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?

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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182 thoughts on “How I Would Change Gym Class”

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  1. Wow, I remember “Chicken Fat”.
    Vivid memories of lying on our backs and doing “bicycle legs” in 4 grade.
    “Steal the bacon” is very primal too.

      1. I was good at that one. I had whole groups of people keeping an eye on me if we played that.

    1. We actually had Go You Chicken fat Go, too, and I went to elementary school in the 70s. I used to sing the song at home, much to my order brothers’s dismay (they’re a lot older than I am and remember it from the first go round).

  2. Well done Mark, I have been talking to my kids admins to institute these very things…..BRICK WALLS are better at conversing!!!!!

    1. I hear ya, i guess the old adage still true “Those who can-DO, the ones that cant -TEACH, and the one who cant teach- TEACH GYM”
      My PE thru grammar and HS was pathetic.

      1. And don’t forget… The ones who believe “the old adage” haven’t a clue about teaching. Thanks for perpetuating one of the biggest myths of our time!

      2. I agree with Mark Robb here. I know so many talented and earnestly engaged teachers. My girls have loved every teacher they have, and my kindergartener’s favorite teacher now is her gym teacher. He’s fun, friendly, just the right amount of old school, and makes those kids move. Gym is her favorite class, which I never would’ve expected from her. I feel so lucky that she’s beginning her gym experience this way.

      3. It’s so weird that my high school drama teacher used to say this. He was involved in summer theatre – still is.

        My elementary school teacher was rotund. His name was Mr Marcellus but we called him Mr Marshmallow. He was very jolly, though.

  3. Surprisingly enough, my middle school PE class was much like what you described! We would ‘run the loop’ which was 3 miles up the hill behind the school, to the ski hill, and back down past the orchard. You got to choose either wrestling or dance once a semester, and capture the flag was popular. However, i grew up in a small town where all of this worked out nicely, there weren’t very many kids to keep track of, and having sports and PE classes run around town for workouts was feasible. I vote YES for fixing PE programs!! I’m sure even my school has changed since I was there.

  4. Great ideas! I would provide sledgehammers to the high schoolers, and serve bacon in cinnamon at the end of each class. But I despair of ever becoming a PE teacher, because I lack the enormous potbelly that seems to be a prerequisite.

    1. HEY! I was a PE teacher and I do NOT have a potbelly! 🙂 I loved introducing new activities to the students which were fun games that made them sprint and move to work up a great sweat. Honestly, most schools have really good PE programs now even though they’re not daily which is something I would definitely change!

      1. You should write a PE eBook that targets any kid that is in high school or below.

        I’m 100% serious. eMail me through my blog if you want to throw ideas around with me.

        I want to help others start primal businesses, blogs, ebooks and more. I get questions all the time about start-ups and am extremely intrigued.

    2. haha! Come to think of it, all the gym teachers I remember had pot belly’s AND they loved chronic cardio. hmmmm, interesting lol

    3. Not in my country. Growing up in the 70’s and 80’s all of my Sports Class Teachers (we don’t call it PE in europe) were fit and muscular. Even the ladies. In fact, I don’t think we had a single teacher that was fat. Couple had beer bellies (it was Germany, what do you expect lol).
      We had 5 hours of Sports Class a week.
      Once a year we had Teachers vs. Students games, usually either field hockey or soccer.

  5. Mark – What in interesting time to post this. I am currently student teaching for my Health & PE degree. I’m also certified ACE and ACSM for personal training. I have an old school coop that still does weird stuff and I want to totally turn the class around and incorporate a lot of what you said because I’ve already thought about a lot of it. This makes me stoked for when I someday finally land a great PE job somewhere.

    The only issue I have is – their school lunches. So long our students keep eating such garbage and parents don’t get involved enough to help that, they won’t maximize their growth and potential. It breaks my heart to see the stuff they eat, daily. To know they go from working hard and having fun in my gym class to lunch of a massive pile of processed food is saddening on my heart. I strive to stress eating well, but it’s tough.

    1. Yeah in high-school I never liked the lunches…so I packed a lunch…for 4 years I ate a big ol’ sandwich (yeah so the grains wasn’t great, but better than nothing) with meat and cheese on it…lots of meat and cheese…lol…but it was very filling and kept me good throughout the day and even after my gym sessions every night!

  6. I would love it if your program would be implemented at my child’s school! Though we have suffered some cuts unfortunately our PE- sorry Kinsiology teacher wasn’t one of them. All my child learns is how to juggle, how to stack cups, and rolling around on a scooter. Not sure how that qualifies as physical activity but the school thinks he is great. Me not so much!

  7. Mark,

    Not fantasy at all – it sounds great. For whatever reason, our local public schools do a decent job with gym/phys ed. I have twin 8 year old boys and they come home with lots of good PE stories. Every quarter, they do something called the “Pacer Test” which to me sounds like “suicides” with progressively shorter times to reach the destination and turn around.

    In a more structured setting, I would think gymnastics work would be pretty valuable as well.

  8. Our elementary school (ok, our old elementary school, since I no longer have kids of elementary age…) has a bouldering wall in the gym. The kids are allowed to climb ONCE per year. Such a waste.

    Otherwise, gym was non-existent for me from 7th grade on. 7th and 8th grade, I “conned” my gym teachers into allowing me to go work as a library assistant during gym period. My high school only required 1 semester of gym (I did weight lifting, and was shockingly good at it.) I didn’t run a mile run from 6th grade til my junior year at university (because I was dating a cross country runner – and thought we could run together.)

    It’s taken me way too long to overcome what I learned in school.

  9. I remember my days of PE, which included lots of dodgeball, sports of all sorts and SQUARE DANCING in high school.
    I have two teens. Both have been lucky enough to have PE since they started school – in four school districts, in four different states!
    Elementary was moving for fun so that even kids that weren’t fast, strong, whatever, could enjoy themselves. Middle school was more about learning different sports and high school has been dodgeball (let’s cheer for the left-handed softball player who can take them all down), additional focus on sports and weightlifting.

  10. sorry – kinesiology whatever either way he isn’t doing his job to get the kids moving.

  11. In my pre-primal days I was a substitute teacher, and taught Summer School full time. I didn’t incorporate all these concepts, but plenty of dodgeball , long laps around the field, push ups, pull ups, soccer, capture the flag, were part of the curriculum.

    1. That sounds like a blast. Write an ebook and target any high school or below PE teacher. I’m 100% serious. Read my comment just above…

  12. Hi Mark, this is a great article. For the past 3 years I have doing all these things you mentioned in the article in my P.E. classes. I totally agree with you on everything you wrote. Movnat and Primal Blue print and exuberant animal is the way to go in P.E classes. But todays kids in middle school are so unmotivated. THey are sitting to long in a regular classroom do acedemics. Encouraged by the school and their parents. It has been a crusade for me to get the same respect for my Phys. Ed. But I am determined! Thanks

  13. Your plan sounds a lot like my elementary school P.E. Everyday from first grade through seventh we started P.E. with burpees, sometimes followed by pushups and situps, then a lap sprint, then games. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I realized what an amazing P.E. teacher we’d had, and that ours was a fairly unique experience.

  14. “Chicken Fat” – all through my grade school PE!! ha!

    Check out this book – “Spark” by Dr John Ratey from Harvard. He worked with the PE department in our school district to show how well done PE makes kids smarter.

  15. I completely agree with the remarks about school lunches. If diet is 80% of the cure, then a pretzel with cheese as a main course for lunch is NOT going to hack it! Makes me sick, and my kids refuse to eat those lunches. I am slowly revamping their lunches to primal, got a long way to go, as they don’t want to give up the easy to eat sandwiches (got as far as sprouted Ezekiel bread).

    I have a son in high school who was able to put in for weightlifting instead of frosh PE. Low reps, heavy weights, and some sprinting was the curriculum, so not bad. He had to take regular PE for a semester this year, so chronic forms of cardio, mixed with different skills like archery, shooting, rope climbing, skiing, golfing, etc. We also have an elective called Lifetime sports, which looks to me like a year’s classes in play: some of the above, skiing, golf, shooting rifle and bow, and stuff like rappeling, hiking, etc. They are constantly on field trips into the mountains for this. My daughter took this and was always missing other classes to do this for a couple hours 2-3 times a week, and I wasn’t bothered by her missing the sitting in school!

  16. What a flashback hearing Go, You Chicken Fat, Go”! Gee I feel like a nut since I actually liked it, would sing it at home and do the exercises. Most likely because my mother was NOT an active person and I liked to find any way I could to get up and move around. (plus I always liked Robert Preston…Music Man anyone?)

    I think we are lucky that my son’s school does a fair job of having variety in PE class. They play dodge ball, floor hockey, lacrosse, some weird scooter racing, and many other things as is age appropriate.
    I would like a new gym teacher though, as ours is very condescending to students 🙁
    I find it troublesome at our Annual School Board Budget vote that so many older residents want to do away with gym class and the school athletic teams (well along with art, foreign language and Tech class). Some children need the motivation to be active, as they do not get that at home.

  17. On my first day at a new school the register was called. When my name was called I said that I had moved to another school. My name was crossed off the register and thus I never had to go to another PE/PT class! Smart eh? I had a moped and a boyfriend and every Wednesday afternoon (Games afternoon) I was nowhere to be seen. I got away with it. All my school reports said “C+ average” because they could not admit that they didn’t know who the hell I was. My attitude has not changed much since then – although I do now go to the gym once or twice a week.

  18. Everything you mentioned is exactly what I had in gym class growing up in CT during the 80’s/early 90’s. We had tons of sports and dodgeball was for when it was raining or simply too cold to be outside. Monthly physical fitness tests (elementary and middle school) included pullups, situps, pushups and the old shuttle run. We also had dedicated gym teachers (no double duty unless it was a sub). Good times.

  19. Had to post this… I posted this on the Facebook MovNat Alumni private group after I participated in the 5 day workshop over the summer:

    “After spending time at the 5 Day Reawakening and thinking about getting kids moving according to MovNat principles I changed my list: MovNat would be the best thing for kids until they needed to specialize for a sport, if ever.
    Our K-12 PE classes would serve our youth much better were it based on MovNat principles.”

    I do believe Erwan has plans…

  20. Great post. Whenever I see kids I’m amazed at how naturally they move, play and act, uncorrupted by society. I agree that the sooner good habits are instilled in children, the better. Unfortunately I don’t see a gym class revolution happening any time soon! hehe
    Grok on.

  21. I think the picture you painted is wonderful and I wish that had been the way of things when I was young! I do remember some dodgeball, I remember fitness tests but I don’t remember the chicken song, maybe it had petered out in it’s use by the time I was testing.

    I’m encouraged to read comments of some of these things being done already. That’s awesome! Little by little these changes will come. I hope.

  22. Although my school gym classes were dreadful for social reasons, one thing our grade school had that was awesome was this:

    A big hill
    Several large oak trees
    A creek
    Rocks to build dams with
    Sticks and limbs to build forts with

    Guess what we did all recess? Climb the hill and roll down it, build dams in the creek by moving rocks (unbuild the dam when the teachers told us we had to take it down), climb the trees, run around and hide in the tall grass. Make forts with sticks.

    That’s all you really need to provide for kids: a natural environment and the ability to move around in it. Maybe some monkey bars and tractor tires for good measure. Of course, nowadays the environment has to be sanitized and lawyer-proofed. Back then breaking an arm was a rite of passage. These days it’s a lawsuit by a parent.

    One thing I have also noticed about kids sports is that they universally reward sprinters: soccer, baseball, football, track, swimming, even dodgeball and tag. I was always considered “slow” when I was a kid. What I didn’t know is that I was an endurance athlete. I might not be speedy, but I can go forever. If teachers understood that kids built primarily of slow twitch muscles could be athletes too, just a different kind of athlete, there might be more outlets for this type of kid to feel confident.

    Myself, I homeschool my kids. Here’s what they have outside our house for “P.E.”:

    A hill
    Several large trees
    A creek
    Rocks to build dams with
    Sticks and limbs to build forts with

    1. You just reminded me of the hill in the playground of my kindergarten. Me and my best friend spent every recess for nine months straight riding a red wagon down the hill then running back up the hill, over and over again. We experimented with various different ways to increase our wagon speed. In retrospect, it’s a shame neither of us became race car drivers – we would both have been pretty good at it.

      I hated PE, but I sure loved dragging that wagon up the hill as fast as I could.

  23. I think I just missed out on the “Chicken Fat” song, thank goodness.

    All of these ideas are great… love the idea of making play a “required” part of the younger kids’ day, since they may not be doing enough of it on their own!

    Something interesting to me is that the basic components of the Presidential Fitness test (pushups, jumping jacks, squat thrusts, chinups) actually weren’t so bad – but the boring, forced repetition certainly undermined their utility.

    What about abolishing chairs in the work offices of adults…? One at a time, I guess.

  24. The biggest thing I think I would change is to make the PE class more frequent. In my highschool we only have PE for one semester, and four weeks out of that semester you were in the classroom in Health class.

    Great blog as always.

  25. PE Teacher/Crossfitter/Dad
    I incorporate as much of what you list as I can on a daily basis in my high school classes. Unfortunately I have to go “around” the curriculum in order to do it. Our area has gone as far as to ban dodgeball and require machines in the weight rooms for fear of liability resulting from injury. So we play a similar game called “modified team handball” and outfitted an “athletics” weight room that we use for our classes.

    1. That’s how the district was where I first taught. Everything had to be in code, Dodgeball was termed “Turkish Handball” but no one actually checked what we were doing in person so it worked.

  26. I wish you were my gym teacher!! Totally agree with you. We homeschool so my husband teaches PE. In Indiana, only one year of PE is required for high school which is sad! We teach PE every year (K-12 at home). Summer we do cycling, swimming, basketball, walking, boxing, weight lifting and working core. We do this year round except some obvious stuff you can’t do in snowy weather.

    Winter we hit weight lifing and wood cutting (hubby and boys)…my daughter and I help load up when they come back home.

    Printing this out to give to my hubby who could use this information to beef up our PE program here at home.

  27. What a great topic, Mark! I wish our school would consult you!

    I remember the “gym” classes where we sat at desks learning the rules of basketball, volleyball, etc. While sitting. At desks. How ridiculous.

    The most fun–and beneficial–classes were the active, freewheeling ones–dodgeball, tag, ultimate frisbee–and my favorite, bombardment. (SO FUN!)

  28. Yeah! Capture the Flag and Steal the Bacon are our Boy Scout Troops favorite games!

  29. I often wonder, especially with boys, how much easier school would be if they were allowed to sprawl instead of being forced to sit for long periods of time. My four boys are constantly moving and I imagine it’s torture for my 9 year old to be at a desk all day. He is give the option to sit on an exercise ball during the day though.
    To their defense, our school is very proactive with gym class in grade school. They also have an amazing playground with several climbers, balance beams, etc and a large field and hill for the kids to play on. I don’t see as much innovation in jr high, although the gym teacher is meeting my son after school to help him weight train (he needs to pull 40lbs on his compound bow to be able to hunt). We are also lucky in that we have a small YMCA right in our jr/sr high school and the jr/sr high students are given a free membership.

  30. I love this article and I’m passing it on to my principal now. Yes, I am a PE/Yoga teacher at a private school and I have the freedom to make up my own programming. I’m also a level 1 crossfit cert holder and I incorporate one strength training activity each week (bodyweight only). I’ve found that as long as I present it as a “game” they will do anything. Also, just do ultimate frisbee to upper el yesterday and they loved it.
    As far as the chicken fat song, I use it 1x a year for a rhythm stick dance lesson. Kids love it!

  31. As the mother of two young ones and someone still recovering from miserable gym class experiences in her own day, I love this post. I completely agree about more emphasis on the outdoors and MovNat type exercise. More obstacle courses! More choice! More games and real-life exertion! And I’m totally with you on standing at the desks. When I was in high school, I at least got to choose classes. Although I’m a total non-athlete, I opted for the swimming and weight-lifting classes every time just because they seemed useful and individually-focused instead of another boring team sport in which non-athletes were ignored by the coach-teacher.
    Happy to join the gym revolution!

  32. Ugh. I remember gym class. Imagine being the artsy, clumsy kid in gym class. Yet, I was the first girl to finish the mile, ran XC and can squat all day.

    A group of us in this small town are trying to develop a school based on the work of Dr. Montessori and creative movement. Kids don’t have to sit if they don’t want to. Movement is encouraged. Art is done with math, science with music, civics with movement. All things are interconnected.

    Plus, lunch will be made by the students, eaten family style and be made from wholesome ingredients. There will likely be grains, but as a board member I’m pushing to eliminate gluten especially.

    There are people out there who are making this happen!

  33. Mark, if you ever opened a school, or a camp that was like this, my kids would be the first to sign up (assuming I had kids at that point). Hell, I’d even switch careers and become a teacher just to be a part of it all =)

  34. I’m an art teacher in TN (it sounds silly to have to specify state, but each state’s curriculum varies) and try my best to keep in contact with the PE teachers I work with. I think your ideas are wonderful, and they probably would too! Wonderful and at the same time not very plausible (but doable). And I think a number of PE teachers are trying their best to make sure students are as active as possible and be as creative with it as possible to worm around curriculum guidelines(at least the ones I know). But I think before reforming exercise we need to take a look at the food! You can’t expect children to do half these things when their breakfast consists of pouring strawberry milk on Trix. And maybe they eat a crusty pizza with ice cream for lunch. It’s deplorable. I can’t stand watching the madness during breakfast duty…

  35. “Heck, even recess is getting cut in some places. That’s just criminal.”

    -This is absolutely absurd. It’s not hard to believe in today’s world!

    “Kids simply need to move.” – This says it all!

    There is always hope. But we need to take action. We need MORE PRIMAL/PALEO BLOGS. I’ll be writing a couple of posts on why people need to start a primal/paleo blog. And, I’ll be helping anyone get started that wants too.

    I sometimes liked gym class and sometimes hated it. If gym class was exactly what you just laid out then I would have always loved it. Seriously!

  36. Couldn’t agree more, don’t even think we did as much as you did in our PE Lessons here in the UK!! Funnily enough, as someone who’s suffered badly with her back and now attends Alexander Technique lessons to correct my posture, the part of your post which stood out to me the most was the fact that the western world needs to do away with chairs and tables!! I seriously believe this is what has caused us all to sit so wrong when writing, typing, eating, driving etc and that is what has put us in a world where backpain is so common – when I see elderly African tribesmen/women squating as you suggested it makes me laugh that nobody in our culture would ever expect an elderly person to sit on the floor like that, it’s polite to “offer them a seat” – the irony is that’s what probably made them stiffen up so much in the first place!!

    I have a 4 and 3yr old and since researching so much into my health (inc the happy day I found MDA!), I have watched them in awe how they move so freely and think it’s so sad that I had assumed that I didn’t move/squat like that cos I was an adult now and we’re incapable!!!! Nooooo I say!!! I’m gonna try to get back to that, it’s gonna take time but I reckon if I can try sitting on the floor for a portion of each evening then I might start loosening…. think of the prospects – a larger lounge once we get rid of the sofa’s, lol!!!

    H x

  37. I remember the song. I was the “chubby” girl in school and have been all my life…55 years! I was made fun of so many times. I hated school, I hated P.E., I would hide in the bathroom at lunch and eat my sack lunch in there where no one could see me and call me “Pig”. I have never told that to anyone before. That was 1972…I quit school after I failed the 10th grade. I failed mostly because my tormentor was in the majority of my classes that year. And the one class that he wasn’t in was Math…I made A+ all year in that class. The only part of school I enjoyed. I see all these kids today and they are so much heavier than I was back in the 60’s. It is because of the choices of our government…The FDA in allowing so much crap into our foods! Stay away from Processed Foods Is The #1 Rule of my shopping list now! Gym classes being cut out of schools. Video games…so much has contributed to the obesity explosion over the last 50 years!
    I love reading your posts and books. We all need to help each other and work together to get our young kids on the right track and get some of us old schoolers back up and moving again…I am doing so much better than I was 10 years ago! I wish I could go back in time and change a few things…sigh…but, all I can do is make wise choices from now on for myself and my family. I do the grocery buying and cooking and it is in my hands to do right by them! Thank you for all that you are doing for our children and their future!

  38. Robert Preston was The Music Man! “Chicken Fat” was composed by the same songwriters.

    Our high school boasted one of the first ropes courses. We crossed monkey bridges, flew down zip wires, balanced on tightropes, belayed each other up and down climbing poles, and climbed up a double rope with an ascender on each limb. I wowed my classmates by climbing halfway up the light tower at the football stadium and then letting go, and hanging by the rope. Figure 8’s and carabeeners.

  39. That sounds like my Jr. High PE class. We even had a big universal weight machine for strength training. We also had ropes to the ceiling of the gym and climbing pegs on the wall. We also had square dancing. Everyone had to participate!
    What was really cool was in high school we also had archery! Can you imagine these days giving a class full of kids bows and arrows? We sure had fun with them though. I can recall kids shooting the arrows high up in the pine trees behind the science building. Those trees were full of arrows!

  40. For me PE was absolute misery. I was a klutz and the slowest runner(found out as an adult that I had had asthma all my life). I was the skinny pencil neck geek. Team sports were nothing but humiliation for me. The only PE class I had that I liked was one called individual-dual PE my senior year where we did things like archery, tennis, bowling, weight lifting(I was good at that) and running. I would have taken a dance class for PE in a red hot minute as would have most of the girls I knew. As an adult I like camping, backpacking, kayaking and just simple park walking. I occasionally do target sports such as archery and sling, but I can’t hit the broad side of a barn(I am very very nearsighted), but it is fun just to try. I still hate team sports with a passion. I personally wish they would encourage and explore more solo and noncompetative sports in PE. As adults most of us are not going to have a team to exercise with and if kids are already aquainted with solo sports they may have a better chance to keep it up as they get older.

    1. I’m with you, Ingvildr.

      Dodgeball was a great way for the bigger kids to abuse the scrawny ones like me.

      We are all so different. I hated competitive sports as a child, but loved “killing” my friends at Scrabble.

      Once I was able to take Modern Dance as my gym class, life was much more fun!

      Probably why I am a big fan of homeschooling–one size doesn’t fit all…

  41. 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!!!!

  42. 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.

  43. 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.

  44. 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!

  45. 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.

    1. 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.

  46. 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! 😀

  47. 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!

    1. 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?

  48. 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.

  49. “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.”

  50. 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.

  51. 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.

  52. “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).

  53. 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.

  54. 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.

  55. 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.

  56. 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!

  57. 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.

  58. 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…

  59. 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.

  60. 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.

  61. 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. 🙂

  62. 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.

  63. 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.

  64. 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.

  65. 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?

  66. 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.

  67. 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.

  68. 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.

  69. 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.

  70. 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.

  71. 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.

  72. Brilliant and much needed article!! Wish schools would follow through. Hate all this PC stuff that happens today.

  73. 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!

  74. 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 …

  75. 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

  76. 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!

  77. 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.

  78. 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!

  79. Thanks for the great post Mark! We over here @ MovNat are working our butts off to help the movement (no pun intended). Big plans. Stay tuned.

    Exercise Scientist

  80. My high school’s idea of PE was the teacher taking the boys outside to play football and leaving the girls inside, unsupervised, with a volleyball and net. Would it surprise anyone to learn that unsupervised 14-15 year old girls didn’t play much volleyball?

    The despised “dyke” history teacher/girls’ basketball coach who taught my last ever PE class took us outside to play golf for a couple weeks in spring. This was the only time in 10 years of mandated PE that I ever enjoyed it.

    I don’t know where I was going with this. Only that I was well into my 20s before I discovered that physical activity could be fun and not an exercise in humiliation. Speaking of, I’m afraid I can’t agree with “more dodgeball.” In theory I guess it’s not horrible, but in practice it’s giving bullies weapons and license to hurl them at weaker children.

  81. I was in PE in the early 60’s, and you are very accurate in your description. It was torture for a chubby, short girl who was rather uncoordinated. The Presidential Physical Fitness testing was brutal humiliation year after year when the only thing I passed was the softball throw.

    What I would like to see is education that encompasses trying different activities to find a match for all students. I was the baby thrown out with the bathwater, so to speak, and spent the next 40+ years thinking I could not do anything athletic because I couldn’t beat a girl ten inches taller than I was at the 50-yard dash. Had I been offered something like yoga, for example, my life might have been quite different. Instead, I spent years trying to master something called “a backward roll” that I could never do.

    I truly believe that the system in place then, and, from what I gather, is still basically unchanged, relegates a huge portion of the population to the status of “non-movers”. We suffer so greatly being thrust into activities we cannot perform, that we shut down and never look for something we can do. I excelled at “brain” activities, so that is what I concentrated on, and kept myself as far removed from PE and all it symbolized for many years.

  82. I remember Chicken Fat – and String Bean! Yes, I had long legs and skinny! I really hated that big thick rope that we had to climb coming out of the gym ceiling! I didn’t make it very far and what was the purpose of climbing the rope anyway?! In case I wanted to have a career as a burglar? Thanks for the memories!

  83. I hated dodgeball. It always ends up “every body throw balls as hard as you can at the geeky kid.” I was ALWAYS the geeky kid. If I could I would make a rule stating no child would ever be forced to play dodgeball against their will ever again.

  84. Great recommendations! Admittedly, gym class was always one of my favourites (aside from visual art) because it gave me an excuse to run around and have fun. What an easy credit. lol

  85. You almost made me cry with this post. As a former fat girl who managed to fail one semester in PE and sucked at long distance running and volleyball just because I lost my ability to move naturally (1 to 2 hours of PE per week were my only activity), I think a program like the one you described would help prevent at least half of adults health issues (both physical and psychological).

  86. I failed the President’s physical fitness test repeatedly. Yet now, I’m much more fit than most women my age (57). In a way, I think it was the humiliation of repeatedly failing that test that motivated me to become a long distance runner, the only event in the test that I could do reasonably well.

    I would add some yoga to your curriculum.

  87. God I hated gym growing up…. Though I really like excercise now and I took up tennis as an adult @ 42(not real good but I love it)
    Anyway, as a kid PE was so stressful and I was picked last for teams because was terrible and very shy.
    But I have to agree with you one the things I really liked was dodge ball. We played it in a circle and the people in the middle were the targets. It was fun.
    If I could change PE I would make it fun and not so stressful and threatening because I would want the children to think of physical fitness as something FUN they want to do for life not something to try to get out of like I did.
    Let the kids have much more choice of activities not ‘everyone has to play volleyball today’ give them a choice between activities and encourage trying new ones on different weeks. I would also add jumping rope and hop scotch as some good activities for PE

    1. Oh, my high school occasionally had open-gym days. I LOVED those! I’d go practice shooting hoops with a few friends, maybe hop in on a volleyball game, or practice some gymnastics. When we were allowed to lift weights, I would do that, too. But you better believe I wasn’t going to be caught dead playing anything with the jocks. I didn’t need that embarrassment.

  88. Somewhere in all my stuff, I have a “Chicken Fat” record… special-ordered it from a teacher’s store about 20 years ago! I bought it so that I could share it with my kids – horrible mother that I am, I would try to make them exercise to it during our early homeschooling years! “Push-ups, every morning, ten times, not just now and then…” In spite of my lame efforts, all of my kids know how to exercise, and a couple of them are quite fit.
    Loved the post – awesome PE ideas!

  89. Make them take showers again, so they don’t stink like AXE all day and blast everyone in the class room!

  90. Teacher here …
    1. Mark’s PE sounds awesome! However, they have PE once/wk – pathetic & they can’t do any activities where the kids could get injured bc the parents will sue – sad 🙁
    2. School breakfast & lunches are AWFUL! The amount of chemicals, additives, preservatives, etc are crazy!
    3. The amount of strictly academic is only going to get worse with the National Exam coming in 2014 & teachers jobs on the line based on student performance.
    4. And the “best” (drives me insane) is after we feed these kids awful food, don’t allow them to move, & jam their brains full … our school does this all in classrooms with NO WINDOWS! So they are stuck in artificial lighting, not able to get outside into fresh air, or even see the outside for 7hours a day!!! And we wonder why kids get sick so much???

  91. Dodgeball?!?! Have you lost your mind?!?!
    That game is horrible. The kids who potentially would be the ones who would most benefit from this game, are the first ones out because they are the easiest target. Then they sit on the sides with bruised ego’s. This is the exact opposite of what needs to happen to get those less active, less coordinated kids into a better situation. Sorry, but you’ve totally botched it on that one.

  92. I agree with this on so many levels, and yet when I read about all the sports, I flash back to my elementary school years being forced to play wiffle ball, soccer, dodgeball, and a whole bunch of other “fun” activities that resulted in popularity contests when picking teams and complete embarrassment because I was the person who couldn’t kick a ball, connect with a bat, or otherwise basically do anything right. I was a beast playing tag, though, and I was the fastest girl who could run a mile. I liked that kind of stuff, I liked learning about strength training in high school, but I really could have passed on the embarrassment of being one of the kids who would much rather be drawing or painting or tinkering on the piano. I was never fat, either. If I could separate these ideas from the emotional response I get remembering how team sports made me feel like a complete outcast, I’d think this was great! But heaven forbid you be the one who can’t kick the ball in kickball.

  93. Some guy named Robert Preston? As stupid as Chicken Fat was, didn’t you get a thrill from having a major Broadway and film star inciting you to exercise? His voice kept me going when I’d be lagging behind everyone else. Kept hoping he’d break into “oh, we got trouble, right here in River City…”

  94. Thanks for reviving old memories of ’60s era P.E. class. I remember our skinny, flat-chested teacher leading us 13 year-old girls in pressing our palms together while chanting “We must, we must, we must improve our bust”! Just looking at her was a dead give-away that it was a waste of time.

  95. A lof of what Mark is proposing is in my daughter’s school. It’s really quite interesting. PE is every day and probably 1/2 the time it’s outside. Wednesdays are called “Work out Wednesdays” and they do situps, pullups, burpees within some sort of game. In the winter they go sledding, yep, organized sledding, sanctioned in school. The PE teacher sleds and often the classroom teacher will go down the hill a time or two.

  96. Need more P.E. Teacher positions in the schools. A friend won a P.E. job recently – she was one of over 500 applicants for this position!

  97. There is an element of fantasy to your post here, because:

    1. You forget the fact that our public school system has become a training camp for what our culture expects of a dumb, fat, slave class. There are 3 lessons to be learned from elementary and middle school and beyond: obedience/passivity, conformity to mediocrity, and how to eat shit as you participate in a dry run of your miserable debt-laden serf adult existence. Oh, the delight in dreaming of a better reality!

    2. How can one prepare oneself for a life of producing nothing and feeling important without a chair? It is the perch of both civility and baseless narcissism alike.

    3. A true teacher is someone who has lived, pursued his/her passions with vigor and learned many things of which others might like to have knowledge in their quest for glory. Is this not why people have interest in you and your website? Today’s certified school “teachers” are just hacks like everyone else: they went to school for a piece of paper that attests to their ability to conform passively to the system; they have have little experience in triumph, would not be tolerated if they had strong opinions or insight, and offer our children little more that a means for accepting their own servitude and complacency… all while eating hot dogs and hogies.

    If your idea were to fit within the established framework, Mark, and allow the schools to gain an advantage in begging for federal funds… they would go over well. If not, they would be dismissed as silliness, regardless of how sensible they are. 😉

  98. Great suggestions Mark. But, as a gym teacher, I also have to follow the curriculum. Granted, the curiculum allows for ‘some’ freedom of choice with regards to planning, there are other variables (e.g. safety, accountability, resources…) that keep the gym program the way it is. Nice suggestions though. I think I’ll have my students try some more ‘primal’ movements (especially the little ones).

  99. Intriguing post. I know for a fact that it was because I lifted weights in high school that I was able to develop the athletic build I’ve always had. I’ve been lifting on and off ever since and feel better and stronger when I do. It was also during that time that I realized how boring long distance running is (IMO).

  100. i’m wishing the bureaucracy even allowed me to teach more than 45 minutes of PE to my elementary students PER WEEK 🙁

  101. I have to say that I’d have loved to have gotten rid of the competition and the team sports. I was so anxious about it all, and I was always chosen last. It was horrible for my self esteem, and I would have preferred taking a dance class by myself or with my friends. PE was so bad that when I was an exchange student overseas and had taken a year of PE there, I used the excuse at my catholic high school here in the US that I fulfilled my PE requirement and needed to take that time to do Religion class. Boy was I relieved!

  102. One of the best posts ever!
    I’m a high school teacher (not PE) and get alarmed at how PE never gets taken seriously by the school administration. Today it was “lets have the gym classes sit in the cafeteria so we can use the gym for PSAT testing.”
    I’ve also been coaching cross-country/track for 12 years. I think our pay comes out to somewhere around minimum wage. I like to think I am very knowledgeable at the sport, but the powers that be see us more as babysitters. Who cares what we ran today, but they care that we are supervising the TEENAGERs as they wait for the buses. Ok, hot topic, let me stop my rant now! 🙂

  103. My elementary and middle school PE was a lot of running laps with a little bit of basketball occasionally (those were the good days). But in junior high and high school PE was a joke. The rule was “just move”, but even that wasn’t enforced. So really the rule was don’t get caught smoking or making out.

  104. Excellent post. WheI was at primary school in the early 1970’s there was a lot of sitting lolling on floors and heaps of outside activity. I am shcoked how many fat kids are prevalent in Australia now. These ideas are a must.

  105. “I’ll admit that I’m having a hard time imagining cynical teens playing without a shred of irony”

    As a student, I’m pleased to inform you that my gym class actually does play without a shred of irony. Sure, once in a while they scoff at some of the sillier games that the teachers have us play, but right now my class is midway through our-wait for it-Ultimate (Frisbee) unit. Once we really get started, everyone sprints, throws, catches, cheers, laughs, and gets upset when the game is cut short at the end of class.

    In other words, I think that games like ultimate are the the right way to go.

  106. “CrossFit Sawmill,” the only Crossfit affiliate within a public high school (to my knowledge), does much of what you have described in your spot-on post. This is the curriculum for all of our high school students, and they are getting measurably and dramatically fitter. PE teachers, check out the “teacher resources” tab on our website (; we have developed a ton of useful tools which we are happy to share.

  107. This makes me so happy. I am planning to homeschool my kids and now I have a place to start. They’re young, but I’ fully intend to primalize them starting 31 days ago!

  108. Dodgeball and steal the bacon! But too often PE was a mix of that stupid-ass presidential test that I swear was only invented to humiliate fat kids. Which I was at the time.

    Flag football was fun. So was self-defense but our principal commanded the PE teacher not to do it the following year. I went to an all-girls school and we LOVED the self-defense classes because we got to brawl with each other.

  109. First of all, amazing plan and something like this would be amazing for kids. Secondly, I think it’s important to understand that the sprints, mile run, and strength training are also MovNat. What I mean to say is, why do MovNat and then strength when MovNat is already have lifting, throwing, and carrying? Doesn’t matter if its a rock, stone, kettlebell, or each other. Lifting stuff is lifting stuff. Pull ups are awesome but they can also climb stuff. Squats, deads, and presses are also MovNat. Running a mile is also technically MovNat. It doesn’t have to be bodyweight or in a forest to be MovNat. Just my opinion.

  110. My 12 yr old son was in tears when he only got 3 for the beep test at school (he came down with the flu the next day and has asthma). I had to point out to him that being able to surf for 3 hours, swim 1km easily and goalkeep against players two years older than him were all different ways of being fit. My friend who teaches german at an all girl school is now teaching PE due to a shortage of teachers. No wonder our kids are obese and inactive!!

  111. This post does bring back memories of the 60’s….
    I don’t remember “steal the bacon” but i do remember my first encounter with cardio with a game we called “hide the sausage” which I spent much time practicing with Mandy S. :()
    All kidding aside, I still have my “Presidential Patch” (embroidered) for physical fitness somewhere in my archaic collection….Thanx for being a pack-rat mom…….

  112. Hmmm. I think there needs to be lots of stuff for kids who hate “sport” before they start thinking that exercise is synonymous with team or competitive sport. Play equipment and sports teams will always be dominated by the most boisterous kids with the others on the edges. I’d landscape those edges with small steep hillocks for running, jumping, practising handstands. I’d build a playhouse with hand and footholds to get to a quiet reading book on the roof. I’d put treestumps and low beamsinstead of benches. And I’d offer dance.classes, but also have a dancing area for playtimes with a range of music to explore moving to.

  113. You should come up with a homeschooling PE curriculum. For the people who do have the power to teach what they want and how they teach it. Right now we go to a weekly gymnastics class with my 4 year-old, but I was trying to figure out how to develop his upper body strength. (He’s not too keen on push-ups yet.)

  114. Our PE classes weren’t like those described in this post Mark. Overall, I’d say they were pretty good. Everything we did was mainly based around sport so we would do football (soccer) for a few weeks, rugby for a few weeks, basketball for a few weeks, athletics for a few weeks, cross country for a few weeks and so on.

    The main thing I think we were missing from your post is the strength training. We didn’t have a weights room of any kind and very rarely did pressups or any other bodyweight exercises.

    Also I think free play is a really good idea – particularly for break/lunch times. A lot of the time the kids at our school spent their breaks and lunches sitting in the common room or in the library. Perhaps, closing these rooms once a week would be a great way to get people outside and being more active?

    Finally, as a lot of people are saying – they need to be more regular. I think we did them for 1 or 2 hours once a week.

  115. You’re all over it, Mark! I remember Chicken Fat (and hating it). But I also remember the cool stuff, like dodgeball, capture the flag, kickball, steal the bacon, as well as the more mundane but challenging things, like shuttle runs, mile runs, etc. Keep fighting the good fight. You might just save gym class — and the human race!

  116. Our PE classes primarily involved playing team sports (which I suck at) and since the class and usually combined classes were far bigger than a team, meant a lot of standing around doing very little.

    Only once in a while would they introduce some kind of game that was actually fun and in which everyone could actively participate nearly nonstop. But people got bruised and so they didn’t do it often.

    I think that reading is key to education and that what needs to be done is a scared straight kind of thing. A kinder and gentler version at first but by junior high it should be the full on prison thing. They need to be told the need to learn to read. Too bad if it’s hard, you’ll get better by doing it. Little kids should be told how much more fun school will be if they get good at reading and how miserable the next approx 10 years will be if they don’t. Of course, I think the reason many don’t learn to read at their level like they are supposed to is that they don’t have the vocabulary. someone needs to spend hours just talking to them.

  117. Mark this is another great and also important topic. I too remember that as a kid, I did not particularly enjoyed gym classes. What they would call “physical education” was actually merely competition games. I never learned anything about real-world movement. Where I grew up, the woods were just 100 yards from my house and of course I would spend most of my free time there. It is where I learned all the fundamentals: running, jumping, climbing, crawling, balancing, lifting and carrying, throwing and catching etc…and optimally developed physically, while never let my body become like a “fossil”. Intuitively, I knew real physical education was taking place in the woods but not at school. From childhood to teenage, “PE” has always been mainly based on such games, and they’ve always been utterly boring to me, as they were all about competition and – to me totally subjective – rules. I have never been convinced of the priority value (not that they don’t have any of course, it only seems secondary to me) of such classes in school, and I knew something much more valuable and enticing was awaiting for me in the woods, running hills and climbing boulders.
    Not all kids are blessed with an environment which would encourage them to move naturally: woods, hills, parks, playgrounds…but also parents showing them the way, leading by example, and encouraging their children to go play outside and to MOVE, and parents who would be able to sometimes participate and move and play with their children. I believe the latter to be fundamental. When my father would have me climb high on a tree when I was still a young kid, it was not really “play” anymore, it was scary, but highly rewarding: I trusted my dad’s guidance, and understood the necessity to be strong and go beyond my fears. This IS education, and it is critical for any human being to receive such an education. I’ve never received it or expected it from school, unfortunately. We probably need to take care of that part of our education ourselves. To begin with, we want to rehab parent’s ability to move naturally in efficient and safe ways, so they can show their own kids that they too can move, how important it is to move, and encourage them to do it to, in a safe manner. Parents, and the example and guidance they are able to provide, are a big part of a children environment. They should not expect their children will be active physically and outside if themselves never do it, just like they can’t expect their kids to eat healthy if themselves eat unhealthy. I believe parents must reawaken or re-learn those skills, make it part of their own lifestyle, and become able to lead by example again, and nurture a healthy life for the whole family. With such parents, we will see more healthy, physically active children, this is a no-brainer.

  118. Interesting article. Although I agree with most of your points, I think that there are a few key things that might be missing from your argument, but it’s not my blog:) The first thing I want to address is the concepts behind the national P.E. standards found here, . Meeting the needs of such a broad range of students is very difficult as a teacher. Most of the “new” P.E. teachers are using these standards to build amazing programs. The core concepts in elementary education deal with building a varitey of locomotor, non-locomotor and manipulative skills in their first 6 years. Time, coaching and correct demonstration are required to build these skills and from my point of view, we rarely give the kids enough time to build these essential skills that will allow them to move with confidence in their respective environments. One of the biggest issues in dealing with this is socio-economic status. I am a very strong advocate for your ideas relating to community based activity. I know you have a ton going on but if you get a chance, check out this non-profit based here in Tucson; , they could use support from folks like you.

  119. I would like to see playground areas at middle and high schools. Monkey bars, chin up bars, swings, balance beams, ropes for climbing and swinging, etc. Why do we as a society insist that growing up means no time for play?

  120. I love all this stuff and it completely supports what I have been moving towards for the last few years. As a PE department, we have purchased the indoor Patch, and the kids love it when we turn them loose on it. I have been fortunate in that I can create my own curriculum to meet the state standards and the International Baccalaureate scope and Sequence (blending and mixing them has been interesting). I’m hoping that my principal will get the school to fund (and hopefully other instructors) a weekenf at PrimalCon, or Exuberant Animal Jam, or even (holding breathe) a MovNat session.
    Thank you Mark and to all of you have been posting here. You are making PE exciting for me again.

  121. The schools are a mess. My nephews/nieces PE teacher made kids to calisthenics(on hot blacktop and some sandbag training. Many parents were outraged and banded together to get him fired. The blacktop I could see as a problem but making their kids stronger makes me think WTF. In other wtf news some schools share a PE teacher thus must keep track of 1000s of kids skills abilities,names, etc. Other schools allow the homeroom teacher to administer PE, which ends up being another recess so, no skills/activities are learned/exposed to the child.

    Coming from a PE/Kineseology degree here is one view point. PE is educating the kids on health, wellness,and physical skills.(I suppose in groks world it would be akin to teaching kids weapons/fighting skills for instance.) Recess is where they get to play and explore more freely(though uber safe playgrounds reduced some levels of exploration).

    Perhaps the question should be, “What can I/We do to improve the quality of physical education programs of our youths?”

  122. I’m a martial arts instructor and we do races and all sorts of games here at the school. One of the favorite games is a game we call Ninja Wars which is a version of dodgeball with pool noodles. There are many many pool noodles instead of just one ball. It’s so much fun. Games like that should be played often and not just by kids.

  123. Nothing like an ex-Marine teaching PE to grade-schoolers to take all the fun out of it…This was the late 1950’s–all we did was regimented calisthentics drills and get yelled at. I was absolutely miserable, and it essentially warped me for years against any sort of physical activity. Until I discovered Primal Blueprint!! Now I actually look forward to moving hard and playing whenever I can. I hope more schools institute at least some of Mark’s suggestions so that kids won’t have to go through what I did.

  124. Amazing work. My elementary school had no PE, but being montessori, we were outside for at least an hour and a half for lunch and then recess. Teachers would have to force us to sit and eat our food before we could run off, swing, jump rope, play tug of war, or try and shove eachother off of balance beams.
    In high school I didn’t have PE, and I didn’t have recess, and we didn’t have extracurricular sports – private school arts kids don’t need to exercise! If we’re going to sincerely fight the sedentarism epidemic, we need to quit cutting physical activity programs and instead maintain and actually improve them….I forsee Wall-E-esque devolving unless we do so.

  125. I thought Chicken Fat was a special torture reserved for my classmates and I at our all girls Catholic high school! Oh, how I hated PE. Half the year was spent doing Chicken Fat and the other half was spent playing volleyball.

  126. Please don’t call PE teachers “Coach.” Coaches stereotypically love their specialized sport (football, basketball, etc), are competitive, and teach PE (their REAL job) so they can coach (their preferred job). Kids who are small for their age, who lack natural affinity for movement skills and/or who don’t want to sweat or compete, etc. do not get the attention they deserve. Activities that can include all kids through the whole spectrum of ability are the best. Some of your suggestions fill the bill. “Coaches” don’t have time (or desire) to plan these activities.
    BTW: dodgeball is an exclusionary activity. Notice who usually gets “out” first – pretty much the same kid(s) all the time. Time how long a lot of the children just stand. The game is great for those who last the longest, are aggressive enough to grab the ball, and have the ability to do so. The others are left “out.”

  127. I wish gym class had been that cool! My school had pregnant girls that walked around the track and of course dodge-ball once a week – my whole reason for existing 🙂

  128. Mark:

    All great ideas. I completely agree.

    In some pockets of the world (like mine), I’m quite sure that ideas like these, if adopted, would have to be blended in with other interests, namely, preparing kids for team play in organized sports.

    ‘Round here, skill building for them starts in the early grades, to make kids ready teams when they’re old enough. Like most things, there are good ways to go about it, and not so good ways. Boring kids with drills isn’t the way, in my mind. but there are ways to make skill building fun, especially if the curriculum also allows for the things you propose – which are so great for the whole child, not just the competitive/team member part of the child.

    My point, for my neck of the woods anyway, is that your good ideas would have to be combined with what’s already here, namely, – a focus on preparation for team sports (which, as we well know, would be beautifully augmented with some primal stuff).

    Great post. I hope it travels far and wide – like say, in viral video form, of kids actually doing this kind of movement in school – so decision makers could visualize it. Taking it further, I think ideas like this would be an easy sell if it could actually be demonstrated that stronger school teams are built with primal underpinnings.


  129. I loved PE. I hated the classroom, so PE or as we called it in grade school, “recess” was great. There was no structured anything. We got 20 minutes to go out of that hated classroom and do any activity we wanted. Of course I went to school in the 1940’s, and it was a different world then.

  130. Here’s a wrinkle I’d like to see address in more detail and length:

    I was very ill as a preschooler, and when I was nearing kindergarten I was also relearning how to walk. This early experience taught me a weird mix of graceful movement and a fear of overexertion. For the rest of my growing up, I was the one with “no stamina.”

    Oddly enough, I adored playing kickball at recess (and was really good at it), and I fit into the ballet lessons held on Saturdays in the school gym just like they’d been made for me … but I loathed P.E. with a passion that swirled around the slightly sadistic and always contemptuous teachers, but I walked everywhere.

    Long, long distances. I never thought of that as “exercise,” and I loved it. Lanky legs, good lungs, and long distance silences. I don’t even remember being winded, except for the time I took a very little nephew with me and had to haul him on my back on a very hot day. THAT is what I want back – the ability to walk forever.

    So what of the kids who, like me, don’t trust their own bodies when they’re little? How would you do all the stuff in the list for kids who know (from experience and from their parents’ ongoing opinion of the matter) that they’re not strong? How do we show them a better version of themselves?

  131. Mark is right – the most essential thing that gym class is usually missing is simple FUN. Gym should be more like recess than football practice.

    Our kids should be associating physical activity with POSITIVE feelings so that they look forward to getting out of the classroom or off the couch. Let’s take gym outside!

  132. Wouldn’t you have to have gym class in the first place to be able to change it? Where I’m from you’d be hard pressed to find a school that offered anything close to resembling a legitimate PE class.

    I guess you wouldn’t be surprised when you saw all the staggeringly overweight children running…er…laying around. The parents are not better though.

  133. That sounds better than what they do up here. My sister just told me that they made a pansy version of basketball.
    Basically it’s basketball but you aren’t allowed to steal the ball. So the teams always stay tied.
    What really pisses me off about this is my sister is stronger than her classmates and she can’t show it off. That’s only going to last until the boys get their testosterone buff.

  134. The biggest problem I have with my kids’ school Phys Ed class is scheduling. Phys Ed is considered a ‘special’. Two ‘specials’ are taught each trimester, so instead of the kids being taught that movement is something that should be done daily, they’re taught that it’s something that should be done for two months and then forgotten. I think it would be much more effective if each class went to phys ed for twenty or thirty minutes at least every other day, started moving as soon as they walked in the gym and stopped when it was over. I think the school would have fewer disciplinary issues too, but that’s just my opinion from watching my son – if he doesn’t get to run around like a maniac for at least a half hour a day, he’s a terror.

  135. Though I did enjoy the games more than “strength training” periodic standardized testing. What sucked about this was you really did no do anything the rest of the year to ever get better at these. I mean scooting around on your butt with a board with wheel casters playing tag fill some time but doesn’t really make me any more fit.

  136. This one really spoke to me Mark. I’m a father of 2, a RKC, and a fire fighter paramedic. The need to move well and more often is a constant theme in my daily life.

    My children so me what unrestricted mobility and athletic ability is all about.

    I work hard trying to get my students back to their primal roots.

    Every time the alarm at the station rings, I’m faced with the horrors of what sedentary, unhealthy life choices can do to a person.

    Since I became a RKC, I’ve been struggling w/ my role in this war. It wasn’t until a recent conversation with my wife that I realized that a physical education class room may be where I’m needed.

    Anyway, just something I’ve been pondering. Thanks for inspiring a little more on this subject. BTW, check out the video below by Dr. Ed Thomas he’s the “Bruce Lee” of physical culture and fitness history. Smartest guy on the planet? I’d say yes.

  137. Great post Mark!

    This is so relevant in most modern schools today that it makes me sad to think of the subject. I’m from Norway and, all dough we are not quite at this level of bad PE education, we are slowly following the US trends there.

    For almost six-months now (going on a year) I have been working as a sports volunteer in southern Africa, and it is truly alarming to see how fast they are moving away

  138. Great post Mark!

    This is so relevant in most modern schools today that it makes me sad to think of the subject. I’m from Norway and, all dough we are not quite at this level of bad PE education, we are slowly following the US trends there.

    For almost six-months now (going on a year) I have been working as a sports volunteer in southern Africa, and it is truly alarming to see how fast they are moving away from their fantastic and incredibly beautiful ways of movement, like dancing and play, in “advantage” of the western recipe of PE and creational movement.
    I daily encounter PE teachers who complain on having to little equipment to execute high tech western ways of training, even dough they have vast grass fields for play or dance.

    This PE-revolution cant come quick enough if you ask me =)

  139. I invite you to come and play in my P.E. classes. I teach grades 3-5. Classes are 45 minutes and there is no sitting! Warm ups are self guided and include a mix of aerobic, strength, agility and sprint activities. Kids do wall balls and box jumps and love it. We always have game play and dodgeball is still a favorite. There is so much brain-based learning in P.E. and it makes them better math students.

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  141. I would love to have seen these things in school. Perhaps I’d have even gone so far as to actually enjoy it. Too long have several of these things been such an embarrassment.

    “Alright kids, do some pull ups.”
    “But I can’t do even one…”
    “I’m sorry to hear that, but you must get over here and embarrass yourself to prove it to me.”

    Not fun in the least.

    Unfortunately, I don’t see this going over too well in the current state of things. There are more overprotective parents now-a-days. To not end up in a potential law-suit, a lot of schools are succumbing to their demands. It’s a real shame.

  142. Awesome article. I couldn’t agree more with what it states. I always hated having to sit in chairs all day, and I still do. It turns out I wasn’t A.D.H.D.; I was anti sit in a chair all day. Keeping the “inner child” alive with a more playful approach to exercise has kept me in far better shape than my former classmates; which is sad for them considering we’re in our 20’s.

  143. Wow, I love these ideas. I teach a bunch of ten year olds who LOVE getting out in the sun and who choose to work on the ground instead of at their desks half the time. I think I’ll use some of these (I was already encouraging them with sprints and climbing) with them next term! Thanks!

  144. I notice in the video, there are no overweight kids…How our diet has changed.

  145. I am an elementary PE teacher and you are onto something here Mark. I presently co-teach with another PE teacher and our styles in teaching differ so much. I sometimes feel as though I get the “slacker” label because I believe in the “showing & doing” model of physical activity. PE in Georgia is entrenched in these Learning Standards that must be taught—this is where we (my teaching partner and I) differ—I see PE as a time to explore movement and activity- to “get it” through doing it in a less restricted way. We may be doing a unit learning to use a racket- she wants to do tedious drills and correct every mistake- I want to show them the best way and let them go at it. Figure it out with my guidance as I see them struggling. Now let me say this: She is doing EXACTLY as she has been taught in college…and I was taught to teach this way as well. But it took all the fun and learning out of it- I watched my first PE classes become these tedious, pressured experiences for the kids. No association of fun to activity there 🙂 So I reflected on how I learned to do all these athletic thing and guess what- it was all through doing and figuring it out. Yeah, I cover all our so called LEARNING STANDARDS, but really the kids teach themselves if we leave them alone and let them. Cheers

  146. I think kids need more recess time for free play and running. PE probably needs to be organized to be controlled but you need to go over all the sports and learn some rules. So many young adults now do not know the rules about most sports. Also add family and consumer home economics (home economics) back into the schools and teach them good nutrition and meal preparation. Kids think the food groups are microwave, drive through, and delivery.

  147. How about just replacing gym with a medieval torture chamber and hand the larger, more popular kids some fresh, fiery tongs! I can’t imagine ANYTHING useful I ever ‘learned’ in gym but I do still have some monster emotional scars from it even at 52! Balance the NOTHING you learn from gym with the harm it does the less physical kids and make it an elective! Health class teaches children what they need to know about their bodies. Gym is just a sports class teaching kids sports so that the school can populate the college sports teams! WOW! Really need to keep that running! I’m 52, thin, fit, eat well while many of my alumni are fat slobs. Did I learn any of that from gym… Efff no! I learned how to eat and exercise from all sorts of other resources like those book things that jocks hate, the internet, television. To think I could’ve used that wasted one hour of torture a day to learn Spanish – now THAT would’ve been useful!

  148. I would like to speak up as one of the “unathletic crowd.” I was in elementary/jr high in the 70’s and high school in the 80’s. I was slightly chubby, and as a shy bookworm, was not athletically inclined. I distinctly remember the week my school started using “Chicken Fat” as the week I started skipping PE for years. It was absolutely humiliating, since I felt self-conscious and believed everyone in the room must know that I was the chicken fat it was targeted at.

    In Jr high, in addition to the humiliation of showering with the thin girls, we were required to run “the jaunt.” It was probably a mile, but seemed like pure torture as we chubby girls took well over 10 minutes to complete it. There was no Couch to 5K program to help us confidently improve our health and stamina. Only yelling and scorn from the PE teacher.

    High school was much better, since they provided us with a variety of options to choose from, including this amazing new thing called aerobics. Best workouts I ever had. They mixed calisthenics with aerobic movement and had not competition so each person could work at their own ability.

    When they taught how do play a variety of sports, they focused on skill building. No more picking teams and always hearing the athletes groan at having to put up with ineptitude. And we academics pulled up our PE grade on the test of the rules.

    Putting athletically disinclined students in competitive games with the star athletes is pure torture. It causes humiliation and despair. PE should be about skill building, improving yourself, and finding fun ways to be healthy and active for life.

    I was never able to compete in any sports in jr high and high school because I never had the skill development that would make me competitive. There was no outlet for practicing. PE wasn’t comprehensive enough, but you couldn’t make a team without skill. I finally learned to hit a baseball when my kids played.

    And dodgeball…it hurt and it was miserable for those of us who knew we were sitting ducks. Get hit in the first 20 seconds and spend the rest of the game on the sidelines watching the jocks have fun.

    So…focus a while on non-competitive skill building, then give kids free time to choose the activities that will suit them, whether the highly competitive game of baseball, the relaxed, fun game of kickball, the zumba video, or a brisk walk around the track. They will learn to love it.