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Matthew Erbe, PT

With school gone digital, parents and caregivers are getting creative to keep their virtual learners physically active and focused.

Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, Matt Erbe’s sons, aged 8 and 10, burned off energy like most kids their age. They regularly participated in youth sports leagues, daily recess and gym class at school. After school, they played and gallivanted across the neighborhood with friends.

“After changes due to COVID-19 I could tell my boys didn’t have the same sparkle in their eye every day,” said Erbe, a physical therapist at the OrthoCarolina Sports Medicine Center Therapy. “When news came out that school was going to start virtually this fall I knew we had to figure something out.”

His sons missed gym class most of all since starting remote learning, so Erbe decided to take matters into his own hands.

“After talking with my boys about activities they liked in P.E. class, I did a little research,” Erbe said. “I came across the PACER test, which my kids have completed every year since starting elementary school.”

The PACER, or Progressive Aerobic Cardiovascular Endurance Run, was developed to estimate VO2max. VO2max is a measure of oxygen consumption during exercise – essentially how efficient our body is at using oxygen. Many groups such as schools and military programs use the PACER test to monitor exercise progression.

How to Perform the PACER Test

The PACER test consists of running 20-meter shuttles that progressively get faster each lap.  The initial speed you start running at is ~5 mph. You have to run 20 meters before hearing an audible beep, once you hear the beep you run back to your starting point.

Every minute the speed increases by 0.3mph, so you gradually have to run faster to beat the next beep. The test ends when you can no longer reach the end of the 20 meters before the next beep.

What You Need to Get Started

All you’ll need for the PACER test is 20 meters, or 65 feet, of space and audio of the test – like this version Erbe’s kids enjoyed.

“This version of the test plays music throughout, which makes it fun and motivates my kids to participate longer,” Erbe said. “We found that our driveway was just long enough for the test and were able to play the audio through a Bluetooth speaker.”

If you’re limited on space, you can follow the PACER test format with a shorter lap distance. The overall goal is for your kids to practice endurance and increase their speed with each lap.

“It was a really fun time and a great way to bond with my family and also get outside and exercise,” Erbe said. “It gave us a break from being stuck on a computer all day, and though not the same as normal gym class, it was at least getting closer to normal.”

“I have also seen an improvement in their overall mood and happiness since starting at-home gym classes each week,” he said. “Their willingness to exercise has increased, and they have asked to do the PACER test a few times a week now just for fun. They even have other kids from the neighborhood complete it with them, with proper social distancing, of course.”

In his at-home gym class, Erbe has also led his kids through four square, Wiffle ball and bike riding. His 10-year-old son even completed a one-mile run.

“Implementing this change has been really beneficial for the happiness and wellbeing of our family,” Erbe said. “Just adding a little bit extra each week can go a long way.”

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