We make exercise scary. By ‘we’ I mean everyone involved in sport, physical activity, and health. I mean that ‘we’ as a collective group have failed at fostering a love for physical movement. A couple of posts ago I wrote about how excited I am to be able to impact how people experience exercise and health through my own boot camp classes but I have also noticed that when I invite people to my classes many are apprehensive. Part of this apprehension probably stems from my the fact that my reputation as a bit of a drill sergeant precedes me (e.g. LinkedIn once recommended a juvenile probation officer opening for me). Can I be a little scary? Sure. Do I enjoy making people hurt in the gym? Absolutely. But this is the first time I have run boot camp classes and I have always worked out alone; therefore, people are not making this judgement from their experiences with me. So is it that I am scary enough to ward people off or that there is an underlying fear of exercise classes that stems from previous experience? Maybe a combination of both?
Photo from Jezebel: Being the last one picked in gym class…I have had both current and former teammates have expressed apprehension to join in my boot camp classes. Thus, people who are either currently active or have been active in competitive environments appear to lack the self-efficacy to join an exercise program. This speaks to the fickleness and lack of transferability of self-efficacy. In other words, just because we are confident to participate in activity ‘X’ does not mean that we are automatically confident participating in activity ‘Y’. I suppose we could argue that some people are uncomfortable and there isn’t much we can do to make them comfortable; however, I believe that when adults demonstrate an aversion to group exercise, sport, and/or activity in general it represents a scathing indictment of our physical education system.
Let me clarify that when I say physical education this is not only limited to gym class. I am also including camp counsellors, coaches, and fitness instructors because all of these people affect how people experience movement, which in my opinion, is what physical education is about – an education in movement. Early on in my Human Kinetics undergraduate degree I learned that we should never use exercise as punishment because people, and particularly youth, learn to associate exercise with something bad. I also learned that we should avoid games that were referred to as ‘highlighting sports’, such as baseball or kickball where everyone (literally everyone) is watching that one person perform the act of batting or kicking. These are the kinds of moments that make kids find any excuse to get out of PE class. As much as they highlight the ability of some they also exacerbate the ‘deficiencies’ of others. When I learned these things in class I thought to myself ‘Wow, really different from how I was taught in PE class’. In my junior high school, we were graded on short run times, long run times, curl-ups, flexibility, and sport skills such as how to perform a short and long serve in badminton. But during my undergrad I found it refreshing that physical education was evolving into something more inclusive. Yet, I consistently encounter other Human Kinetics/Kinesiology students, camp counsellors and coaches who think that push-ups are a good way to curb behavioural issues and others who believe that there should be winners and losers in a fitness class.
One could also argue ‘why punish the athletes because others are less coordinated etc. etc’. I contend that the physical education environment is not meant to create superstars it is intended to foster learning and a love for activity. Those who love sports and competition will seek out additional opportunities to be active. It is those who will only experience activity in gym class who we need to worry about. Personally, I don’t agree with how our education system is currently set-up with grades for any subject because rather than inspire C students to aim for A’s, grading merely categories students into a self-fulfilling prophecy. However, I understand the practicality of such a rubric and its simplicity of measurement. That being said, if there are any classes that should not be graded those should be art, music, and physical education classes. These are the cultural artefacts that positively impact our social, emotional, and physical health. Exercise has been shown in study after study to be the best thing for our internal health, whereas what we eat has been widely debated across the board. Moreover this is not just a problem for girls and young women. As I have written about before young boys are also dropping out of PE class at record rates.
For those in the fitness industry it also makes good economic sense for physical education to work harder to foster welcoming environments where people feel valued. The current scenario has a niche group of people who love exercising and will buy gym memberships, shoes and dri-fit clothing until the cows come home. But market growth comes from all of those people who don’t love to exercise and probably didn’t love PE class. Thus they have to learn how to love activity as an adult, which becomes hard to undo all those years of physical and mental anguish. Not impossible by any means but your marketing has to be that much better to get them to even consider your gym or services. Thus, if children are taught how to love movement rather than how to throw, kick, and catch when they are young that creates an infinitely larger market of exercise consumers to buy all the fun toys that no one really needs.
This is a call to all the PE teachers, camp counsellors, coaches and trainers out there. It makes good financial and social sense for people to love exercise for the sake of loving exercise. It is time we stop making exercise scary. It is time we consider ourselves teachers of movement rather than instructors of technique. After all, that is why the gymnasium, the field, the ice rink, and the dance studio are all open spaces without obstructions. They are designed to facilitate freedom and creativity of movement. The classroom has become a zone of regurgitation rather than a space for thought and application. Similarly, through physical education and sport-specific-classes students learn only to regurgitate movement. But we live in a dynamic world with dynamic bodies. Yet, what we teach and value is textbook and uniform technique. As physical educators we should borrow from the “dance like no one is watching” mantra and teach people how to move like no one is watching. Or as Pheobe from Friends explains we should run like we did when we were kids, where we ran so fast it felt like our legs were going to fly off “because [that’s] the only way it [was] fun.”