 2011
  3. Wow… this is not at all what I experienced (born 1984, schooled in the 90’s).

    We played sports every day. Lots of dodgeball when younger, soccer, softball, volleyball, basketball, gymnastics, lots of track during track season.

    Football, floor hockey, lacrosse, handball, weight training, badminton, and karate were added to the mix in high school.

    My high school gym teacher was a former bodybuilder… which was good overall I think. I also had co-ed class from K to grade 13 and loved playing with the boys.

    We always did a brief warm up and stretch… I’m sure a bit of extra conditioning might have helped, but I loved having the opportunity to play sports everyday (though of course had my favorites!) I wish I still had gym class.

    Michelle wrote on October 12th, 2011
  4. Just, curious, how high could you pole vault?

    Kyle wrote on October 12th, 2011
  5. I think your vision for PE would be awesome!!! My memories of fitness testing were of being the fat kid who had to hang from the pull-up bar for 30 seconds because I couldn’t do any!! Oh how being Primal has changed my life :)

    I have always thought it would be fun to open up a jungle-gym type facility for adults to just go and play. A combination of both indoor and outdoor “stuff”. Our local community center has a GIANT indoor play structure for kids and my 4 year old LOVES climbing, sliding, running, jumping, etc. Every time I look at it I think it would be awesome if there was something just like it, but scaled to adult size!

    Mike P. wrote on October 12th, 2011
  6. I am actually a health education major…and I talk regularly with students who are PE majors as well. The problem is, we are so tied down by budget constraints and bound by the goals of the given principle. Some support health/physical education and some principles think going up and down stairs is enough. It’s also very frustrating because I think as a society, we aren’t teaching children how to lose. Today, everyone is a “winner”…but when you get to real life situations, getting a job promotion or getting admitted to a good school…NOT EVERYONE CAN BE A WINNER. A lot of schools ban elimination games for this reason, it makes the person who was eliminated “feel bad”. It’s frustrating. Kids need to learn how win and lose.

    Linz wrote on October 12th, 2011
    • I completely agree! And I was definitely the kid that lost a lot, so this isn’t coming from the ‘jock’. I think letting every kid win, or getting rid of competition is just setting them up for failure in the real world. Kids just need to be encouraged to MOVE, in a competitive setting or otherwise.

      Lindsey wrote on October 12th, 2011
  7. Ugh…I remember the ‘presidential fitness’ days. I hated it too. The best days were the dodge ball days and was appalled when my kids entered school and found it a ‘banned game’ in public schools now. How ridiculous! They want kids to be a bunch of pansies anymore..makes me sick. I say play dodgeball and knock ’em off their feet! lol!! Yes, I was ruthless in dodgeball! 😀

    Heather wrote on October 12th, 2011
  8. Your vision is my vision, and I am making it happen at the elementary school that I teach at in north Georgia. A few years ago, it started with me wanting to get the students outside more. So, I started using a ropes challenge course outside and doing some team-building activities and we also used the trail for outdoor runs. Then, this year, I have started an additional pe class for the kids using the Crossfit Kids methodology and training. I am hoping to get to become an affiliate soon also so that our kids can have access to a workout every day via internet. The kids love it; we squat, lift, tire jump, tire flip, sprint, run, stretch, perform body weight exercises, play games, and pretty much all the stuff you mentioned. We recently purchased a traversing rock wall so the kids can get some upper body climbing in (should be delivered any day now) indoors, and I am raising money to purchase a pull-up system ($4500) so that my half my students can be exercising at the same time performing pull-ups, ring exercises, rope climbs, etc… They took all the climbing stuff out of our playground, so I am bringing some climbing/hanging back for our class! My vision is becoming a reality; I only wish I could see all of them every day! I also try to influence nutrition by telling them what they need to be eating; not what they shouldn’t be eating. My school has been really supportive in making health and fitness an important aspect of our school and the students’ education, and I hope to grow our program into something big! The biggest impact I have seen is on the non-athletic students who feel challenged and successful in my class. I have had parents say that their kids love the class and have never liked any other type of fitness activity before. The students also journal the workouts and their progress, so they can set goals, and see how he/she has grown. Awesome stuff! If only the government would look at how pe should be….I am covering the standards for the most part that they want me to teach, and I am showing students how fun fitness and moving can be!

    Lori wrote on October 12th, 2011
    • Lori,

      That is awesome. As Mark said, you ARE the change you want to see. I’m looking to start a similar program w/in the next yr or so. Would you be willing to talk via email about your trials and tribulations getting thismprogram up and running?

      Doug wrote on October 17th, 2011
  9. What memories you’re bringing back with the mention of the Chicken Fat song! My son is in 3rd grade, and his school cut recesses last year so now they have only one after lunch. At first I was concerned, but now I think it’s turning out well because the old “morning recess” has been replaced with a “movement break” in which the kids do different structured activities together. A lot of times it’s jogging or running sprints, sometimes they do calisthenics or play kick ball. I think it’s helpful to add some structure because some kids at recess will only go sit on the bench with their friends and look at their Pokemon cards. This gets them all moving!

    Also, I was pleased when my son’s school was able to scrape up the funds last year to add a full-time, dedicated PE teacher. He now has gym class 2x week, and he loves it. She’s doing some really fun things with the kids like rock climbing walls, capture the flag, teaching them about good sportsmanship and working as a team.

    PDXmama wrote on October 12th, 2011
  10. “It is during childhood that the innate human need to move must be encouraged, rather than stifled, because it will set the tone for the rest of that child’s life.”

    That’s the take-away for me.

    Alas, school in general stifles every human instinct, especially the instinct to move. We spend 7 hours a day for 12+ years supressing movement in our children, and then we wonder why we have an obesity problem, and why it’s so hard for adults to exercise.

    Sometimes the wild critters on my property look at me and then at each other, and slowly shake their heads. “Humans are just nuts” I think I hear them saying. “Don’t even try to understand them.”

    Amy wrote on October 12th, 2011
  11. Vivid memories here too of calisthenics in the gym to Go, You Chicken Fat, Go from the early 80s. I always found the song confusing, and therefore disturbing… what did it mean? Where was the fat? On us or in what we ate? No one could adequately explain it to me.

    Gazelle wrote on October 12th, 2011
  12. One thing I’d add is falling and rolling- as in Judo/Jujitsu falling and rolling. The best thing to take away from martial arts. Kids and adults are way more likely to injure themselves in a bad fall than a fight (and there are going to be more falls than fights anyway).

    You don’t really need a specific day to teach it (perhaps it’s already part of MovNat?) but it helps avoid injuries.

    Pat wrote on October 12th, 2011
  13. “Heck, even recess is getting cut in some places. That’s just criminal.”

    At my kids’ elementary school, they only have PE one day a week and they don’t get recess on the day they have PE. :(

    My 10 year old daughter would include one more change to your proposed gym class — let the kids go barefoot! She’s tried, but the PE teacher will have none of that. At least the teacher doesn’t argue about her choice to wear minimal shoes: Vibram Fivefingers (3rd grade), Feelmax Osma (4th grade), Vivobarefoot Neo (5th grade).

    Peace Karen wrote on October 12th, 2011
  14. I’m just astounded that a world-class athlete like Mark hated gym class just as much as uncoordinated me did. Hopefully this will be encouraging to our younger readers.

    I know now that given the right sports and activities, I could have learned much earlier that I actually am athletic. I do best at individual sports like century bike rides and just hiking and walking, all of which I love and tons of endurance for. I also have decent hand eye coordination, but somehow school PE didn’t foster that. I’m scared of team sports because of my school experiences, but someday I’d like to give Ultimate a try.

    We had Presidential Fitness in the 1970s (missed the Chicken Fat–it was the “Free to Be You and Me” era), but my gym teacher mixed things up pretty well. My favorite kinds of games were creative forms of tag, and then all kinds of those “New Games”–Sardines, Earthballs, Parachutes…help me out here. I wish that movement would take off again. New Games are a riot for adults too. At least for this adult. :)

    But there there were handstands and rope climing. I never could do stuff like that.

    In Elementary School and Jr. High, we had to “run the hill”. Ugh. By high school we could take badminton and aerobics, so it wasn’t too bad.

    Shebeeste wrote on October 12th, 2011
  15. Physical education, like all education, has to start in the home. Too many parents expect the schools to do all the work. And it’s not enough to simply enroll your kids in soccer or little league baseball. You have to lead by example. What message does it send when you come home and park yourself in front of the TV?

    As for gym, teachers need to recognize that different kids have different abilities and you can’t come up with the same activities for everyone. Also, you can’t worry so much about making things fun. In my gym class, kids would look forward to dodgeball or basketball cause that was more fun than jogging. But what ultimately happens is that some kids dominate the game and the less athletic kids get left behind, which only deters them from taking up physical activity later on. I was good at running, but had no strength. So when it came to test how many pull ups I could do, I came up short. Well how am I supposed to build up strength if nothing I’m doing in class helps build it? That’s why I wish gym had emphasized strength training when I was a kid. I didn’t start lifting until my mid-20s. Now I love it. If only I had a school that preached the importance of it instead of letting me get by playing floor hockey.

    BigNoseDog wrote on October 12th, 2011
  16. what a fun post. my son only gets a few minutes of recess a day! before school in the morning we “workout”. he does dead lifts with a pumpking, and benches his little pumpkin too. he also loves to do burpees, and mountain climbers. he is always asking what’s next?! it gets the wiggles out before we head off to school.

    MIDI GRRL wrote on October 12th, 2011
  17. So excited to see this post! I am 6 months away from getting my teaching certification in Health & Physical Education. I cannot wait to go out into the schools and hopefully make a change! It is so frustrating to hear about budget cuts, reducing required PE time, or even worse: elimination of PE. I know when I get a job I will be faced with many many challenges but I truly believe I can be an inspiration to my students and hopefully make a difference. In my college classes we are taught that PE is moving away from just team sports and moving towards life-time activities. I am actually working on a yoga unit as we speak (of course I’m procrastinating and reading MDA – opps! haha). I also would love to include orienteering and scavenger hunts (those were my favorites as a kid and think of all the sprinting involved!) in PE. Overall I want to show the students the variety of fitness activities available to them and have them find something (hopefully more than 1) that they are attracted to and can enjoy for a while. The goal is so the students can plan and implement a fitness plan for themselves when they are done, whether that includes soccer, sprints, circuit training, yoga, dance, weightlifting, or hiking. Just so they realize the importance of being active and enjoying it!

    Kathleen wrote on October 12th, 2011
  18. I was fortunate in high school to have had a PE class entitled “Athletic Fitness and Conditioning,” which consisted of learning some of the musculature of the body as well as actually doing weightlifting. Now, at the time, I was essentially clueless and did a bunch of isolation-type exercises, but it was cool to have a class like that if even for a semester. The problem is that it was about a twenty-student class. So out of an 800-student school, only 2.5% partook.

    And PE programs are being cut? What with all the rise of child and teen obesity, I agree that PE programs should be widened, especially for younger kids. All the nonsense about young boys having ADD/ADHD is just that – nonsense. They simply need an outlet for their energy, and fewer opportunities through the day to make use of it (lack of PE, shorter recesses) isn’t helping.

    Russell (Primal U) wrote on October 12th, 2011
  19. bein a “hippie” kid in the 70’s, I played Ultimate almost every day in the summer (we had yr round school then) when it was a relatively new sport. I miss that…

    peggy wrote on October 12th, 2011
  20. Ack I hated those classes! I traveled around a lot as a military brat. Most PE classes were the drudgery you described, but one school did it their way – we got to do archery, martial arts, bowling, gymnastics and other sports. That was the most awesome experience. I was excited by physical activity for the first time. Most schools push softball, soccer, football – all the team sports. I liked the individual sports where you really perform on your own instead of running around or standing around on a field. The individual attention is key. I do table tennis now and there is no big field to hide on – it’s just you and your opponent.

    HillsideGina wrote on October 12th, 2011
  21. Your revisions actually sound a lot like what we did in gym class. We had those rope climbing obstacle courses on a regular basis, ran the mile regularly, did wrestling, gymnastics, and dancing. Hardly any strength training until middle school. It was a ton of fun, and I loved gym. Sorry to hear you had such a rough go of it.

    Leslie wrote on October 12th, 2011
  22. As a nice a plan as this is M, it might be improved by including items that appeal to many women: accessible dance forms and yoga. Not everyone is into the team or competitive sports. :)

    moreporkplease wrote on October 12th, 2011
  23. Ah, yes, those famous words: “Give that chicken fat back to the chicken, and don’t be chicken again!” I didn’t realize anyone else remembered that song. And Robert Preston was the memorable “Music Man” singing that schlock!

    Thanks for a great article.

    Barb W wrote on October 12th, 2011
  24. I don’t have any great memories of gym class Mark. I do remember the wet towels, getting beat up in the locker room, and the head shots during basketball. I guess I do remember the PE teacher loving a handful of the jocks and leaving the rest of us at their mercy lol.

    I like the suggestions and mix. Specially, like the MovNat idea for the young ones.

    Darcy Guy wrote on October 12th, 2011
  25. I think your program sounds spectacular. I have another fun element you could add in from my school days. I am 31, so this was years ago now, but when I was in middle school our PE program was actually pretty innovative. I was a part of a graduating class of over 800 kids, so needless to say this was a BIG school with a LOT of teachers. The first day of every new month all the kids in our grade would congregate in the gym with all the PE teachers (there were probably ten of them or so). Day one of a new month the teachers would take turns making presentations and “selling” us on what their next unit would be. For example Mr Smith might talk about doing a month on baseball. You would do skills and drills and sprints and play baseball games every day for a month. Mrs. ABC might be doing ultimate frizbee, another teacher might be doing dance and so on. At the end of the presentations you went and signed up for your next month of gym. We did this every month, and every month you had new choices. I LOVED it.

    joey wrote on October 12th, 2011
  26. Perhaps someone could come up with an alternative to “picking teams” – I was always picked last. The gym teacher would always make the two jockiest jocks the “captains” then they would pick their jock friends first and the nerdy types last. Then, when game-time starts the nerds basically never get the ball but rather stand around and watch the athletic kids play. How did this help make me physically fit?

    Brian Clasby wrote on October 12th, 2011
  27. The thing that bugged me so much about “physical education” as I experienced it (in the 80s and early 90s) was that there was no “education” in it. They had a curriculum, but no pedagogy. The extent of the teaching method was: try to do XYZ; if you can’t, try it again. No breaking down into intermediary steps; no explicit instruction; if you couldn’t climb a rope or do a cartwheel or walk balance beam at the get go, the only thing you ever learned was how to fail at them repeatedly. With the result that the people who had a natural aptitude for kinesthetic intelligence would progress steadily and those who didn’t would stagnate. If we taught reading like that, 3/4 of the country would be illiterate. If we taught math and science like that, we’d be really hard pressed for doctors and engineers.

    It took me until my late 20s to recover from this system that taught me that I was useless and doomed to failure at all athletic pursuits, and actually find ways of moving that are fun and satisfying to me and that I can actually excel at.

    I imagine part of the problem is not enough societal value being placed on physical education and not enough research and policy work being done to develop solid pedagogy. And maybe part of the problem is that the sort of people who tend to become gym teachers are people who had natural aptitude for kinesthetic intelligence – so it’s hard for them to imagine having to teach something that came to them intuitively.

    berele wrote on October 12th, 2011
  28. I am also a Phys Ed teacher…I agree we should eliminate gym classes. I do think we need more PE classes though. I unfortunately work in a title 1 district (high needs, which means we get the most state/federal money, but for some reason can never use it…not even to buy pe equipment). Fortunately, however, kids LOVE to move. “we don’t have money” to go on field trips, although I did get through all of the planning stages to take the kids hiking on a mountain thats about an 8 minute drive from the school. Every class I do some dynamic stretching with strength conditioning built in. I do some “natural” movement stuff with the little guys, and we do have opportunities for “free choice time.” My absolute favorite games to play with the kids are tag and dodgeball. Steal the bacon, and capture the flag are my first 2 units every year. (I’m in a K-8 by the way). I do know that education is EXTREMELY different depending on where you live. I grew up in upstate NY, and I did my student teaching in a school that had off campus everything, including canoeing, high ropes courses, hiking, etc… you name it. Here in AZ, unless you are a private school, or a big name high school, most k-8’s don’t even have gymnasiums. My elementary school had 1 gym (with dividers) a wrestling room, an adapted pe room (yeah..non existent here) and a locker room with showers. Here we use the cafetorium, or multipurpose room. These kids get NOTHING compared to what we got back in NY.

    Jeff wrote on October 12th, 2011
  29. If my kids’ PE looked like this, I’d crash that party as often as I could! Thankfully, they DO have it twice per week and both girls (girly-girls) love it and do well.

    Chellie B wrote on October 12th, 2011
  30. I remember that song from some show on TV I watched as a kid. There was an exercise program with that song at the end of every show.

    My almost 4 year old’s preschool has outdoor recess twice a day weather permitting. I don’t think my child walks anywhere. They are always running around. He was running around in circles the other night from the living room to the den to the kitchen down the hallway stark naked yelling “I’m a Super Spy” the other night.

    If left to their own devices, his age group gets in a lot of physical play.

    Susan M. wrote on October 12th, 2011
  31. The kids these days are so badly out of shape… I mean, when I go to my tae kwon do class, I am doing 20 pushups effortlessly while I watch the 8-12 year olds struggle with 3! Same with sit-ups, crunches, jumping jacks, all of it!
    The “bar” seems to have been LOWERED at my child’s school. They don’t seem to learn any skills or do much in the way of exercise like sprints or body weight exercises. So I have made an effort to put her into extra “activities” like gymnastics, swimming and tae kwon do (in my class). We also try to go and do some hiking and biking every week.
    The schools I have not much faith in… it’s quite sad really.

    Laura wrote on October 12th, 2011
  32. Love the article, Mark. One thing I’d be careful with is not turning play into work in the sense of “making” kids do it.

    That said, Athena was the goddess of strength as well as wisdom for a good reason. Rather than treating students as disembodied minds, schools should be a place for both minds and bodies.

    Dragan wrote on October 12th, 2011
  33. Brilliant and much needed article!! Wish schools would follow through. Hate all this PC stuff that happens today.

    Tracy wrote on October 12th, 2011
  34. It would be great if adults would take physical exercise more serious and teach their children how important it is, instead of playing on the Wii. Cool stuff Mark!

    Paul Alexander wrote on October 12th, 2011
  35. My daughter’s school is really great for PE. She plays hockey, netball, football (soccer), does gymnastics, athletics (sprinting, high jump, long jump and discus) dance, judo, surfing, skiing and riding, as well as a weekly 2 mile run, and for fun she plays outside until it’s dark every day, running around, climbing trees, rollerblading, etc. The only thing they don’t do, as far as I can tell, is any form of weights – but they do have rope climbing and a climbing wall for out of class fun! I should add though, that she’s at a private school …

    oliviascotland wrote on October 12th, 2011
  36. Great Read Mark. I’m sure in 10 years when the kids from the ‘no-PE-in-schools generation’ are grown up and even more obese than this generation, policy makers may finally come to the ‘obvious’ conclusion that encouraging and supporting physical activity in schools is just as (IF NOT MORE) important than math, english and writing (who writes these days anyway?!).

    It’s not just about a healthy body either, physical activity positively influences all aspects of a childs development from their ability to build relationships to their outlook on life.

    For me, there was nothing like the tree climbing competitions we had at every recess during elementary school. A few broken bones and slight concussions, but there’s nothing like good old fashioned (non-PC) movement

    Isaac Warbrick wrote on October 12th, 2011
  37. This stuff is all great, but our schools are so terrible/underfunded at the moment I don’t think there’s much chance of this happening.

    Josh Frey-Vitamin Source wrote on October 12th, 2011
  38. Oooo, Ooooo, Oooo!!! you forgot, you must have on your “chucks” (chuck taylor, converses) don’t even think you can enter onto the gym floor without ’em. Whoa!

    Dasbutch wrote on October 12th, 2011
  39. hello mark, great post. i would include martial arts and yoga. yoga physical, breatrhing, and sitting. kids need to be active, but they also need to be able to sit properly and be quiet at times. burning them out from intense activity is great, and activity also gives energy, and it also helps to clear the m,ind and keep yoou focused. but asana and sitting will repair your body’s structure, after all the wild abondonment of fun playing games and doing primal exercise.

    collin wynter wrote on October 12th, 2011
  40. Mark, this was an excellent post. I am a physician and I was initially skeptical about your whole Grok, Primal, etc. deal. But I always have a commitment to keeping an open mind. The way to true knowledge is to have the balance between skepticism bordering cynical contempt and the try-anything at any-time gonzo optimism that every child has. You are a cool dude, and this was a totally great post that I will forward to my child’s gym teacher. Keep up the excellent work!

    S Andrei Ostric wrote on October 12th, 2011

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