Shaker’s Performance Fitness Classes

Students workout in the Shaker fitness center.

When Shaker High School in New York introduced Performance Fitness classes five years ago, they hoped the new physical education course would grow. As a large high school of over 2,400 students, the physical education and athletic department knew the course could significantly impact students and athletes.


But to say the Performance Fitness course has grown would be an understatement. Over the last five years, class enrollment has increased by 300%, and over 700 students are participating in the classes. Not only is the course offered during every period of the day, but some periods have two sections of the class in the fitness center at once.


While Performance Fitness is a school-wide initiative, spearheading the program is ZaQuan Irby. ZaQuan started at Shaker as a student-teacher before taking a full-time role as a PE teacher and coach five years ago. We talked with ZaQuan and took an inside look at how Shaker High School’s Performance Fitness program is winning awards, making headlines, and driving student and athlete success.

ZaQuan Irby is a PE teacher and strength coach at Shaker High School.
ZaQuan Irby

Performance Fitness – Two-Group System 


Like many high schools, physical education classes at Shaker are open to every grade level. As a result, 9th-12th grade students with a wide range of experiences are all in the same class. 


To help manage the different experience levels in the Performance Fitness classes, ZaQuan developed a simple grouping system to organize the students. In any Performance Fitness class, students will fall under two groups: Performance or Strength


The performance group is designed to help students learn functional movement patterns. Any student new to the Performance Fitness class starts in this group. In this group, students develop fundamental movement patterns and begin to use different resistance variations via bands, kettlebells, and dumbbells. 


The strength group is designed as the next step for students to use barbells and perform more complex movements. Any student who has taken at least a year of Performance Fitness can transition to the strength group. And while many are eager to be in the strength group, some students enjoy being in the performance group and opt to stay there for multiple years. 


And while many schools would label these two groups as intro and advanced, ZaQuan intentionally named the groups to empower all students in the Performance Fitness classes, 


“It removes the pressure of students wanting to rush to the more “advanced” group. Instead, we emphasize how both the Strength and Performance groups will help students get a great workout and see the benefits of their hard work.” 


Whether students are in the class for general fitness or athletic development, they know they will see progress and improvement no matter what group they are a part of. 

Students do a glute bridge during physical education class.
Shaker students perform a glute bridge.
Students workout in a Shaker physical education class.
Shaker students set up for a barbell movement.

Tracking Progress in Performance Fitness 


No matter what group students are in, data and progress tracking are significant components of Performance Fitness class. While ZaQuan uses data to measure the effectiveness of the different workout programs he designs, he says the students also love the insights, 


“Students love the instant feedback they get by using a fitness app. It gives them that extra nudge to work harder in class.” 


To log and track progress, Shaker students, teachers, and coaches all have access to PLT4M. As part of the class routine, students bring devices (usually phones) to the fitness center. Because every workout is delivered digitally, students can enter results and start seeing progress mapped out over time. ZaQuan says the addition of technology in PE has been a driving factor to the Performance Fitness program’s success, 


“It helps get everyone on the same page. We track certain things for PE that all students do, like Fitness Gram tests. But we can also add other performance-based testing like maxes, speed and agility tests, and more.” 

Phones stored in cubbies during physical education class.
Students store their phones during warm up before beginning workout and logging acivity.

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Celebrating Success At Shaker High School 


The Shaker High School Performance Fitness program is a smashing success. And the success continues even after the class period ends. In addition to the Performance Fitness classes, many students work out with different sports teams and groups before and after school, always utilizing the programming and technology. 


Furthermore, as Shaker continues to grow the program, even the middle school is getting involved. Now students at the middle school level are exposed to fitness via PLT4M’s middle school lesson plans. 


And all of this success isn’t going unnoticed. Recently, Shaker was highlighted as a Program of Excellence by the National High School Strength and Conditioning Association (NHSSCA). On top of that, the NHSSCA recognized ZaQuan Irby as the New York Strength Coach of the Year. 


While ZaQuan is proud of the accolades, he says that the piece worth celebrating the most is the students, 


“The true success is our students. Whether general population students or student-athletes, they accomplish so much in the class beyond just completing a workout. There is so much to be gained from this program, and our students are really taking advantage of it.” 


More images from inside the Shaker Performance Fitness Program. 

Shaker students exercise during a physical education class.
A student performs the trap bar deadlift.
Students warm up during a Shaker physical education class.
A female student does a bent over row.
A Shaker student does a trap bar deadlift.
The Shaker High School fitness center.

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