How Every Gym Teacher Can Combat Childhood Obesity With Almost No Money

January 4, 2007 by  
Filed under OBESITY

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By Rick Osbourne

Thinking back over the seventeen years I spent teaching Physical Education and coaching various sports, one thing stands out to me as I read more and more about the obesity epidemic that’s stalking our nation’s kids today. During those years I noticed that kids who could perform pull ups were never overweight. And kids who were overweight could never perform pull ups. Now I know you don’t have to be a gym teacher in order to see that. It’s common knowledge. It’s so common in fact that I think we’ve overlooked it as an incredibly simple solution to childhood obesity. Let me explain.

Every Gym Teacher Knows What I’m Talking About

From this simple observation that at least every other gym teacher in the nation will recognize, I drew the following conclusion. Start young (i.e. grades k, 1, and 2) before they’ve had a chance to gain much excess weight, and teach them to be able to perform at least one pull up. Then teach them that as long as they maintain the ability to perform at least one pull up, they can never be much overweight. Furthermore, the more pull ups they can do, the leaner and stronger they’ll be, naturally.

Now Hold Your Horses…

“But hold your horses here,” you say. I can hear it all now. “How am I going to teach my students to do pull ups when 90% of them completely despise the exercise, and whenever possible, they avoid the pull up bar like the plague? This not the military or a police academy where you can force the participants to do pull ups. This is a school. How can I teach kids to do something that they’d never practice? And even if they wanted to practice (which they don’t), most of my students can’t do pull ups, so they couldn’t practice even if they wanted to.”

So How Do You Teach Kids To Love Doing Pull Ups

These are of course good questions and I wouldn’t be writing this article if I wasn’t pretty sure that I had a good, quick, and practical answer in hand. So here goes. The solution to the problem is to use a height adjustable pull up bar which you can create inexpensively by hanging a chain (one inch links) solidly from a height of ten feet (picture it attached to a basketball backboard), so it reaches down to approximately three feet from the floor. This will accommodate the required height adjustment for all kids.

Now using a snap hook and a center mounted pull up bar, you can attach the bar to the chain at any height you choose. You can raise and lower the bar at one inch increments, which will allow every student in your class to find a level where they can perform at least eight LEG ASSISTED PULL UPS. That is to say you can find a level where every student succeeds in front of their peers. Failure is not part of this program.

Student’s Inch Their Way To Success

The strategy is to allow students to work out two to three times per week and increase their repetitions from eight to nine, ten, eleven, and twelve reps. When they can do twelve repetitions at a particular height, you move the bar up one inch and begin the whole eight to twelve rep routine all over again. What you’ll witness is kids “inching” their way up the chain over time, until eventually they run out of leg assistance. At that point they’ll have learned to do real live pull ups, a feat that most of ‘em could never do before you took the time to teach them how.

Emphasizing Self Competition

It’s important to emphasize self competition over competition with other students. Every student is different, and they will start at various starting points and finish at various times. But the key ingredient is that each student makes visible progress regularly. It’s important they see that they are better this week than last week, better this month than last month, which means that if they persist, they will reach the goal of being able to physically pull their own weight.

Some Will Need To Make Adjustments

Now in order to reach this end goal, some kids will have to adjust their nutritional intake and lose a little weight. Others may want to add some calorie burning aerobic work to accomplish a similar goal. And still others may want to experiment with the time of day they when work out, or the amount of sleep they get at night. Regardless, encourage them to do whatever they need to do (short of anabolic steroids) to get their chin up to the bar without needing of leg assistance. Interestingly enough, you will find that the kids will make those adjustments naturally, on their own because when it’s presented right, public success is built into the program right from the get go. And as successes are piled on top of successes in very thin slices, they add up to big successes, and the feeling that they can try something a little bit harder in front of the other kids and still expect to succeed will become more and more prevalent and resilient with each new workout.

Self Confidence Will Win The Day

Before you know it, the self esteem and self confidence that comes from succeeding in public will be visible in the way the student approaches all kinds of new tasks, from the pull up bar to memorizing their multiplication tables. When that “yes I can” attitude is firmly in place and has permeated every pore, you the gym teacher will have done much more than giving them a functional tool with which to avoid obesity for the rest of their life…which in itself is no small feat today. You will also have given those students an inner strength that will carry them through school, through the workplace, through the ups and downs of modern day family life. You will effectively give them the green light that will help them battle their way through the challenges that life inevitably offers, and the persistence to come out the other side with a smile on their face and a cup half full instead of half empty. And if you do, you will be the best teacher these kids will ever know. Not too bad for teaching kids to do pull ups, wouldn’t you agree?

Beginning of Side Bar

What Should The Gym Teacher’s Goal Be?

I suggest that you find a starting place for every member of your class at the beginning of the school year. You’ll discover right off the bat that some will be able to do regular pull ups, while others will need to use the leg assisted technique to learn how. With this thought in mind, the gym teacher’s goal in my view should be to monitor the percentage of kids who can do regular pull ups, and to make sure that percentage is always going up. For example if ten percent of your class can do real live pull ups at the beginning of the year, it would be great if fifteen could do it by semester time, and twenty percent by the end of the school year…although you may do much better than that. In short, the closer we get to having all students vaccinated against obesity by maintaining the ability to physically pull their own weight, the closer we will be to winning the war on obesity.

End of Side Bar

Rick Osbourne is a Chicago based freelance writer who currently serves as Executive Director for Operation Pull Your Own Weight, an informational web site dedicated to showing parents and educators how to naturally immunize kids against obesity for a lifetime without shots, pills, or fancy diets to get the job done. If you’re interested in knowing more about www.childhood-obesity-prevention.comchildhood and obesity or www.childhood-obesity-prevention.comobesity in America check out the web site at Rick can be reached via email at or by phone during business hours.

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