More than half of the students in Orlandus Thomas' physical education classes at Intrinsic Charter High School in Chicago improved their scores on parts of their fitness tests during their first year using IHT ZONE heart rate monitors during class workouts.
Thomas said the monitors create the ideal combination of technology, wellness and accountability for students to take charge of their fitness journey. Six months after introducing the heart rate monitors and with three rounds of FitnessGram® testing complete, Thomas remains encouraged by what he’s seen from his students.
“It’s just everything that I could have imagined and asked for to create the perfect fusion between technology and wellness and the accountability piece for kids to own their wellness journey,” Thomas said at the start of the school year.
Of the 125 students he sees across all of his classes, many improved their scores on three FitnessGram® tests between their first tests of the year and the recently-completed tests:
- 63 students (51%) completed more curl ups.
- 78 students (63%) completed more pushups.
- 44 students (35%) finished more laps in the shuttle run (PACER test).
These results support Thomas's goal of using the monitors to encourage students to be more engaged in their overall physical fitness.
“They start to take ownership of how they want to maintain their bodies and define wellness for themselves,” Thomas said. “I had one young man tell me he’s into exercise more because it made him feel better and he notices that when he leaves (PE class) he’s in a better mood.”
Thomas’ students are purposeful with their work in his PE classes, aware of daily goals, and work hard to achieve them.
“They understand that concept,” Thomas said. “When it comes to things such as fitness testing, they know their numbers. They know what they achieved previously, so they know what they want their ‘growth goal’ to be. It’s always at least one more than they did before, and they are mentally prepared for the physical performance that meeting that goal will require.”
A Holistic Fitness Journey Fueled by Objective Data
Thomas points out that his students’ improved FitnessGram® test results don’t come from repeated practice of those tests. The scores represent the hard work students do daily in class, where students go through complete workouts that include a dynamic warmup, strength training, cardio work and high-intensity interval training.
The IHT ZONE monitors give students a real-time look at how hard they are pushing themselves and they know whether they need to dial their intensity back or work just a bit harder. Students set their own paths to achieve the daily goals and Thomas – along with live data from the heart rate monitors – pushes them to reach their goals.
“That’s the secret sauce to my workouts,” Thomas said. “I want to make sure that I’m maximizing the monitors to their fullest potential. I want them to continuously see their work and to invest in what their goals are. I want them to know what their fitness journey looks like. To have kids own that – because everyone is different – the monitor allows them to assess where they are and meet their goals.”
And the students – as evidenced by the improved scores – are embracing their individual fitness journeys.
“With Coach OT pushing me and the heart rate monitor showing me (my data) and pushing me to reach the red and the yellow (heart rate zones), it has helped me a lot,” one student said. “And I also strive to push myself to work out at home on my own time. (The technology) helps me a lot and I really like it.”
Keeping Students Focused on Bigger Goals
Thomas realizes that students improving their results on specific fitness tests doesn’t prove that his integration of IHT ZONE heart rate monitors has been a success. While the results show positive growth, he continues to focus on the day-to-day effort that students give and why that’s important to their long-term health.
“This isn’t about numbers,” Thomas said. “’When you are in class, are you pushing to create the healthiest version of yourself?’ The numbers are a way to assess how hard you are working. ‘How do you recognize how this is helping create a healthier you?’”
And students are creating healthier versions of themselves. Some students see it in the way their bodies respond. Others see it when they visit their doctor. Medically, many are healthier, especially compared to two years ago, when many lost the motivation to move and exercise at all while staying at home when schools closed for COVID-19.
“Last year, class was tougher,” Thomas said. “There was no motivation for kids to work hard. I felt that a lot of them were just going through the motions coming out of the pandemic. Kids had lost the motivation to even want to move.”
Thomas introduced the IHT ZONE monitors at the beginning of this school year, and the technology helped many discover - or rediscover – a purpose to their PE class. There’s more to it than learning how to play different games or perform certain exercises.
“The heart rate monitors gave students a sense of urgency, a sense of purpose,” Thomas said. “My whole focus now is to master technique and form while also maintaining the intensity of the workout.”
Fueled by the data – and their understanding of it – students are meeting Thomas’ challenge.
“All I do now is give them a goal (of minutes to spend exercising at a moderate to vigorous intensity level), and the class is student-led, allowing them to critically think and create the workout that gets them to the daily workout goal and to reach their target heart zones,” Thomas said.
For example, Thomas said students must lift a certain amount of weight during a class period – a workout assignment called “5s are Wild.” The first half of the workout, students complete 50 reps of sets of 5 in various exercises (pushups, box jumps, calf raises, crunches). For the second half of the workout, students must mathematically lift 5,000 pounds. For example, a student with a pair of 10-pound dumbbells who chooses to perform bicep curls can choose the amount of reps they want to complete, and then multiply the weight by the reps to get their total weight lifted, and subtract it from the ultimate goal of 5,000 pounds. But the goal isn’t simply about lifting weight.
“That’s one goal,” he said. “The other goal is their minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity (MVPA). They have to get to that cumulative weight goal while staying in their target zones. They must formulate a workout that still provides the intensity level required for meeting their daily target heart zones.”
The IHT ZONE monitors give students an easy way to figure their heart rate zone. The monitor’s display changes color as students increase their heart rate:
- Blue indicates a resting, or relaxed, heart rate zone.
- Yellow indicates a moderate level of exercise intensity.
- Red indicates a vigorous level of exercise intensity.
“They are focused on their effort,” Thomas said. “They are improving their health. They see how the intensity of the workout pushes them to be a better, fitter, healthier version of themselves.”