Students Make Most of Class Workout Time to Improve Cardiovascular Fitness

What started as a health teacher’s mission to add more personalized physical activity to her students’ day has grown into a popular, fitness-enhancing finish to the school week.

“I knew I needed to get these kids more active than they actually were,” said Hampstead (New Hampshire) Middle School health teacher Kate Muskrat. “So I started bringing my health group down and joining the physical education classes on Fridays.”

The joint Friday sessions evolved into weekly high-intensity interval training sessions that include 75 percent of the school’s students. High-intensity interval training is considered one of the most time-efficient ways to exercise, a key factor for teachers with limited class time to develop impactful workouts. Studies also show that by exercising at maximum intensity in shorter bursts, students improve their oxygen consumption while lowering resting heart rate and blood pressure.

The initiative and effectiveness of Hampstead’s Fitness Friday HIIT earned it the honor of being April’s Lesson for IHT Spirit. Designed by Muskrat and colleague Allison Rubin, the lesson was one of six winning entries in IHT’s Fall Spirit Challenge.

Fitness Friday’s Focus on Physical Education Skills

Fitness Friday

Hampstead (NH) Middle School students participate in the weekly Fitness Friday HIIT workout.

“Over the past five years, it’s evolved from playing games to only fitness activities,” Muskrat said. “They don’t play any games. It’s only life-long fitness skills that we practice on Friday.”

Each Friday, Hampstead’s health and family consumer sciences students head to the gym instead of remaining in their classrooms. Once in the gym, they join in with the physical education students and participate in a 10-station workout. Students spend one minute at each station and then have 10 seconds to move to the next station. Stations include:

  • Squat jumps
  • Pushups
  • Crunches
  • Planks

Depending on the time of day, the circuit can include anywhere from 12 to 70 students, so Muskrat eliminates downtime by creating secondary exercises for students who might have to wait their turn.

“They are moving the entire time,” she said. “The kids get the most out bang for the buck out of the amount of time we have them for. Sometimes we repeat stations. Sometimes we add stations. We’re doing line drills or something along those lines. There is never downtime.”

As the Fitness Friday format evolved from simply joining in with the P.E. students to today’s HIIT workout, Muskrat’s taken her cues from how engaged her classes are with each type of activity. Student engagement spiked when she introduced the HIIT circuit, especially among students who struggle with fitness.

“This seems to be what works the best with what we’re trying to get out of the kids,” she said. “This tailors to an individual’s needs instead of some of the other things we’ve tried. It’s all about them. It’s personalized high-intensity interval training.”

Teaching Individuals to find PE Success

At first, Fitness Friday included weight-training exercises or running, but Muskrat didn’t like the results. By moving to a circuit and mandating that students simply “do their best,” she knew she’d found a high-intensity interval workout that would benefit all her students.

Fitness Friday

Hampstead health teacher Kate Muskrat

“This just seems like something that allows everyone to achieve greatness,” she said. “Even if they’re only holding the plank for 10 seconds, maybe at the beginning of the year they were only holding it for 5. That’s a gain. All we ask them to do is to do their best.”

Students work all year on determining what their “best” is and how they can improve it, Muskrat said. This year she’s incorporated IHT Zone wrist heart rate monitors into the Fitness Friday sessions. Students wear the Zones during the HIIT circuit and can see if the effort they are giving is enough to reach their target heart rate zones.

“We definitely see a difference because they can see where they’re at and they realize whether they can give more or not,” Muskrat said.

At the beginning of each year, students design their own “personal fitness packet” that teaches them about goal-setting and developing a fitness plan. Throughout the year, they measure progress based on the goals they set and the improvements they see during specific assessments. The more athletic students see the Fitness Friday benefits when they try out for the team sport of their choice.

“For most of them, they really see the benefit to this when they are trying out for their individual sport,” the teacher said. “‘Oh, the stuff we do in Fitness Friday is meaningful.’”

For the students, success means meeting a goal or improving a time. Muskrat, though, measures Fitness Friday’s success by the students’ grasp of the bigger picture.

“More than anything else, I want them to get the concept of setting personal goals,” Muskrat said. “This will help them show growth in themselves and let them be able to set goals for themselves and be able to attain them. The ability to set short-term goals and achieve them is the most essential thing they can accomplish.”

Students Create Individual PE Workout Programs

Fitness Friday

A student waits to begin a Fitness Friday HIIT kettlebell station.

In health and family consumer science classes, students learn about nutrition, heart rate, musculature and other elements of healthy living. Once they’ve been through the combined health and physical education curriculum, students are able to craft a workout plan that can serve them when they exercise on their own.

“They’ll go to a gym on their own and realize they already know how to make a workout plan for themselves,” she said. “A lot of times, people don’t realize these kids have that ability because of what we learn in this class. They can go to a gym. They can set up a workout. They know their muscles. They know what to do to enhance their strength for softball versus track versus a wrestler.”

Muskrat’s passion for physical education began when she herself was a middle schooler. Her eighth-grade P.E. teacher at St. Mary’s School in Franklin, N.H. – Mrs. Reynolds – inspired her, and she’s tried to inspire students ever since.

“I looked up to her,” Muskrat said. “I thought she was a wonderful person and I thought I really wanted to do that someday. The message she got across to me kind of spoke to me and I was kind of passionate about it.”

Muskrat’s served primarily as a health teacher for the last 17 years, ever since a colleague pointed her in that direction to fill a need, but she’s never been too far from her first teaching love, physical education. Maintaining that connection, she said, drove her to create Fitness Friday at Hampstead.

“I’m in a really cool situation because I teach both here,” she said. “Fitness Friday is the one constant for me.”

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    Fitness Friday PE Lesson Helps Students Grow HIIT Exercise Skills
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    Fitness Friday PE Lesson Helps Students Grow HIIT Exercise Skills
    A health teacher’s mission to add more personalized physical activity to her students’ day has grown into Fitness Friday, a popular, heart rate-enhancing finish to each school week.
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    Interactive Health Technologies
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