Empowering Women’s Fitness Through Physical Education

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At Pennfield High School, PE teacher Molly Collins is empowering the next generation of women with fitness, health, and wellness skills. After Molly realized that the majority of young women at her school were avoiding physical education, she set out to create a Women’s Fitness class. Not only has Women’s Fitness brought more female students to physical education, but it has also helped build new levels of student confidence, extending well beyond the class.

Why Women’s Fitness 


Students at Pennfield High School are required to take one semester of physical education and one semester of health to fulfill graduation requirements. As a result, the majority of physical education classes are electived-based offerings. When Molly started teaching different electives like weight training, she noticed that the majority of her class rosters were boys, 


“When I first started, I hardly had any women in my classes. And I saw that the overall confidence when it came to fitness within our female students was very low. There was this fear of being embarrassed or uncomfortable in classes like weight training that needed to be addressed.”  


Molly knew something needed to change to accomplish this. After first seeing a Women’s Fitness class at the school she student taught in, Molly brought the idea to Pennfield. After starting the class, there was an instant change in participation, 


“We had so many students sign up that we needed to create two sections of course.” 


Goals Of Women’s Fitness Class 


Molly explains the biggest goal of the Women’s Fitness class is to support students on their health and wellness journey, 


“First and foremost, we want to create a safe environment that allows students to leave class and pursue health and wellness on their own. I want students to feel confident in themselves so they can walk into any gym or fitness center and know they are capable of anything.” 


To do this, Molly not only looks to teach different types of fitness units but also opens up conversations about female health and wellness issues, 


“The class creates a space where students can not only explore different types of exercise but also have conversations about things like body image, respect, nutrition, and so much more.”

Women’s Fitness Units 


With the big goal in mind, Molly has designed and adapted the Women’s Fitness curriculum to expose students to various types of exercise. Units in the Women’s Fitness class include: 

  1. Yoga
  2. Pilates 
  3. High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) 
  4. Dance 
  5. Crossfit 
  6. Weight Training 


Molly says that the structure and layout of these different units is intentional, 


“I start with less intimidating units to build confidence and trust. But by the end of the semester, students are in the weight room getting to explore weight training that they otherwise never would have considered trying.” 


In addition, Molly layers in different nutrition and health components throughout the entire semester, 


“For example, when we do yoga, we talk about our breath and mental health. Another example is connecting nutrition to our performance and energy. Nutrition and health intersect all the different units, and it is important to draw these connections throughout the semester.” 

Bonus Content – Molly utilizes PLT4M to help teach everything from yoga to weightlifting. Check out a sample instructional video that shows students the basic points of performance on the back squat. 

Student Feedback From Class 


As part of the Women’s Fitness class, Molly asks students to reflect on their experiences. While she has countless quotes and insights from the power of Women’s Fitness, Molly shared one that perfectly captures the impact of the class. 

“I took Women’s Fitness my freshman and sophomore year. I wasn’t really into weightlifting when I started high school and always thought it was kind of intimidating and that it would make me bulky. Women’s fitness warmed me up to the idea of doing more strengthening and weightlifting workouts, and I’m so happy it did. 


Women’s fitness also helped me feel more comfortable working out with others. It made me realize that it’s better to workout with a partner/group because they’ll encourage you, you’ll feel more comfortable and actually have fun. Women’s fitness was a great class to start out in because it’s a class of all girls and we helped each other gain more confidence in working out. 


If I hadn’t taken women’s fitness, I don’t think I would’ve ever been comfortable in taking strength & conditioning, which is now my favorite class! Not to mention, both women’s fitness and strength & conditioning both helped me in strengthening my muscles for dance, which has improved my performance A LOT. 


Overall, women’s fitness was a super fun class that helped me gain confidence in working out and taught me all the basics of weightlifting so I’m able to take strength & conditioning with the best teacher!” 


– H. Peterson (Class of 2024) 

8 Years Later – The Long-Term Results Of The Class 


When Molly first set out to create Women’s Fitness 8 years ago, she had no idea just how big of an impact the class would have. For example, now other more advanced courses like strength and conditioning have seen a significant increase in female participation, 


“Our strength and conditioning classes have more females than ever before. Better yet, these students are absolutely crushing it and seeing the results in the weight room and the impact it has on the sports, clubs, or activities that they do.” 


In addition, Molly now has younger siblings of students who have taken the class in previous years, 


“It is inspiring to see a girl show up and say that their older sister said that Women’s Fitness was the best class they took at Pennfield. That type of impact shows the power of creating a safe and empowering environment for young women.” 

Key Takeaways On Women’s Fitness Class 


There are lots of different ways to inspire and motivate young women in fitness. While an all women’s class isn’t the only way to achieve this, it does create a safe environment for women to explore fitness, health, and wellness on their terms. 


Over time, Molly hopes to continue building women’s confidence and showing them that they are capable of anything when it comes to exercise, 


“There is nothing that says women can’t workout and train just like men. But we live in a world where we need to create opportunities that support women to pursue fitness.” 

How Does Title IX apply to single-sex PE classes?


“The Title IX statute generally prohibits sex-based discrimination in education programs or activities receiving Federal financial assistance. Specifically, it states that no person in the United States, on the basis of sex, can be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”


Because Pennfield offers all students classes with the same curriculum, they can create a women’s class. Many states and schools follow this same practice with physical education classes. For example, many schools offer a “Female Weight Training” and “Male Weight Training Class” that follows the same curriculum. 


Consult with your school and local and state rules to ensure you follow Title IX guidelines when creating new physical education courses. 

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