High School PE students doing resistance training

How to Add Strength and Resistance Training to Any High School PE Class

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that teenagers do strength skills three times a week. As a high school PE teacher, I know it can be tricky to incorporate strength training while engaging students in moderate-to-vigorous physical activity and keeping their heart rate up.

However, here are some of my top tips for adding strength and resistance training to your high school PE class:

Start Slow and Build

Whether your strength training program takes place in a weight room or not, it’s important to progress at each student’s pace. For example, you must make sure students understand the basic principles of strength training.

First, start with movement training. Teaching students about neutral spine is fundamental. If adolescents know how to move properly it will help them for a lifetime. As students spend more time on computers and phones it is important that we counteract with posture and neutral spine strengthening.

One of the drills used to reinforce neutral spine.

Progression of skills is time and amount of resistance used. With a basic PE class, begin with a five-minute workout of activities like squats, push-ups, sit-ups, and jumping rope or running. As the class goes on, increase the time spent or the intensity of the workout. You can also increase the difficulty by adding weights (dumbbells or kettlebells) or making the movements more complex.

Heart rate monitors or heart rate checks can help students understand where they should be during the workout. If you do not have heart rate monitors you can use a 6- or 10-second count to help students understand where their heart rate should be during the activity.

Keep it Fun

Mixing up the type of workouts allows you to incorporate different motivational techniques and gives students a chance to find their joy in fitness. Use individual, partner and team workouts to achieve different standard outcomes.

Examples of team and group workouts would be giving students a goal of repetitions or pounds to complete together. Also, giving workouts fun names can help students remember the workouts and give you a chance to show your personality.

Give Students Choice

It is important to understand that all your students are at different points in their fitness journey. Some work out every day outside of class and some have never performed a squat before.

If you are including a squat in the workout, allow students to choose between different ways to execute the squat. For example, give them the option to choose a box squat, squat, squat jump or a split squat. This requires no equipment but gives students the chance to find their personal need and creates an environment where it is acceptable to modify and increase difficulty.

Using differentiation also helps students know that whether they are at the beginner stage or have experience they are included in the curriculum development and you see them!

Introduce a Variety

Try to use a variety of strength training techniques so students can find one they enjoy. Some favorites are kettlebells, dumbbells, TRX, tires and battle ropes.

Most of these items are inexpensive and can be used in a circuit style if you can’t afford to have enough for every student. Using the “CrossFit” method of working out can increase the intensity and make it easy to use minimal equipment with large groups of students. Students can complete rounds of skills at their pace but get exposure to different equipment.

Here is an example of a workout we have done with a class of 35+ students (reaching as many as 45). If we have more students in a class, we may add exercises or add more equipment.

One Round

  • 1 lap around our gym (students with knee injuries would do lunges or abs)
  • 30 alternating waves on battle ropes
  • 1 trip tire flips (approximately half the basketball court)
  • 10 push-ups
  • 20 dead bugs

    Students spend 10-15 minutes working through the stations as quickly as they can. If they have to wait at a station, they either jump rope, run an extra lap, or do an abdominal exercise while waiting. Record how many times you get through the list and the modifications. (Equipment needed: four tires and five battle ropes.)

Think Outside the Weight Room

If you think you can’t do strength training without a weight room — think again! Strength training can be done anywhere — and it’s important to teach students that they can be physically fit even if they can’t afford a gym membership! 

The photo below shows a barbell workout I do in my garage. All I need is a barbell and some rubber weights and I can get my lift in anywhere. I have used this method in our gym when we needed to get our lift in with strength training classes.

Keep Track & Repeat

In strength training, it’s very important to keep track of measurable skills and goals — whether that’s using a cell phone, Chromebook, or just paper and a clipboard.

Keep track of students’ reps, rounds, or weight used. This gives them a goal and instant target for the next time they do the same workout. If they can do one more push-up, lift a little more weight, or get another round, they will feel achievement and success.

Achieving goals helps to improve students’ self-confidence and helps them find joy in movement and exercise.

Additional Resources

Erika Mundt

Erika Mundt has taught physical education at Iowa City West High School for eight years. Her specialty is incorporating fitness skills into PE courses, specifically strength training. Erika is an assistant basketball coach and enjoys being active with her young sons. In 2018 she was named SHAPE America National High School Physical Education Teacher of the Year. You can follow her on Twitter @MundtPE and find additional resources on her website.