PE Teacher and UP Alum Brings the Fun to Fitness at Home | University of Portland

PE Teacher and UP Alum Brings the Fun to Fitness at Home

Michael Rittman standing in living room with "University of Portland Pilots Give Back Spring 2020" logoThe emails came pouring in all day long. Pictures of siblings doing bicycle crunches in front of an iPad, grandpas and grandkids doing planks in front of the TV, whole families off the couch and jogging in place inside. It was the first day of Michael Rittman’s ’08 virtual PE class—something the K-8 PE teacher at John Fisher School in Southwest Portland had never done before—and if his inbox was any indication, it was a big hit. 

“The reaction from the families at my school has been great,” he says of the 10-minute exercise videos he posts on YouTube each day. “In the morning I’d send out my video link, and throughout the day I’d get a stream of emails from parents thanking me. But one of the coolest things is the whole family is doing it. I’ll get feedback from parents like, ‘By minute five I’m dripping sweat,’ or ‘My legs are still sore from two days ago.’”

As countless studies have shown, daily activity is essential for our physical and emotional health, but when you’re stuck at home 24/7, staying physically active is a tall order. It’s hard enough to find the space, equipment, and know-how, let alone the motivation. Rittman’s homemade, “zero budget,” often goofy but highly effective workout videos, which he films in his living room while his two-year-old daughter naps, are the just the antidote to the stay-at-home blues.

“I could’ve sent out worksheets or links to other YouTube videos, but I wanted to make it more personal,” he says. “My goal is to get these kids up and moving and give them a familiar face. They don’t have to have equipment. I show them how to use things like broomsticks or make an agility ladder with computer paper.”

And he works hard to keep it fun, getting input from friends and family (including his sister, a UP alum and third grade teacher) to help him mix things up with things like costume days and special guests. “I’ve invited a bunch of people I know to do videos—a former UP basketball player, and former UP volleyball player. My wife, Linda (’09), joined in on her day off—she’s a nurse—and everyone loved it.” 

“That’s because I could barely do the exercise,” she says, laughing. “The whole time I’m thinking, ‘I just have to keep moving. Even if I don’t have perfect form, I just have to keep moving my body.’ You have to keep it relatable, right?”

In just a matter of weeks, the videos have found a fanbase far beyond Rittman’s students. After he posted on Facebook and the UP Switchboard for anyone else quarantined at home, his videos started circulating as far north as Canada. 

“I’m doing my best to make them not too crazy-complicated so everyone can do them. As long as we’re out of school I’ll keep making these videos.”

Watch Michael Rittman's virtual PE classes