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Gym Class Hell

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Somebody call the superintendent. Or the cops. Or both.

"In this stunning recreation of a junior high school gym class, the Damned can enjoy an endless series of humiliating locker room 'incidents', the taunts of demonic P.E. Coaches, the awkwardness of being forever trapped in an uncontrollable adolescent body, and the shame of not being able to do a pull-up. Now hit the ground and give me twenty!"
Gym Class punishment description, Afterlife

Gym, or P.E., is a standard part of school, and Gym Class Hell is a standard part of school stories. Awkward adolescents forced in front of a large group of their peers to attempt physical feats against their inclination, all while wearing hideous clothes that seem specifically designed to tell their classmates everything they don't want anyone to know about their bodies. We've all been there, and it wasn't pretty.

Since the protagonist of such a story tends to be an Ordinary High-School Student, they are usually not exceptionally strong or graceful and thus will struggle in Gym at best. Alternately, they may be pretty good at it but have a best friend who is completely hopeless, or one activity they hate/are horrible at but have to master in order to pass. Popular, bullying students tend to do better, but this is often divided along gender lines the Jerk Jock obviously has nothing to worry about, but the Alpha Bitch will frequently whine about messing up her hair. Since gym teachers are almost uniformly portrayed as Sadist Teachers in the Drill Sergeant Nasty mold, they will favor kids who play sports or cheerlead, leaving the weak and nerdy to be trampled into the highly waxed floorboards. Worst case scenario, the whole class isn't safe, no matter in which part of the Popularity Food Chain they find themselves in, having to complete unfair exercises that even trained army soldiers would have trouble with.

For the sake of this trope, many schools in fiction seem to have the time and budget to cover activities more complicated and expensive than you would normally see at a high school, such as rock climbing or fencing. Of course, dodgeball serves the same purpose for the price of one piece of equipment and some broken dreams.

See Outclassed at the Gym, School of Hard Knocks, Picked Last, Gym Class Rope Climb, Humiliation Conga, Dodgeball Is Hell.


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    Anime and Manga 

    Comic Books 
  • Le Petit Spirou has a lot of gags about this. The main cast is a bunch of 6-year-old kids, and gym classes are held by a miserable, alcoholic, smoking wreck of a man who sports a blossoming drinker's mound, hates children, and likes to think of himself as an irresistible ladies' man. A variety of sound effects follows him where ever he goes and whatever he does to illustrate how his physique is practically breaking apart. A typical gym class by him is something completely age-inappropriate (chin-pulls, marathons, assault course), or are tricks to allow him beer and checking out women (any "theory" class about equestrianism, beach volleyball, tennis...).
  • In All-Ghouls School, Elle Diablo and her Girl Posse use gym class as an excuse to exact some physical vengeance on Becca.
  • Ultimate Spider-Man: In the first issues, Peter Parker goes to the gym class. He's a nerd and does not have powers yet, so of course it's hell.

    Comic Strips 
  • A few Calvin and Hobbes comic strips had Calvin endure the torture of gym class at school, ranging from playing Dodgeball or doing exercises.
    Calvin: Fifth period—"Studies in Contemporary State-Sponsored Terrorism"...also known as gym class.

  • The Harry Potter crossover fic "Physical Education". Harry and Hermione are less than thrilled about PE following them to Hogwarts, while Ron is cheerfully oblivious. This quickly takes a backseat to who their teacher is....
  • The Discworld fic Whistle, and I'll come to thee, boy deals with exactly how the hated PE teacher, Evans the Striped, was insorcised into his own whistle in the first place. A younger Dr. Hix, later the licensed Evil Wizard In Residence, was closely involved. (See Literature: Unseen Academicals below).
  • In the Discworld fic No More Time For These Trousers, by A.A. Pessimal, we get a glimpse into the nature of PE teaching at the Assassins' Guild School. Cross country runs are a terrible weapon in the PE teacher's armory. Mr. Bradlifudd, the PE master, goes one better: he sends his cross-country runners through an area of cold, wet, muddy, countryside outside the City, which the Guild's Exothermic Alchemy Department cheerfully uses to test explosives of all kinds, including landmines. He contentedly reflects that this teaches student Assassins to be observant even in the most desperate of conditions.
  • In the Our Own League fan books, Practical Combat Training is the equivalent to gym class at Titans Tower. It's taught by Arsenal (called "Coach Harper" behind his back,) a Drill Sergeant Nasty who believes in pushing the heroes-in-training as hard as a real fight would. There's a lot of bodily harm, explosions, and Arsenal telling any failures how horrific their hypothetical deaths just were.
  • In Velma Dinkley's Beginning Velma gets dogpiled by Daphne's team after receiving the football at gym. Velma's team didn't defend her, which Daphne calls them out on. This is because both teams conspired to attack Velma for being partnered with Daphne earlier, likely coerced by the popular girls.

    Films Animated 
  • The film Chicken Little parodies this with a dodge ball game where the students must "split into two teams: Popular versus Unpopular."

    Films Live-Action 
  • That football scene in Kes. Where the unfeeling and brash PE master Mr. Sugden, one of the banes of the hero's life, lets his fantasy of being a great soccer player fly away with him. On an eight-year-old boy, such a fantasy is unremarkable; in a man in his forties, it suggests emotional retardation.
  • The school chapter of Monty Python's The Meaning of Life has a Kids Versus Adults rugby match where the teachers - like Mr. Sugden in the throes of his fantasy - don't hold back at all even though they're playing against small children.
  • The Breakfast Club: Andrew is on the other side of this trope, as what got him Saturday detention was jumping a weaker kid in the locker room.
  • In Mr. Woodcock, several flashbacks show the title character as a Jerkass gym teacher antagonizing and humiliating his students. However, the protagonist would later realize that he was such a success as an author because he had pushed himself to prove Woodcock wrong about him.
  • Superbad: The gym class itself isn't too badnote , it's just that Seth is so fat and out of shape that he can only run a short distance before exhausting himself (and getting passed by a kid with a prosthetic leg).
  • In Carrie (1976), the title character's experience in gym class is like this, though less because of the gym teacher Miss Collins (who is a Reasonable Authority Figure over the course of the film) and more because of the relentless bullying from her classmates. After Chris and the other girls pull a humiliating prank on her in the showers after gym class, they get punished with a week's detention after school — with Miss Collins in full Drill Sergeant Nasty mode, who proceeds to run them into the dirt. Chris, unable to take it, walks out despite knowing she'll be barred from the prom for doing so.
  • In Massacre at Central High, the Gang of Bullies shove "fat" kid Oscar onto the climbing rope and threaten him with a knife if he falls. When he does, they kick him. Afterwards, they shove him and whip him with towels in the locker room while he tries to escape.
  • In Serial Killings 4 Dummys, Drill Sergeant Nasty gym teacher Mr. Grimaldi makes gym class a living hell for Casey (and any other non-athletically gifted student).

  • Mallory from The Baby-Sitters Club had a whole book about how much she sucked at gym class, cementing her status as Butt Monkey. (In the end, the class moved on from volleyball to archery, which it turned out she was quite good at.)
  • Discworld:
    • In Unseen Academicals, where at some unspecified point in the previous fifty years, the soul of University PE master Evans the Striped was insorcised into his own whistle, which is remembered in time to train a soccer team up for the big match. Every time someone blows the whistle, they briefly animate the soul of Evans, who has not mellowed with the years and can still inspire terror in grown wizards.
      (BLEEEEP!) Any boy who has forgotten his kit will play in his underwear!
      • The moral is that a PE teacher at a school for wizards who makes life a misery for the fat boy had better realize that at Unseen University, fat boys grow up to be very powerful wizards. Who bear grudges.
    • In Soul Music, the headmistress of the Quirm College for Young Ladies closes the windows when the girls are at Sport, to avoid seeing or hearing anything that might distress her. It's actually one of the subjects Susan quite likes, though, since no-one's stupid enough to tackle her.
  • In Alan Sillitoe's The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Runner, the protagonist is a teenage rebel sent to an "approved school" - the old British euphemism for a junior penitentiary, or youth prison. The governor (Warden) is a sports fanatic and fitness freak who sponsors and coaches a cross-country running team. He is fanatic about his team being the best, and when the hero is discovered to be a good runner, he gets privileges for being a member of the team and is briefly the apple of the Governor's eye. He considers using running as cover for an escape attempt, but reluctantly drops the idea when he realizes he has nowhere to run to. But he becomes rebellious, is tired of his life being manipulated for the glory of others, and deliberately and unmistakably demonstrates he is his own man by throwing a prestige race he could have won - slowing to a defiant walk, and allowing runners from the rival team to pass him, in full view of the apoplectic Governor. After this, his prison life becomes harsh and punitive, but he is content - like Cool Hand Luke he has rebelled, exercised such freedom as he possesses, and made his point. This was referenced in a Shout-Out in an episode of American teen comedy Daria. (see below).
  • In the novelizations of Red Dwarf, the crew reflect that two thousand car park attendants collectively have the IQ of one PE Master, which isn't saying very much for either car park attendants or PE teachers.
  • Bella of The Twilight Saga fame is unathletic and terribly klutzy. She especially hates gym class because she always seems to be at her most klutzy during it.
  • Appears in Captain Underpants due to a horrible gym teacher (though, given that the school is populated by Sadist Teachers, he doesn't particularly stand out in this regard). George and Harold retaliate by making him the Butt-Monkey in their comics.
  • In Alan Mendelsohn, the Boy from Mars, gym class is a source of constant humiliation for Leonard and a few of the other "freaks" at Bat Masterson Junior High. The gym teacher forces Leonard to run laps as punishment, calls him "fatty" and other derogatory nicknames, and generally treats him as feeble-minded. Towards the end of the book, he gets put in a special remedial gym class where they do yoga, which he actually enjoys and gets good at.
  • Dana from Pilgrennon's Children hates PE, partly because of having to change in front of people and see their revolting bodies, and partly because her classmates always call her names and hit her, supposedly as part of the subject.
  • Tally from Can You See Me? is so unathletic the teacher assumes she's being deliberately lazy, and she hates changing in front of other people.
  • The Roosevelt: When Jeremey was in seventh grade, bullies in the locker room threatened to shove him into the hall naked so girls could laugh at him. After that, he started getting stomachaches every time he had PE, and made himself vomit so the nurse would believe him. Eventually they made him go back, so he hid in the bathroom until everyone else was out.
  • In Lily and Dunkin, closeted trans girl Lily does everything she can to avoid being in the locker room at the same time as Jerk Jock Vasquez, who yells "Fag!" every time he sees her, likes to slam her head into the locker, and even yanks her shorts down in front of his friends to see if she's "really" a girl.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In Bad Education, the PE master is displaced South African Mr duPlessis, who has a robust attitude towards his pupils. At one point he tries to introduce Ridgeback attack dogs to the class, to give the fat kids an incentive to run faster and longer.
  • The Basil Brush Show - "You haven't tried to reason with a P.E. teacher lately, have you? They don't know the meaning of the word 'No'. In fact, they can't even spell it."
  • Doctor Who:
    • Implied by Rory's reaction to the psychopathic villain in "The Doctor's Wife": "I had a PE teacher just like you."
    • One of the rooms in "The God Complex" contains a gym teacher, who yells at the Doctor for forgetting his P.E. kit (gym clothes).
  • Even Stevens had this too. In the Musical Episode, the class rebelled and made the teacher run his own torturous obstacle course.
  • Frasier had it rough during gym class as a kid. In one episode he starts dating a gym teacher and visiting her during a class brings back all his memories of how awful his classes were. He spends the next day picturing his old gym teacher in place of his girlfriend until he finally talks to her about how harsh she was to a student.
    Frasier: You know, my gym teacher was constantly yelling at me because I couldn't do a single pull-up, or a lap around the track.
    Chelsea: [troubled] Not even one?
    Frasier: Oh, please. I was a very late bloomer. I could barely do a jumping jack without getting a nosebleed. And let's not begin to talk about the climbing rope!
  • Mr. Mellor, the gym coach in The Goldbergs, who arouses complaints from the formidable Beverley Goldberg about her treatment of her (in this case) stereotypically Jewish son, who is not good at sports.
  • In 1970's nostalgia-fest The Grimleys, the PE master is the loathsome Douglas Diggleby, the Jerkass who all other Jerkasses would acclaim as King Jerk Ass. Anyone who went to a British school of any sort in the 1970s will acclaim the accuracy of the portrayal and shudder at the memory.
  • El internado: Las Cumbres: Gym instructor Mario (also known as "El Nazi") doubles as The Dragon to Evil Principal Mara and yells a lot at the students. After the students riot at school and a student's grisly murder Mara decides that the solution is to increase discipline and to make the P.E. class so intense that the students are too tired to revolt. Plus the hot water in the showers is turned off, as an extra degree of misery.
  • Just the Ten of Us: "Personal Best". When Coach Lubbock wants his kids to start exercising more, the pious Marie is the only one who likes the idea, and only because she considers the physical exertion required for gym class to be a form of self-punishment to atone for her worst sins.
  • Subverted at least once in Malcolm in the Middle - the gym coach offers to get Malcolm out of gym class in exchange for tutoring someone. When Malcolm replies that he doesn't even mind gym, the coach laughs disbelievingly.
  • In the Ripping Yarns episode "Tomkinson's Schooldays", where the school hopping team is trained to within an inch of its life and sent on a thirty-mile-hop across some of England's bleakest mountains, against a team of young Nazis. Note the ritual "Palfrey" - a blow on the head - bestowed by a teacher with a wooden club beforehand. Tomkinson(Michael Palin) only survives with the assistance of performance-enhancing drugs.
  • On Seinfeld, decades after Jerry and George graduated, their gym teacher (now homeless) was still terrorizing them.
  • Jerri on Strangers with Candy struggled in Gym, but it was also a vehicle for her to display her perviness, making it even worse for poor Tammi Littlenut.
  • Dean of Supernatural, on posing as a gym teacher during a case: "The whistle makes me their God."
  • The Zoey 101 episode "Disc Golf" has the kids being sick of running laps every day at gym class that they decide to form a disc golf team for the school in order to get out of it, but in order for it to become official, they need to compete against another school and win. The school Chase picks to compete against is one at random: a reform school, and they turn out to be very good at the sport... but it was all part of their escape plan, allowing PCA to win by forfeit.

  • Subverted in The History Boys where the boys are (for the most part) comfortable with their bodies and are unimpressed by all their gym teacher's attempts to intimidate them. They even correct him when he starts talking about how Jesus didn't ask to be excused the Crucifixion.

    Video Games 
  • In a very literal take on the trope, Afterlife (1996) has a recreation of gym class as one of Hell's punishments, for Wrathful souls specifically. As the page quote tells, it has all of the torments with none of the "growing up and graduating" stuff that could put an end to it.
  • Paper Chase: You have to run a grueling forty laps — five miles — to pass physical education.
  • The first major antagonist in Persona 5 is Suguru Kamoshida, a high school gym teacher who puts his students through brutal training regimens and is shown to enjoy seeing his students in pain. And if that wasn't enough, he's also a Creepy Gym Coach who sexually harasses the girls on the volleyball team that he coaches.
  • In Kraken Academy!!, considering you almost get crushed underneath a horse while doing an activity that has nothing to do with horses, this gym class is definitely hell. Along with the rest of the school.


    Western Animation 
  • Dexter's Laboratory:
    • An episode had Dexter fall prey to dodgeball in gym class. Dexter normally gets out of gym class with a forged excuse note, but the Jerkass substitute coach refused to accept it and forced Dexter to participate, leaving him to get targetted by bullies in every game, so Dexter builds a robot to get back at all the kids who pummeled him.
    • An episode from the post-revival seasons revisits this issue; Dexter avoids gym class so much that it's the only thing holding him back from skipping ahead several grades. We soon find out WHY he wants to avoid gym class so bad - he simply lacks the physical fortitude to perform at all, no matter how hard he trains.
  • Daria:
    • Seen in the opening credits as she lets the volleyball fly right by her.
    • Seen also the episode "Run, Jane, Run", where Daria and Jane question the usefulness or relevance of "compulsory cheerleader practice" and are then bested by their bitch-queen PE teacher. They get an easier run when Jane proves to be a gifted long-distance runner and therefore a stealth jock. There is a scene where Daria is expected to "spot" for a classmate on the trampoline and advise her if she gets too near the edge. Daria is too intent on an argument with Jane to notice, and the poing...poing...poing... noise of the classmate on the rubber becomes an ominous silence, then a crash and a scream as she hits the floor. Jane eventually rebels and refuses to run for the school - a Shout-Out to Alan Sillitoe's novel of teen rebellion, The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner - valuing her friendship with Daria more. Then both are returned to the brain-dead zombie Hell of compulsory cheerleader practice...
  • The first Mad Mod episode of Teen Titans parodied this: Mad Mod's choice of horrific class to send Raven to was gym class. What exactly happened there happened offscreen, but came complete with ill-fitting shorts and basketball jersey.
  • The episode "Dodgeball" of South Park, which combines this trope with Dodgeball Is Hell. Chef, who's normally a Friend to All Children, seems to think the kids fighting it out during gym class with dodgeball is hilarious, despite the kids all hating it. The only good player in the class is Pip, a British boy who goes berserk when compared to the French enough.
  • Ed, Edd n Eddy plays with this trope. The intelligent-but-frail Double-D's experience in P.E has been so bad that he's developed PTSD from it and crawls into a Troubled Fetal Position when Eddy is making him, Ed and Jimmy play dodgeball. Gym class actually appears in season 5 and 6 when the cast returns to school and quickly shows that, yep, it's just as bad as Double-D remembers (not helped by the fact that Jerk Jock Kevin is the Coach's assistant). In one episode, it was enough to convince him to go along with Eddy's idea to leave school.
    • It's less bad for the other two. Ed is incredibly strong and too dumb to feel pain anyway, and Eddy hates it but is weasily enough to avoid the worst of it.
  • The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy had the season 7 episode "The Secret Snake Club Vs P.E", where the Secret Snake Club (three huge nerds obsessed with the occult) gathers a group of likeminded P.E haters to summon a monster to destroy the gym hall (including Billy, Irwin, and for some reason, the brawny Sperg). They succeed, but quickly discover that the female students of the school are furious, because P.E was one of their few physical outlets for all the frustration they get from their annoying classmates.
  • Family Guy does this, not for everyone but for series Butt-Monkey Meg. Alpha Bitch Connie once chose the entire rest of the class to be on her team in dodgeball, leaving Meg to be pounded half to death.
  • Robotboy one time had this in "The Boy Who Cried Kamikazi," in which the PE teacher forces her students to make friends with pain while doing sit-ups or jog around the field twenty times.
  • The Loud House episode "Teacher's Union" had Lincoln and his class being forced through a hellish obstacle course by their PE teacher. In fact, the whole point of the episode is Lincoln trying to make gym class better by hooking up his PE teacher with his homeroom teacher.

    Real Life 
  • Comedians and other celebrities often refer back to this. Stephen Fry's autobiography has a particularly lengthy section about it (see the Precision F-Strike page).