Last time we talked fitness in education, we focused on how to teach movement – from coaching cues to proper scaling options. Today, we’re tackling student engagement. As any teacher knows, the biggest hurdle in education is getting students to buy into what they are learning in class. This can be especially difficult when it comes to physical education.

Sweating during the school day can be a tough sell for many students, even the most active ones. It’s on us as PE teachers, then, to try and find ways to draw our kids in – to motivate them into wanting to be healthier, fitter versions of themselves. How can we do this? Let’s take a look at just a couple of the ways we try to enhance engagement in our own fitness curriculums here at PLT4M.

Variety is the Spice of Life

When it comes to high school kids, it’s all about keeping things fresh. Students have minimal attention spans and a lot on their plates – the moment something becomes consistent, regular, or “boring,” it drops to the bottom of their priority list. In order to get them interested in workouts on a daily basis, we must make sure to keep each class experience as unique as possible.

First, make sure you utilize the full breadth of foundational fitness movement. Though physically effective, if all you do is push ups and air squats, kids will lose interest quick. It doesn’t take much to keep things interesting, however, if you use all of the movement variations at your disposal. The physiological demands of the air squat, for example, can also be achieved through the PVC overhead squat, or Med Ball thruster. Variation and added complexity makes it more interesting to the students. At the same time, not only do you get the foundational squat movement, you gain mobility development through the overhead squat, or pressing strength and full body conditioning through the thruster. 

Next, don’t always approach the class workout the same way. If kids know exactly what to expect, they will eventually get bored. You can create workouts that operate within a specific timeframe, or workouts that work to achieve a total number of reps. Workouts can be done as individuals, or in teams. You can also rotate in pure circuit training or full-class challenges. The key is to try and prevent regularity in they way the workouts unfold every class.

Long story short, the goal is to make sure that a program built on a linear progression of teaching and difficulty doesn’t feel as such to the kids. From the outside looking in, classes should feel as random and unpredictable as possible. Mix in as many different movements as possible, change the class structure from individual workouts, to team workouts, to circuit training – all the while fitting it to the overall curriculum structure.

Competition is Motivation

When it comes to motivation, one of our go-to’s here at PLT4M is adding competition. It’s no surprise that kids will try just a little bit harder when progress is tangible or they know there is a winner involved. In regards to our own foundational fitness program, we use two different elements of competition to increase engagement.

First, we make kids compete with themselves. Personal progress is a wonderful motivator. Consider setting up performance indicators for your classes. For example, at PLT4M, we test 5 performance areas: Max Push Ups (base strength), Squat Therapy (mobility/flexibility), Mile Run (aerobic endurance), Max Burpees in 2 minutes (anaerobic endurance), and Metabolic Conditioning (blend of all 4). We inject baseline, mid-term, and final testing of all 5, allowing both students and teachers to see overall physical progress over the course of the program. One of the most rewarding instances in teaching is seeing a student begin to realize personal growth and take ownership of their continuing progress.

We also try to keep class interesting by injecting competition into the workouts themselves. In one workout we have all students competing individually against one another to complete a given set of movements as fast as possible. The hope of winning, as well as the “threat” of losing, provides a powerful incentive for students to work hard and push their limits. In another class, we have students grouped into teams of 3, attempting to achieve as many rounds of the workout as possible in 10 minutes. Not only does this naturally promote teamwork and communication, it also adds an element of responsibility. Students will feel pushed to work harder since they have others relying on them. In the end, competition can raise student effort level across the board.

Fit 4 Life

Competition and variety are but two tools physical education teachers can use when teaching fitness. There are plenty of other ways to improve student engagement. Bottom line, we just want to make kids interested in fitness and healthy living. We want to help students take ownership of their health, and give them tools to be happier, fitter versions of themselves when they move on from our classes. 

Want to see how we teach fitness? Check out our introductory programs: Fit101 and Fit201.