I have admittedly invested a lot of both time and effort in chronicling why I despised my ninth grade gym class:
- Scale Edition and the competitive BMI portion of my PE grade.
- Menarche Edition, complete with gushing and dodge ball.
- Volleyball Edition, where the teacher expected her gym class to be as competitive as her interscholastic team.
- Square Dancing Edition, in which sexual harassment was sanctioned.
- The Last Mile, menstruation revisited.
I’m glad I’ve done so, both because it’s helped me see some of my adolescent experiences through adult eyes — a teacher’s eyes — and to name inexcusable educating and caretaking behavior for what it is.
But I’d be remiss if I didn’t dedicate at least one post to tenth grade gym.
The class was called Muscle Development, and — for name alone, I expect — it had acquired the reputation of being a class dedicated to “bulking up.” Consequently, there were about four sections of Boys Muscle Development and only one of Girls Muscle Development — and that one included a lot of students who, like me, had selected “no preference” for their specific tenth grade PE class. The class itself was an unlikely mix of students — half hardcore, four-season varsity athletes and half people who looked like they’d been plopped in from another dimension. I was in the latter group.
“Your grade in this class will have three parts,” the teacher explained on the first day. “The first is what you know. For example, can you explain how muscles use oxygen or how to use a particular piece of equipment in the weight room? Being able to lift weights is great, but it’s even better if you know how lifting is affecting your body. And it’s crucial to be able to do it safely.”
As someone who’d grown comfortable in traditional academic settings, I breathed a sigh of relief. Explain the steps in a process? Easy. Conceptualize some human anatomy and physiology? No big deal at all, even if it was only a portion of my grade.
“The second part is participation. Showing up, dressing out, and trying your best every day will get you some points. Because a person who does that regularly is setting themselves up for more longer-term benefits than the person who might only work out once in a while, even if you can’t do very much right now.”
I’ll be honest: Even then, I considered participation grades as ways for teachers to pad their students’ grades. But after my experience with the gym class from hell, I was still worried that I’d need as much padding as I could possibly get. Additionally, I continued to worry about how the whole “needing to skip gym and/or school for horrific period pain” thing would affect my participation grade, as we’d not yet found a doctor who would sign off on a note for it.**
“The last part is goal setting and reflection. You will have to set fitness goals for yourself — reasonable fitness goals — and work toward them. If you’re not meeting them, you’re going to have to figure out why not and what is the best way to change. I don’t mean that you’re going to be able to do anything you want, but there are a lot of different goals you could set, and a lot of reasons you might need to modify. But we’ll talk more about that as we start each unit.”
And she was basically as good as her word on that, too. Things I learned in Muscle Development:
- There is a whole spectrum of combinations between a million reps at a teeny tiny weight and one rep at your complete max for that weight. Different combinations have different purposes, but a good rule of thumb is this: If your weight lifting routine is hurting you or boring you, it’s probably time to switch.
- Form really does matter, both for keeping vulnerable body parts safe (hi, knees and low back!) but also for making the exercise harder.
- You will probably always have particular exercises and/or muscle groups that you struggle with. So will the person next to you. Their struggles may not be your struggles. It doesn’t mean that either person is better or worse; you’re just different.
- Squats were designed by the devil herself.
And even with the squats, it was okay.
** I eventually solved this problem by being totally absent from school and having one of my parents call me in sick (and, slightly further down the road, posing as my mother to call myself in sick — with my mother’s knowledge and consent). While I suspect some people at school may have noticed the cyclical nature of my absences, there were really no solid grounds for them to voice any objections.