Motivating teen girls with a personal fitness program

08/23/2010  |  BETTY KERN, MS, CSCS
physical fitness

Have you ever wondered if it was possible to get teen girls excited about exercise and eating healthier? Do you think it is possible to successfully reach that student who “has never liked physical education class”? Here’s what some of the girls from Springfield High School in Akron, Ohio had to say about their “Personal Training Class” (a physical education elective for juniors and seniors).

“Joining this class has helped me realize that I can do anything if I set my mind to it!” — Stephanie

“This is a class that will get your mind off other subjects ... but it wasn’t all fun and games ... we learned a lot and had fun!”  — Stephanie S.

“This class has helped me greatly to get over my bulimia. I’m more aware of my nutrition vs. just wanting to be thin and not caring how it happens.”  — Rachel

“This is a good class for insecure girls!”  — Tina

“I have done better in school because I feel better about myself.” — Cheryl

“During the middle of the semester I could feel my body was more limber, stronger and overall healthier! I am going to miss this class!” — Catie

This class has been an amazing experience ... it has had such a good impact on my attitude! I’ve lost two pant sizes and reduced some major stress. I love this class so much!”  — Tasha (three time Ab Challenge winner...took the class three times)

“I love this class! My back is stronger since I started doing yoga, and I haven’t had to take any medication for my acid reflux. I think everyone should take this class. I’ve even got my mom and my little sister doing some of the yoga with me.” Amanda (who has scoliosis)

“Mrs. Kern ... thank you for having this class! I used to think that I couldn’t do anything physical ... but now I know I can do anything I set my mind to doing! I have lost 30 pounds this year!” Amanda

“I have had a lot of stress in my life for a long time, and this class helps so much. My back had been bothering me a lot more before this class. I have learned so much in this class!” — Erin (took the class three times)

 “I would have never made it through my senior year without this class! It helped me focus on positive things and feel better physically and emotionally.” — Abbie (took the class two times and is majoring in nutrition in college)

“The atmosphere was really positive because it was all girls ... we got along really well and had fun!” — Katie

As the girls’ quotes indicate, mission accomplished! The impact of this class was amazing: poor nutritional habits were dropped, healthy habits were adopted, inactive teen girls were now exercising daily and keeping a nutrition and exercise journal, self-confidence and self-esteem soared, study habits and grades improved, attitudes towards healthy eating and exercise changed, weight and inches lost, muscle tone gained, new friendships were built, strong, healthy student-teacher relationships developed, and girls had fun!

Why is this class so successful? It provides a unique option for teen girls. New fitness activities are taught by the teacher who encourages participation by all students. An individualized approach is taken within a group setting. Personal goals are established, tracked and rewarded. Challenge competitions allow for success regardless of ability differences. For example, during the “Distance Challenge” all miles completed count toward the challenge goal. So if a girl does not like to run, she can walk her miles.

Individual advice and consultation is provided outside of class time if necessary. Flexibility in class activities within predetermined parameters also helps the girls feel a sense of ownership of the class because student feedback is valued and acknowledged. Providing an encouraging and nurturing environment with girl essentials, healthy snacks and a listening caring ear helps girls feel comfortable and motivates them to participate. Most importantly, the girls experience results.

The “Personal Training Class” was born out of the desire to help teenage girls make the connection between their current lifestyle habits and their energy levels, physical fitness, school performance, weight and health issues. Countless high school girls are dissatisfied with their bodies, energy level, grades, skin and general health. In addition, some girls experience extreme mood swings and emotional ups and downs. Through conversation, it became apparent that these students did not understand the impact of their daily lifestyle habits. With administrative support, it was decided that it was time to make a difference in the lives of the girls at Springfield High School.

 Class curriculum goals include: provide nutrition, fitness and health information to teen girls enabling them to make informed lifestyle decisions; provide a ‘safe’ environment for self-expression through discussion of topics and issues important to young women; provide an accepting, non-competitive atmosphere; provide an opportunity to achieve fitness goals that seem unattainable; encourage trying new fitness activities to help them grow in self-confidence and self-esteem; encourage healthy eating habits; hold “Challenges” to encourage activity; examine habits through journaling; focus on self-improvement and celebration of individual differences; create an environment that allows girls to be comfortable with each other, the teacher and themselves (that means sometimes we laugh at each other and the teacher); demonstrate that FITNESS CAN BE FUN! The main goal of the class is to help each girl meet her personal fitness goals!

Fitness activities are the focus of the class and include a variety of exercises: yoga, group weight training, individual weight training, resistance bands, fitness balls, kick boxing, core workout, fitness frenzy workouts, and other fun fitness activities. “Classroom Days” are incorporated to discuss nutrition and fitness basics along with other topics of interest. Semester projects challenged students to dig a little deeper on the topics and apply them to their lives. In addition, field trips provide an opportunity for students to demonstrate new fitness activity skills while teaching elementary and middle school age students.

How did a class like “Personal Training” get started at Springfield High School in Akron, Ohio? What would you have to do to get a girl’s program established at your school? Here are steps to follow to initiate a new program: submit a letter to request a new class; include objectives and goals; present curriculum to administration; estimate costs for equipment, etc.; be persistent (you may have to ask more than once); be prepared to “sell” this to administration; bargain shop for equipment (check online, discount stores, garage sales, look for “seconds”); consider a class fee to help pay for journals and equipment and look for grant money to fund the program!

Once the class is adopted, generate enthusiasm for the class by hanging up posters advertising a new class, talking to girls in PE classes, getting counselors to promote the new opportunity, holding an after-school preview of the class and doing a fitness activity.

Possibly the most important contributor to the success of a new program is the role of the teacher.

Believe in yourself:

  • You can make a change in the PE environment
  • You can learn new fitness activities and teach them to your students
  • You can be an advocate for your whole school for healthier living (Wellness)
  • You can make a difference in the lives of your students
  • You can be an example of healthy living and physical fitness!

Believe in the program:

  • It will generate enthusiasm for physical fitness
  • It will generate a positive atmosphere in the class
  • It will be more successful with teacher participation
  • It will set high expectations and standards for the students
  • It will be successful!

Believe in the students:

  • They will make changes in their lives
  • They will adopt new eating habits
  • They will become more physically active and enjoy it; they will be excited about a new program
  • They will make decisions that will lead to a healthier lifestyle
  • Their enthusiasm will have a positive effect on the whole school environment!

With the obesity and health issues facing our nation, it is time for physical education and health teachers to implement new programs that reach out to a variety of students to teach them healthy lifestyle habits and that “fitness can be fun.” Go make a difference in your school!

Betty Kern is president of PE Fit. For information, visit
Comments & Ratings

  1/22/2014 10:26:29 AM

I want to start a program at the school I teach at for high school girls. Can you tell me how to do it? Is there a curriculum or an exercise guide that you use?
  8/19/2013 2:38:04 PM

personal trainer, teacher 
I will be starting a fitness class in a private school for 7th & 10th graders 2x a week. Your program sounds like it is a great success. Any tips you can give me would be welcome. I usually work with adults, but this is something new. Thought I'd use the circuit method after the girls learn the exercises.