9th Grade PE – A Personal Fitness Approach

Students workout in the Unity Christian weight room.

In nearly every state across the country, high school students are required to take a 9th grade PE course. For some states and schools, 9th grade PE is the only requirement before physical education becomes an elective. At other schools, it is a stepping stone for future required PE courses throughout students’ high school careers. 


No matter what comes after 9th grade PE, teachers look at this transformative time as an opportunity to expose students to new fitness and health opportunities. 


At Unity Christian High School in Iowa, Josh Van Kempen has shaped his 9th grade PE class to center around the theme of personal fitness. Here is what a semester of 9th grade PE looks like at Unity Christian. 

Josh Van Kempen
Josh Van Kempen
Students workout in the Unity Christian weight room.
9th Grade PE Class at Unity Christian.

The Big Picture – 5 Components of Fitness 


Throughout the semester, Josh looks to shape everything around the five components of fitness. 


The five components of physical fitness are: 


  • Cardiovascular Endurance 
  • Muscular Strength 
  • Muscular Endurance 
  • Flexibility 
  • Body Composition 

With this structure, Josh aims to provide different opportunities for developing these five components, 


“I want students to experience different aspects of personal fitness. They don’t have to love everything we do in class, but they can at least understand why it is important or relevant to our theme of personal fitness.” 

PLT4M Powers 9th Grade PE 


With a lot to cover in 9th grade PE, Josh started using PLT4M with his classes. From the library of programs available from PLT4M, Josh selects the units that complement his goal of teaching personal fitness. 


Intro To Strength Training


With PLT4M’s Intro To Strength Training program, Josh introduces all his students to the fundamental movement patterns and basic lifts. 


Josh explains how this program is a great place for all of his first-year students to start, 


“It helps build muscular strength that all students need. But, more importantly, it gives every student a chance to experience weightlifting at an appropriate level.” 


By the end of this unit, students have gotten the chance to learn things like the back squat, bench press, deadlift, and a wide variety of different dumbbell and bodyweight movements.

Intro To The Bench Press.

Sample Content From Intro To Strength Training Curriculum. 

Intro To Yoga 


With PLT4M’s yoga program, students are introduced to yoga poses and basic yoga flows. Josh sees this as an opportunity that students otherwise wouldn’t get without PLT4M, 


“I don’t know a lot about yoga. Or at least I didn’t. But I know it is a popular fitness option, and I wanted students to get a chance to try this as a unit.” 


And because it is a unit that some students might shy away from, Josh makes it a point to take part in the action,


“I tell the students that all of the different units take skill and practice. So I explain how when we first start you might not be great at it. I am right there with them, so I do the yoga to show and make the point we should all give it a try.” 

Yoga Flow For Beginners. 

Sample Content From Intro To Yoga Curriculum.

Fitness Literacy 


As students start to explore different types of units like strength and yoga, Josh compliments the activity experiences with PLT4M’s Fitness Literacy program. 


Fitness literacy is one of the classroom-based lessons used within the health portion of the class. Each lesson includes a written article, a summary video, and the accompanying assessment questions. These lessons break down everything from an introduction to the mental & physical effects of fitness, down to the mechanics of foundational human movement.

Capacity – Aerobic & Anaerobic.

Sample content from Fitness Literacy Curriculum. 


When it comes to “Aerobic & Anaerobic Capacity”, we are talking about your ability to sustain various levels of activity for different durations in time. How much intensity can you exert in a small window of time? How long can you sustain moderate activity over time?


We’re talking about ENERGY and ACTIVITY.


The human body utilizes a molecule known as ATP, or Adenosine Triphosphate, to do stuff like stand up, walk around, climb a tree, pick up a box, etc. ATP is readily available in our muscle cells but only in small amounts — enough for 10-15 seconds of strenuous activity, but no more. 


You know you can sprint 100m at all-out top speed – but you could never maintain that speed for a two mile run.


Obviously many physical tasks involve activity lasting much longer than 15 seconds, so where does that extra energy come from? The answer lies in the concept of bioenergetics, that is, the network of metabolic processes the body uses to deliver ATP to the muscle cells.


Your body creates energy differently for different types of activity. If you need a lot, all at once, to say, sprint or lift a heavy weight, your body utilizes a combo of two different energy systems that do not need oxygen (The Phospho-Creatine and Glycolytic systems). They can create a lot of energy quickly, but it runs out fast. 


If, instead, you need energy for sustained periods of activity, your body utilizes Aerobic Respiration to create ATP. This process requires the presence of oxygen and can produce moderate levels of energy for longer periods of time.


These are known as our “energy systems”.


What is Aerobic Capacity?


Otherwise known as “stamina” or “endurance”, Aerobic Capacity simply refers to your ability to work continuously at a moderate to low effort for extended periods of time without fatiguing or needing to stop. 


If you only need a moderate amount of energy, your body uses a slower process to create energy called aerobic respiration. This process, if trained and improved through aerobic exercise, can last a LOT longer. 


That’s why some people can run more than 100 miles continuously, while others struggle with just one or two before tiring. They have improved their cardiorespiratory system and metabolic processes so profoundly that they can almost keep going forever so long as they have oxygen to breathe and carbs/fat to burn.


More specifically, your aerobic capacity marks your body’s ability to move oxygen and nutrients to working muscles while also removing metabolic waste.


During moderate to low intensity exercise, your muscles are relying on energy supplied from a combination of oxygen you breathe in and carbohydrates (from the food you’ve eaten recently) and fats (from energy you’ve stored). This means that improving your aerobic capacity doesn’t only improve your “cardio” conditioning. 


Enhancing aerobic capacity can improve blood, oxygen, and nutrient flow to working muscles between sets of resistance training or sprint work. Improving blood flood may also help improve flexibility and mobility. Good aerobic capacity has also been shown to reduce the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, diabetes, metabolic disease, and some forms of cancer.


Bottom line: training your heart, lungs, and muscles to improve their ability to transport oxygen and nutrients through aerobic exercise is good for everyone, for a LOT of reasons.


What is Anaerobic Capacity?


Essentially, when short, intense bouts of activity are required (a full-speed sprint or lifting something heavy, or going all out in the last 2 minutes of an athletic competition, etc) your body cannot rely on oxygen as a source of energy creation. It takes too long, and cannot keep up with the high demand. That’s when the anaerobic energy systems kick in.


Anaerobic Energy Pathways


There are 2 different systems that can create energy in the absence of oxygen (anaerobically): the Phosphocreatine System, and the Glycolytic System.


The PC system provides an immediate and immense amount of energy very quickly. It’s most useful in something like a 100m sprint race, or powerlifting a heavy load for a few reps. The downside lies in its duration. The PC system can only sustain its level of production for anywhere between 8-15 seconds at once. At that point, it simply runs out. It can, however, recharge rather quickly given rest or aerobic recovery (quicker in well-trained individuals).


The GC system is the pathway that provides the energy for near all-out activity that lasts anywhere between 30 seconds and a couple of minutes. It’s most useful for some like a 400m sprint, or circuit training. 


The downside to the GC system is that it’s process for creating energy without oxygen results in the creation of a couple tricky byproducts – acid (hydrogen ions) and lactate. Many people misunderstand the role of lactate, or “lactic acid”. Often we hear people throw around the idea that lactic acid is to blame for your fatigue, or for your soreness after a workout. This isn’t true. It is the excessive rise in acidity that will eventually shut your muscles down (soreness is a whole other animal we will talk about another time). The acidity interferes with the muscle’s ability to contract, and is the reason they feel dead, like “jelly”, or even on fire. At some point, you have to stop.


Aerobic respiration can eat up this acidity, using oxygen to effectively clear all of the waste products created during anaerobic respiration. But, when your aerobic system can’t keep up (like during high intensity efforts), your body attempts to slow the rise of acidity by combining that hydrogen ion with another molecule to create Lactate. Lactate can actually then be converted into further energy in aerobic or anaerobic respiration. But, the buildup of lactate also signals the rising level of acidity within the muscle.


The better your body is at preventing this acid build up, the longer you can go. So, if your aerobic system is in top-notch shape, and you’ve trained at high intensity, you can prevent the build up of acidity a bit longer than someone else.


At some point, though, the rate of acid production overtakes the clearance of waste and you have to stop. This is your anaerobic or lactate “threshold”.


The most important thing to understand, when thinking about Aerobic & Anaerobic capacity, is that your body will adapt to whatever you ask it to do.


Longer durations of moderate intensity activity will improve your aerobic capacity and you will see gains in something as simple as a 1-Mile run assessment.


Shorter durations of high intensity activity will improve your anaerobic capacity and you will see gains in things like a 2-Minute burpee test.


Long story short, you can improve all 3 of your energy pathways, and each one has its own benefits!

1. What is bioenergetics?

2. Aerobic Capacity training can best be described by what levels of intensity and duration?

3. What is an example of activity that challenges your body’s aerobic capacity?

4. Anaerobic Capacity training can best be described by what levels of intensity and duration?

5. What is an example of activity that challenges your body’s anaerobic capacity?

6. What are the two methods of anaerobic energy creation (metabolic pathways) and how are they different when it comes to the duration of activity ?



Along with fitness literacy, Josh incorporates nutrition lessons into the classroom side of 9th grade PE. Because nutrition and fitness are so closely linked, it is an excellent connection that the class can start to bridge. 


PLT4M’s nutrition program breaks down the basics of macronutrients like proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. From there, it explores how nutrition applies to students’ everyday lives. 


Josh describes why nutrition is important to this 9th grade PE class, 


“Students know that at a high level nutrition and fitness are connected, but don’t know the reasons why. Breaking down nutrition as a part of this class helps students get the complete picture.”

Intro To Carbohydrates – What & Why.

Sample Curriculum From Intro To Nutrition. 

Before we dive into the wide world of carbohydrates, let’s make sure we have a clear definition of what they are.

Popular culture refers to things like grains and sugars as carbs. However, carbohydrates refer to the chemistry that make up any plant-based food. Fruits, vegetables, grains, and sugars are all made of carbohydrates. 


When we talk about carbs, we are referring to the chemistry of the food (carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen).


All carbs are created from sugar molecules (glucose, fructose, galactose). What changes between the types of carbohydrates (sugar, starch, and fiber) are the number of molecules, and the complexity of the bond between the molecules, making them easier or harder to break apart.


As those molecules bind together in various ways, they form compounds we are more familiar with. These include things such as starch (found in potato, grains, corn, etc.), fiber (something we can’t digest), sugars (found in milk, yogurt, fruits and sweeteners like honey, syrup, cane sugar).


What They Do For Us?


There is a lot of confusion and concern about carbohydrates these days. So before we get any further, let’s be clear: Carbohydrates are not evil!


Carbohydrates are the perfect package of nutrients for the body and provide many benefits such as:


1) Energy  – Our body can quickly break down and use energy from carbohydrates to think and move. Fat and protein take more time and effort, making them a lower quality fuel source. Our brain alone uses around 400 calories of carbohydrates per day (or approximately 120 grams).


2) Fiber – Found in whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. Fiber cannot be digested. It keeps us regular in the bathroom, prevents disease, and stabilizes energy. It also keeps us fuller longer. Beneficial for gastrointestinaI health, disease prevention, and feeling fuller longer. You cannot get fiber from animal-based foods. Fiber, by definition, is a type of carbohydrate.


3) Antioxidants – Prevent against free radicals that can cause disease. You won’t find antioxidants in animal-based foods.


4) Protein – Plant-based proteins can meet all of our protein needs without the need to eat meat, but have to be appropriately paired for good nutrition (more on this in the protein chapter)


5) Vitamins and minerals  – Carbohydrates provide a wide variety of nutrients, including b-vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin, and niacin) used to convert food to energy and support our nervous system, calcium for our bones, iron to support oxygen transport in the blood, and folate to help us produce red blood cells.


Carbohydrates = Energy 


As you can see, at the top of the list is the energy we can get from carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are the preferred fuel source for the body. Ideally, people should have at least 50-75 percent of their daily energy needs from carbohydrates – a mixture of fruits, vegetables, and grains.


When we eat something with carbohydrates, whether it’s a fruit, grain, vegetable, or sweetener like sugar, our body can quickly break down the molecules of carbohydrates and turn them into blood glucose (aka blood sugar).


The blood glucose is then transported to the muscles, brain, and vital organs to convert to energy (or ATP). Any unused glucose gets stored for later, and when those storage spots are full, it can convert it to body fat for later use. In other words, energy now, and energy for later.


MYTH BUSTING: Before anyone panics when they see body fat, let’s dispel another myth. The myth that carbs convert to body fat more than other nutrients is not true. Our body is constantly putting nutrients in and out of storage. It never “throws” them away. This is a natural and normal part of human physiology and not something unique to carbs and blood glucose. They are NOT more likely to become body fat than any other nutrient.


Different Types of Energy: 

One of the benefits of carbohydrate-rich foods is that they can give you energy quickly. So if you’re trying to fuel up to train, study, or go about your day, carbohydrates should be the food of choice.


The downside is that because carbohydrates are digested and absorbed quickly when we eat a meal that is purely carbohydrates, we tend to feel hungry sooner. Conversely, when we eat foods with more protein and fat, we feel fuller longer, as these take longer to break down.


For example, a plate of pasta with salad is filling, but it likely won’t keep you full as long as a plate of pasta with chicken and salad.


Sugars provide energy the fastest. However, because sugar is broken down and absorbed quickly, it leaves us looking to replace energy faster than when we consume starch. If we add fiber to the equation, we get even more sustainable energy. Add protein and fat, and we get the most sustainable energy.


However, you don’t need chemistry to explain that to you. You can feel the difference when you drink a can of soda vs. eating a turkey sandwich. Both have the same carbohydrate content, but where those carbohydrates comes from, and what it’s paired with, makes all the difference.


What Comes Next? 

As you can see, there is a lot of overlap when it comes to talking about carbohydrates. Hopefully, you can see that carbs are good for us, and provide us energy to fuel our lives. The next question that almost inevitably follows, is how to decipher between “good” and “bad” carbs? 


So, let us be clear. Carbohydrates are not “good” or “bad” – they’re just different chemistries with different purposes. Instead of looking at carbohydrates as good and bad, you will notice that we have talked a lot about sugar, starch, and fiber. 


In our next chapter, we will break down the three types of carbohydrates in more detail. We will talk about where to find them, and what they do for us! Understanding the chemistry allows you to better plan and balance your meals for health and performance.

1:What are the main types of carbohydrates?


2: Which food groups contain carbohydrates?


3: What functions do carbohydrates serve in the body?


Dance Fitness 


While it is not a dedicated unit like the other subjects, dance fitness is something that Josh has started to bring into class as well. Josh sees multiple advantages to having dance as part of the class, 


“It helps break things up during the week with some of our other units. It is also a great way to talk about cardiovascular endurance and all the different ways you can develop it.” 

Intro To Dance Lesson.

Sample Content From Dance Fitness Curriculum. 

A Foundation of Personal Fitness Opens Many Doors 


Unity Christian 9th Grade PE covers a lot in a semester! And the different units and lessons described above are not even an exhaustive list. 


Although the bulk of the semester is spent as a group trying out different fitness options, the students are ready to start making their own choices towards the end of the semester. 


Student-athletes might start to explore in-season or off-season training options. Other students can continue with more advanced personal fitness and yoga options. There is something for everyone and all the curriculum lives within PLT4M.

Key Takeaways on 9th Grade PE: Personal Fitness Approach 


With so many different topics and options to choose from, there is certainly no one specific way to run a 9th grade PE course. But, if the goal is to introduce and expose students while also building fundamental skills, Unity Christian showcases a great approach to the semester. 


For Josh, the biggest advantage to PLT4M has been the confidence he has in the content and curriculum that he is delivering to his students, 


“With every new program or unit we try from PLT4M, I am always impressed by the quality and consistency of what is available. It makes planning a semester worth of material easy.” 


Whether 9th grade PE is the last stop before electives or the first step before three more years of physical education, a personal fitness approach can lead to great results.

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