3 Tips for Teaching Fitness Concepts to Elementary Students!

If you are reading this blog, there is a good chance that fitness plays a role in your elementary physical education program. With Standard 3 of our SHAPE America National Standards being entirely dedicated to fitness, a case can certainly be made that P.E. lessons should encompass physical fitness.

However, physical fitness is more than having students maximize their moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) time during your class. It is important that students begin to learn about the concepts related to physical fitness. With fitness playing a role in our everyday lives both in P.E. class and beyond, helping your students to learn about fitness concepts can help them to understand the “why” and the “how” behind the “what.” This is where the “teaching” piece comes, and in this blog, I will share with you my top 3 tips on how to help your students begin to demonstrate a greater understanding of fitness-related concepts.

It is important that students begin to learn about the concepts related to physical fitness. Helping students learn about fitness concepts can help them to understand the “why” and the “how” behind the “what.” #PhysEd @Mr_C_PE Share on X


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I start to go a bit deeper related to fitness components and concepts starting with my students in 3rd Grade. When first introducing them to anything new, I like to gather their thoughts and perceptions first before we explore the skill or the concept we will be working on. This helps to introduce important vocabulary words and helps me as the teacher begin to understand their background knowledge.

When introducing the term physical fitness, we will go through this process as well. I will ask the students to share what they think “physical fitness” means and we will have a discussion based on student responses as we look to highlight themes that pop up across the answers students give. Once we identify these themes as a group, it will help us to understand what physical fitness is, and what physical fitness is not. I then will ask them to apply their knowledge in a way of their choosing by asking them to share with me 2 activities that they participate in that require physical fitness and 2 activities that they participate in that don’t require physical fitness. In the past students have written their responses to these prompts in sentence form, drew me pictures, or even acted the activities out and had me try to guess them.

I have found that this technique has helped students develop a better understanding of the foundational knowledge that they need to have before I can introduce the health-related fitness components to them.

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Similar to the way I introduce the term physical fitness to my students, I like starting with a similar type of discussion as we begin to dive deeper into the components of physical fitness. A simple prompt such as “what parts of your body are involved in physical fitness?” can be a great springboard to having your students share their background knowledge as well as a way to make links and connections to vocabulary they may be learning about in other subject-area classes such as science. While facilitating this discussion, you as the teacher can then begin to introduce specific health related fitness components and link them to the responses students came up with (i.e. cardiorespiratory endurance (heart and lungs), muscular strength and muscular endurance (muscles), etc.).

Framing health related fitness components through the lens of body systems will help students to understand what kinds of exercises improve or enhance different areas of fitness. I empower my students to do this by learning to ask themselves questions related to how their body responds to any particular type of exercise expanding on what they know by reflecting on how they feel.

For cardiorespiratory endurance, we talk about asking ourselves the questions of “does this exercise make my heart beat really fast?” and “does this exercise make my lungs breathe really heavy?” The answers to these questions can help them determine whether or not an exercise is one that is designed to improve their cardiorespiratory endurance. Similarly, when learning about exercises that are designed to improve our muscular strength and muscular endurance, we talk about asking ourselves the question of “does this exercise make me feel the burn in my muscles?”

I have found approaching health-related fitness components in this way has helped my students gain a better understanding of their functions and applications.


Early on in my teaching career, I tried to get really technical with my elementary students when it came to differentiating muscular strength and muscular endurance without much success. Trying to get them to understand that exercises that increased their muscular strength were ones in which they could do for less repetitions while exercises that increased their muscular endurance were ones in which they could do for more repetitions proved to be more confusing to my students than helpful.

When I started to think about why there was a disconnect for my students, I realized it was because of the type of exercises we were limited to doing. Being limited to performing mainly bodyweight exercises, my students did not really have any way to vary the resistance load. Without being able to do this, my students did not really get to experience what it felt like to be able to do the same exercise under heavier resistance for muscular strength versus lighter resistance for muscular endurance to really notice the difference.

Once I realized this, I stopped worrying so much about trying to get them to differentiate between muscular strength and muscular endurance, and I began to approach these 2 fitness components as 1.

These tips have served my students and I well over the past few years. Questions? Your own tips from your experience teaching fitness components and concepts for elementary students? Please share in the comment section below to keep the conversation going!

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