Fitness Benefits of Cycling Programs Extend Beyond Riding at an Elevated Heart Rate by Encouraging Students to Work Together
Michigan physical education students used a new bicycling unit to improve their Social-Emotional Wellness strength by working together to reach their fitness goals.
“A lot of times in PE we get really focused on the physical part,” said Portage Central (Mich.) Middle School PE teacher John Dunlop. “We lose the affective and the emotional things. The emotional fitness that kids get out of it is as important as the physical fitness.”
Dunlop’s curriculum originally focused on the health benefits of riding for extended periods of time at an elevated heart rate. He soon realized, though, that the lessons had key social-emotional wellness benefits as well.
“The focus is mostly on cardio fitness first,” Dunlop said. “We want to learn what you get out of certain types of workouts. There’s physical fitness and then there’s emotion and social fitness that also needs to be considered. I spent some time asking students about the unit and a lot of that pops out. ‘I get to ride with my friends’ was the most consistent feedback.”
Dunlop measures his cycling unit’s effectiveness in several ways:
- Real-time adjustments students make based on their IHT Zone wrist heart rate monitors;
- Total time students spent riding at an elevated heart rate, calculated through the IHT Spirit System software; and
- Key lessons learned through a Flipgrid feedback system.
Self-managing Effort to Stay in Target Heart Rate Zones
Dunlop uses the IHT Zone heart rate monitors extensively in his program and students understand what their monitors tell them during class. They see their actual heart rate as well as the color zone they are currently exercising in.
Based on goals set forth before the class, students can see if they are exercising in the yellow (moderate exercise) or red (vigorous exercise) zones – the heart rate zones set as goals in Dunlop’s classes. In the just-completed school year, Dunlop tasked students with riding in their target heart rate zones for a minimum of 20-25 minutes out of 50-minute class session.
“They can look at their monitor while they are riding and adjust,” he said. “That’s part of the education process right there, for them to see the feedback from the HRMs to see where they are and know what they need to do. It’s self-management.”
Cycling’s Social-Emotional Wellness Element Helps Students Achieve Fitness Goals
Even students who struggle to engage with classmates during individual activities came out of their shells during cycling lessons.
“You’re on a bike and in a group,” said Portland (Mich.) High School PE teacher Andrew Pulling, who also conducts a cycling lesson in his curriculum. “It’s difficult to not be engaged. They were out of their element.”
By working together and encouraging themselves in all aspects of the workout – from goal-setting to pushing through difficult stretches during the ride – students also boost their emotional wellness.
“You can absolutely see the psychological and social impact from day to day,” Pulling said. “As the instructor, you can choose to ride next to people and you can have conversations there. When kids are having fun and truly enjoying getting the workout, you can see their excitement in their behavior.”