As a kinesiologist and owner of a Pilates studio, it’s easy to see that Bret Caslavka has a passion for fitness.
But the Bankers Hill resident isn’t stopping there.
He also created Youth to the Core, a nonprofit program with a mission to bring more physical education to schools. The program teaches kids everything from exercise movements to learning how the heart works.
Caslavka, 53, earned a master’s degree in Exercise Science from the University of Nebraska at Kearney and built a personal training business in Los Angeles. He moved to San Diego in 2002 and opened his Pilates Plus studio in Bankers Hill.
Caslavka explains why exercise is so important, especially for young people.
Q: Why is a program like this needed in San Diego schools?
A: Current studies show that over half of all California schools in grades kindergarten through sixth do not comply with the state-mandated standards for required minutes of P.E. (at least 200 minutes for every 10 school days). UC San Diego did a study in 2013 of 100 Southern California elementary schools and found 45 percent met the 30-minutes-per-day guidelines and 15 percent had fewer than 15 minutes per day. In my view, that is pathetic and our youth are suffering because of it.
Q: Why is physical education so important?
A: Studies from the ’60s have shown that an active child is a smarter child, and recent studies indicate the early implementation of physical education promotes academic success, boosts graduation rates and cuts crime.
Q: Can you give us a general idea of how Youth to the Core works?
A: The kids discuss, perform exercises and identify the parts of their bodies with a focus on understanding movement. At the same time, the program enhances math, science, vocabulary and social skills. We bring a P.E. teacher into the school and implement the program to fit all grades. Students are given writing, drawing or coloring tests and assignments throughout the year to track retention and gauge individual progress. Each student performs a fitness assessment test at the beginning and end of each school year, along with BMI (body mass index) results.
Q: Which schools currently participate?
A: In 2011, we started with a pilot study program of 23 combined kindergarten and first-grade students once a week at the McGill School of Success, a charter school in South Park. We now work with all 140 students four days a week. This year, we also started at Cadman Elementary, a San Diego Unified school, with 170 students on Tuesdays and Fridays. We hope to expand our program to six additional schools starting the 2015-2016 school year.
Q: What are some of the students’ favorite exercises?
A: Students love to do exercises with multiple movements within one exercise and be somewhat out of control. The kids call the old traditional Burpee a “frogger” and we use that exercise as a learning tool where they get to jump up and down and feel the correlation of their heart rate increase and decrease while experiencing changes in their breathing.
Q: What about their least favorite?
A: The least favorite is the “swimmer,” which works to strengthen muscles in the back. Those muscles are not developed yet and it’s difficult to mentally and physically understand the move. They are no different from adults; if they don’t like the move, they ask to use the restroom or get a drink of water.
Q: How did you become interested in fitness?
A: I was the youngest of three boys with brothers six and eight years older than me — they were great athletes, just like my father. I really had no choice if I wanted to play, so I picked up sports at an early age and was fortunate to have had their guidance. Their leadership allowed me to play with and against a higher level of athletes than most kids my age, and when it came time for college, it had a significant impact. I was fortunate to play baseball at the University of Nebraska at Kearney, which led to graduate school and the fitness profession in California.
Q: What is your own exercise routine?
A: I get up every Monday through Friday at 4:45 a.m. go to my Pilates studio to do core work, arms and stretch for 30 minutes. Then I head to the YMCA and ride a cycle or jog on a treadmill for 45 minutes. Doing exercise early for me eliminates potential excuses as the day goes on and between school.
Q: What’s the best advice you ever received?
A: My father gave me several wonderful pieces of advice, but the one that stands out the most was: Always be yourself and strive for the top rung, but if you fail to reach that top rung, the one just below it cannot be all that bad. Love my dad.
Q: What is one thing people would be surprised to find out about you?
A: If you work in the health and exercise industry like I do, everyone thinks the instructors follow strict diets and lead a somewhat deprived lives. I come from the mindset and practice that you should do everything in moderation and nothing to excess. If you want a burger, go eat a burger just don’t eat one every day. If your body is just not feeling it that day, don’t force yourself to exercise. Practice moderation and know the difference between being tired and being lazy.
Q: Please describe your ideal San Diego weekend.
A: My schedule starts early every day and ends relatively late so my weekends are a valuable time to unwind. I do not exercise on Saturday or Sunday, and since sports are my passion, I try to get out and take in as many as possible and leave my car in the garage.