Fitness For People Who Hate Exercise

by Andrea Karim on 4 February 2011 36 comments

Finding a workout routine that can keep you healthy and in shape is difficult — after all, for many of us, working out is a tedious task, made worse by exercise that is uninspiring and repetitive. While some people get a runner's high, the rest of us get an attack of boredom. If you're not a fan of exercise to begin with, exercising on an elliptical machine is simply going to feel like a chore, rather than a heart-pumping journey towards health.

The key to finding a good workout routine is finding forms of exercise that don't dull the senses. Exercise with another purpose can distract you from the fact that you are forcing your body to work hard, and you can finish a workout without thinking about the actual effort you had to exert.

Obviously, some people can jump on a treadmill and get lost in their own thoughts, but others have to struggle to stay on task. Here are some exercise ideas that can get you in shape without putting you to sleep.

Boxing

Photo by Joe Shlabotnik.

Boxing gyms are in plentiful supply around the country, and you don't necessarily have to spar with anyone to burn fat and calories. There are group classes that can hep you hone your posture and jabbing techniques, and you never have to face down anything scarier than a punching bag. Of course, if you want to learn how to spar, you can join a gym. Or start your own Fight Club. Mind you, you'll never be able to talk about your fight club (Rule #1 of Fight Club), but at least you'll have some awesome scars to show for it.

Pros

Boxing is a great way to take out your aggression after a particularly bad commute home. It's an excellent cardio and upper body workout. If you chose to spar, wearing a mouthguard will allow you to keep most of your teeth.

Cons

There aren't too many cons to boxing, although if you don't wish to continually pay money to attend classes, you may need to invest in a punching bag for your home. These can be found, cheap, on Craigslist.

Rock Climbing

Photo by terren in Virgina.

Rock climbing is a great cardio and muscle workout that focuses your mind on survival, rather than the actual exercise. Because your entire goal is to avoid falling from a wall, you don't have time to check your heart rate or your reflection in the mirror. Rock climbing is a great sport for women, because so much of the work relies on leg and abdominal strength, as well as flexibility, rather than raw arm strength. Many climbing gyms offer affordable introductory classes — keep an eye out for online coupons that offer even cheaper rates.

Pros

A couple hours of rock climbing can burn as many calories as running, and much of that time is not even spent on the wall, but rather sitting on the ground and contemplating the routes on a wall or cave. Even though it's an individual sport, climbing can be a good way to meet people, because climbers love to offer advice to each other.

Cons

You'll need to start out at a gym, rather than in the great outdoors, and a gym membership may be necessary. Solid, safe equipment is key, and can cost a few hundred dollars upfront. Gym memberships can range from reasonable to ghastly, but many gyms do offer free memberships to people who are willing to belay (hold the rope for) other climbers. Ask your gym what kind of deals can be worked out.

Team Sports

Photo by Dawn Huczek.

Team sports are a great way to meet people, socialize, exercise, and find an excuse to drink beer. Most large cities are rife with intramural adult soccer, basketball, ultimate frisbee, and softball leagues. Seattle, which is chock-full of hipsters, also has a fair number of kickball and dodgeball leagues, which can be lots of fun. Rugby is also a great sport if you are serious about beer and learning to swear like a sailor.

Pros

Team sports keep you motivated, because people depend on your presence to play the game. Team camaraderie can be a great motivating factor, and other players can give you tips. Plus, team fees are usually much cheaper than a gym membership.

Cons

Depending on where you live, sports can be seasonal, so you may need to pick up more than one in order to stay exercising year-round. Also, games are often only once a week, so you'll need to practice in between to stay fit.

Canoeing/Kayaking

Photo by Brooke Anderson.

I can't even look at a canoe without it tipping over, but lots of people find canoeing to be a wonderful, low-impact sport. If you have a love of the water and want to find a way to spend more time outdoors, consider a paddle sport. Also, do read this article about the art of canoeing. Although aimed at men, it's funny for everyone.

Pros

Canoeing and kayaking make for good upper-body and ab workouts while allowing you to see some lovely sites.

Cons

If you are prone to motion sickness, a day at sea on a kayak will only help you lose weight through losing your lunch. Also, purchasing and storing equipment can be a challenge for some people. Keep and eye out for used equipment online and in the print ads.

Yoga

Photo by lululemon athletica.

Yoga may seem intimidating or even a little hippie-dippy, but it has been popular in the West for a long time now. The benefit to you is that there are so many varieties of it now. It used to be that you could only find one kind of yoga class, and copious Om-ing was usually involved. Now there's hatha, Bikram, pregnancy, tantric, and slackline yoga (this is yoga practices on a slightly slacken rope — no kidding!). Yoga classes are held indoors and outside on the beach. There are so many different ways to stretch and get fit in this practice, there's no reason not to try out the different types to see if you can find one that fits your needs.

Pros

You don't need much equipment — just a mat and a towel, and sometimes a bottle of water. You can alter the yoga workout to fit your needs. So many studios are open around North America these days that you should be able to find some stellar deals on the classes themselves.

Cons

It can be disheartening to take a class with people who are so free of body fat that they completely levitate off of the mat. It can be a good intro to look for the "Yoga for All Bodies" type classes if you feel a bit nervous about your shape when you first get started.

Dance

Photo by Richard Taylor.

There are so many different types of dance class that you can take, the possibilities are nearly endless. Modern, tap, ballet, ballroom, flamenco, hip-hop, tango, swing, line dancing, clogging, square dancing, South Indian...you name it, you can probably find a class somewhere. Dancing is great exercise, and a perfect way to get fit without thinking about getting fit. You'll be too busy perfecting your steps to worry about how many calories you are burning. You can take lessons with a partner, but lots of classes allow you to show up alone, as well.

Aside from lessons, going clubbing is a good way to burn hundreds of calories in a night. Just take it easy on the drinks and lose yourself in the music.

Pros

Not only does dance provide an excellent physical workout, it hones your sense of balance and might help alleviate any leftover adolescent clumsiness (which tends to stick around forever). Plus, how many people know how to tango? Dancing is an impressive skill.

Cons

Dancing looks easy, but it's not. It's common for the first year of dance lessons to be an exercise in frustration, rather than just exercise. Don't expect to be twirling around the ballroom instantaneously. There's also the chance that you really hate dancing and would rather die than step foot on the dance floor. Consider a couple of classes to see if you can alleviate your fear, but don't push it if you know you'll simply be miserable the whole time.

Some dancing styles require special shoes, and this can be an upfront expense.

Martial Arts

Photo by Mike Baird.

There are so many martial arts to choose from, but most encompass a broad practice of discipline, respect, bodily and mental control, and a hearty workout. Punching and kicking the air for a few months might seem strange at first, but the yelling and ki-ai-ing involved in tae kwon do and karate can be incredibly therapeutic.

Learning with students of varying ages and abilities is both inspiring and humbling, and of course, you can pick up some awesome self-defense moves.

Pros

Most martial arts schools will issue you a uniform, so everyone else will look equally pajama-clad.

Cons

You have to wear pajamas, like everyone else.

Roller Derby

Photo by Bob Jagendorf.

If boxing seems a little too tame, you might want to consider careening around a track on roller skates while other people try to knock you over. Roller derby has enjoyed something of a renaissance of late, and although you don't have to be a tattooed mega babe to try out for your local league, it's a good place to hang out with tattooed mega-babes. Roller derby is an intense cardio workout, but you don't have time to think much about it as you dodge your teammates and the flying fists of your opponents.

Pros

Like other team sports, roller derby is full of social events. Also, having cheering crowds attending your exercise regimen can be a real thrill.

Cons

Social events take up a great deal of time, to say nothing of the league meetings. Derby is not for the shy.

Fencing/Sword Play

Photo courtesy of Qrodo Photos.

Fencing is a solid workout that requires lessons and training. It's also heart-poundingly exciting, and makes you look like a true blue-blood (if you care about those kinds of things). Getting started in fencing isn't cheap, but it's a sport that you can take up at almost any age. Plus, you can say French phrases without sounding any more pompous than usual.

Pros

It's exciting! You get to stab people with swords!

Cons

The initial cost of equipment can turn some people away, but like most sporting goods, fencing clothing and supplies can be purchased used online for cheaper than new.

Walking

Photo by Mike Baird.

Walking might seem like a fairly boring way to get fit, but it's as good a workout as jogging, and there are plenty of things you can do to make it more exciting. First, many people find success when they walk while listening to their favorite, energizing music. If Lady Gaga is your secret shame but her music moves your feet, put all of her tunes on your MP3 player and walk around the neighborhood. Walking the dog is a good excuse to get out and about.

Another way to make walking more appealing is to find a good place to walk. Parks, urban trails, beaches, and country roads all make for scenic and quiet places to contemplate nature or get lost in your own thoughts as you tread along. If you live within a couple miles of your workplace, walking to and from work is an option that gives your workout purpose.

Of course, you could always take up a sport that includes copious amounts of walking, like golf (pricey) or frisbee golf (much cheaper). Geocaching is a popular hobby that gives real meaning to your walking. You can solve puzzles and collect tokens, and the game of it all drives you forward.

Pros

Walking is one of the cheapest ways to get a good workout. It can done alone or with friends.

Cons

Sometimes you have to drive until you find a place that you want to walk around. Also, winter months make finding time to walk alone a bit treacherous, especially in dark, isolated areas. Always carry your cell phone and a can of pepper spray if you are walking alone.

LARPing

Photo by Monique.

Oh, what the hell, you're a nerd anyway, right? Of course you are. Otherwise, you'd be at the gym. You've probably already got your twenty-sided die and your duster all ready for this weekend, so why not consider your Live Action Role Playing as a part of an exercise regime? Of course, this really depends on your flavor of action, but plenty of LARPers end up tramping around the woods — it's like hiking, but without the expensive gear from REI. If you can manage to get together a couple of times a week to larp, you can be fit as a fiddle in time for the next Renn Faire.

Pros

Those familiar with LARPing already know the rules; just amp it up a notch for a better physical challenge. Role playing is fun and a good way to socialize while indulging in an escape from the dullness and stress of everyday life. Larping is time-consuming, but it means that you can enjoy hours of physical activity without noticing that you are getting exercise.

Cons

You are a nerd.

Have you found alternative ways to stay fit and healthy? Tell us about your workout routine in the comments!

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Guest's picture

A number of years ago, I did martial arts (tae kwon do) and love it. Unfortunately, to re-join the academy I was at, it's $135 per month which is just way out of my budget for the foreseeable future. Lots of great suggestions here, though. In fact, there's a number of people who have started doing yoga a couple of times a week here at the office during lunch. Originally I sort of laughed about it, but it may be worth checking out the more that I think about it.

Andrea Karim's picture

Yowza! That's expensive. It has been so long since I took tae kwon do lessons, and I don't actually remember how much it cost. I did used to go three or four times a week, though, so I'm sure whatever I paid seemed worth it.

Guest's picture
A

Love this article! I'm yearning to try rock climbing, but haven't worked up the nerve yet. Also, I've never tried it, but a lot of women at my company are really into trapeze. They swear by it, both for fun and exercise. I'd like to give that a try, too, some day!

Andrea Karim's picture

Thanks for the kind words! I didn't even think of trapeze - that sounds like a blast! I remember seeing a Groupon a while ago for a trapeze class, but I never thought of it as a consistent workout.

I actually started rock climbing a few months ago, and I highly recommend it. I did it to overcome a fear of heights that I had unwittingly developed during my 20s. It helped, and has really helped me tone my arms and lose a bunch of weight!

It can be frustrating, but it's also really exhilarating. Also, if really tall rocks freak you out, you can concentrate on bouldering... although technically bouldering is more dangerous because you don't have a harness, you don't climb as high. It's a very intense workout.

Guest's picture
A

Forgot to mention that hula hooping or hoop dancing is also fun and good exercise!

Guest's picture
Guest

I used to practice yoga quite frequently and during this time I also found myself sitting at a desk for long periods of time. One little bit of exercise I used to do was to hold the armrests of the chair with my hands and balance using my abdominal muscles to get my butt out of the chair. Doing short intervals of these really helped break out of the rut working at a computer can bring.

Julie Rains's picture

Andrea, I love this article. Sometimes I feel odd because I actually enjoy things like running, swimming, and cycling, which many people find boring. But fitness can be and should be an experience that is enjoyable, so finding the right thing for your tastes is a great recommendation.

A couple more: hiking and rollerblading (like roller derby but doable outside on multi-use trails, or so I've noticed).

Andrea Karim's picture

Another good thing about rollerblading is that people aren't trying to knock you down as a part of the regimen.

I enjoy swimming quite a bit myself, but I enjoy it when I get to jump into a lake and splash around - it's less thrilling when I get into a pool and have to go back and forth. I also used to run a lot when I was younger, but after I developed asthma, it made that kind of continuous exercise really difficult. Now that I'm older and my asthma is less severe, I am trying to get back into it, especially trail running, because the variance is nice and I love taking my dog for a run (he actually smiles at me when we start running, I swear). :)

Guest's picture
Jac

A "con" of martial arts isn't "wearing pajamas"; it's getting seriously injured, especially if you're already out of shape. A "con" of roller derby isn't being social; it's receiving broken legs, sprained ankles, and black eyes.

Andrea Karim's picture

The "con" of any sport/physical exercise is severe injury or death; I figured it would be tedious to list all of the morbid possibilities out. But thanks for the clarification! I'm sure that will spur people on.

Guest's picture
iPirate

I have to say, I do two (and a half) things on this list.

I play Roller Derby: Two to four times a week I strap on my skates and gear. Practices are anywhere from 2-3 hours. Sometimes there is an hour scrimmage in there. Sometimes an hour of plyometrics as well. It gets pretty rough before you can start playing. Eventually, you forget it is exercise, though. We do a lot of core, and leg strength training in the off season as well.
Another con: The gear can be expensive. Sure, when you first start out you get he $100 skates, and $30 pads, the next season you upgrade your pads to the $40 nice/pro gear, and then up to the nicer skates (250 and up). Also, kiss your SO, and tell them to come along... less they become another Derby Widow(er).

Oh hey, I also LARP!
Yes, I am a nerd! I wear 20lb chain mail and run through the woods with my fake sword. I save the world twice a month on the weekends ;-)
Within the LARP, I can say I do another thing on this list. Several times a year, a group of us gets together informally as a Dance Troupe... we Belly Dance.

All of these things have helped me stay at a decent weight, though, I admit I am not losing (I blame genetics right now, because I cannot think of anything else).

Anything on this list is worth trying.
Thanks for an awesome article!

Andrea Karim's picture

I am so impressed that you do both! My sister is in a roller derby league (she's fresh meat this year), so I am totally impressed with anyone who can do it - it's REALLY hard work.

I wouldn't have mentioned LARPing at all, but my sister actually suggested it. I've never done it myself, but I see people in our local parks having a blast on the weekend. Plus, just donning chainmail is a workout in and of itself!

Thanks for commenting. :)

Guest's picture
Gil

I can't believe you mentioned LARPing as a suggestion. I laughed out loud. I don't do it myself but can totally see the copious amounts of walking and hiking done. That was such an unexpected and great suggestion (along with the other great suggestions). Keep it up Andrea!

Andrea Karim's picture

Thank you for the kind words! Glad you enjoyed the article. I laughed at the idea of LARPing, too, but then I remember watching someone perform a bit of swordplay not too far from my house, and it looked like a lot of work!

Guest's picture
J.W. Sym

These are some great (and interesting) ideas! I started rock climbing about a year and half ago and I absolutely love it. It's quite popular here in the SF Bay Area. Yes, gym membership can be expensive but because a lot of times gyms are trying to recruit new ppl to participate in the sport, you can easily negotiate with them. I got a family membership that reduced the monthly fee by $20.

Also, you can view this as a social activity. I use my bi-monthly pass on friends so it saves me money by not doing more expensive activities. It's a good time and most people are eager to try it.

Andrea Karim's picture

Isn't it great? Best workout I ever enjoyed, although I will admit that there are some nights when I go home ready to cry. Although it doesn't help me to listen to others who may offer advice on my route, I actually do much better if I listen to my iPod while climbing. As long as I have some of my favorite tunes in my ears, I don't mind so much when I fail to complete, say, a V1 bouldering course.

Andrea Karim's picture

Excellent point about the social activity. Thanks for the tips about negotiating, as well. Wish I had thought of it when I joined my gym!

Guest's picture
Harm

Snow shoveling!

Andrea Karim's picture

Great for strengthening the back muscles! I hadn't thought of that.

Another thing that didn't occur to me was ice skating - I can't believe I forgot it, because it was what I used to do as a kid! But I was at a hockey game this weekend, and thought, man, do I ever miss skating!

Guest's picture

Integrating exercise into a daily routine is also a great way to work out, without "feeling" like you're working out. Maybe you can walk to the grocery store instead of driving (and get a great arm workout carrying a jug of milk back on the way home). Try a series of run/walks the next time you take your dog on walk (Walk two minutes, run one), and repeat for a nice little interval workout. Ride your bike to your weekend Starbucks grab, or over to a friends house instead of driving. Every little bit adds up (and, these are all free!)

Guest's picture
gt0163c

I'm one of those odd people who actually enjoys going to the gym. I didn't used to but once I got my fitness up to a good level and started getting strength training routines put together by a trainer (I get three sessions with a personal trainer free every year with my gym membership), I've found that I really enjoy it.
I do a lot of cross-training. I'm usually not on any one piece of cardio equipment more than 15-20 minutes at a time. And, since I've been working with one trainer for a few years and she doesn't want me to get bored, she sets me up with all sorts of different sorts of weight training activities. It's fun for her too, finding new things for me to try and I give her feedback on what works and what doesn't.

I've also found that I enjoy some of the more offbeat classes. My gym has a cardio kickboxing class that involves actually hitting and kicking bags. That's a great workout and amazing stress relief. They also have a boot camp class that I enjoy. It can be a bit intimidating to new people, but we all work together and encourage one another. The instructors are great at providing modifications if you CAN'T do something...you get good natured harassment if you just don't want to do something. And the 45 minutes flies by...even when we're doing burpees.

Andrea Karim's picture

I hope that someday, I will be able to do a burpee without wishing that lightning would strike me dead! I admire people who enjoy working out, but I come from a long line of people who enjoy sleeping more than anything else. I have heard some good things about crossfit, so I might look into it sometime later in the year.

Thanks for the encouraging words! Maybe it will spur some other readers on to charge into the gym, free of fear. :)

Mikey Rox's picture
Mikey Rox

Where has this article been my whole life? Great way to present these ideas! I totally wanna roller derby.

Andrea Karim's picture

Thanks! I always THINK I want to be a roller derby girl, and then I go to a match and see a fist fight break out, and I remember that I am a wuss.

Guest's picture
Vick

I'm glad to see Yoga on yoru list. It's a lot better work out than most people realize!

Guest's picture
Guest

Yoga is on every article I read which is a great indication that I need to joing a yoga class very soon!

Andrea Karim's picture

Not necessarily! I personally can't stand yoga. ;) But I did put it on there because it's a great workout that doesn't SEEM like real workout. Not that it's easy.

Guest's picture

Wow, I feel like this article was written for me! I easily get bored at the gym cause my workouts to be shorter that the trip to the gym! I love how you have listed so many different options to choose from and the pros and cons are great!! I never really thought of rock climbing as a work out, its too fun to consider exercise! I'll start climbing more. And yoga is so relaxing that its much better that I enjoy much more than getting on a treadmill.

Guest's picture
Tyler S.

Haha! Some of these were pretty funny :)

Cons of Boxing: Getting your butt kicked!

Cons of LARPing: Having no friends outside of your LARP crew!

Guest's picture
Purchase Wisely

I've at least tried most of these, Andrea (yes, LARPing included), but my favorite is dance, by far. The one Con (witha capital C) you didn't mention for dance is expense. Not just shoes, but the cost of lessons, costumes if you perform, and travel for both lessons and performances.

I take lessons 4 times per week in several disciplines and those run about $150 per month, and 1 of those each week is free because I help the teacher demonstrate, so if I paid for them all it would be closer to $200 per month. Those are all group lessons, private lessons are much more expensive, so I don't take them. I go through 3-4 pair of pointe shoes ($60 per pair), a couple of pair of dance sneakers ($40 per pair), a pair of ballet shoes ($12 per pair), a pair of character shoes ($50 per pair), 3-6 pair of tights ($13 per pair) and the odd leotard every year - I just use workout clothes for the swing lessons, and my flamenco skirt was a make-it-once-use-it-forever item. Fortunately, I make my own costumes for performance, but I still go through about $100 in fabric and notions (bought on sale) each year. Worth every penny to me, though!

Also, for those of us near an ocean, surfing!! Every time I fall off my board I laugh like crazy - stress relief, fun and exercise all rolled into one. :-D

Andrea Karim's picture

I hadn't considered cost as far as dancing get-up goes, but I imagine that pretty much any sport can be pricey once you get serious. I take dance classes off and on, but the classes are $15 for 2 hours and my only other expense were some ballet shoes - but they weren't required. If I ever became GOOD at dancing (this will never happen), I can see where it might get spendy.

And I DID think of surfing, believe it or not, but decided to leave it off because it is an area-specific sport. Very specific - I live on the Puget Sound but couldn't hope to get any surfing in around here! But it's amazing exercise.

Guest's picture

I like how you thought out of the box for these exercises. Many times people think they have to do a certain workout to exercise. In reality, they can do things they truly enjoy. I am all about doing things like soccer, swimming, basketball (exercise that you can do a lot of and realize after..."Hey, I exercised!") :). I have found that one of the coolest things out their are websites that allow people to turn fitness social and almost like a game. There are some great websites where people can track their workouts, gain points for working out, share with their friends, etc. That is something that I have seen people really start to enjoy.

Andrea Karim's picture

I can see where the social networking angle would be fun for people, for sure, especially if former workout buddies don't live in the same area.

Guest's picture

A close friend attended a yoga class just a couple weeks ago. He thought it would be the world's easiest exercise regimen, not knowing much about it. He said it was the most exhausting, strenuous activity he'd ever imagined. Well, maybe except roller derby.

Guest's picture
Bunny

I don't mind walking and did so all the time. But I stopped one because I didn't have a need or basically a "reward" like going to the mall to shop or whatever but I live in a very unsafe neighborhood and pepper spray, iPhone and a partner won't help you if you were being shot at or followed by a car full of creeps!! I do however when I run errands which aren't often. Park in a spot that's far from the store. Unfortunately I also have a bad back so there's only so much walking I can do.

I wish they'd have better facilities that were free to go to for people like me who are willing to try. I cant afford a gym membership and even the supposed community center wants to charge money!!

It's crazy, I think they need to go easy on the so-called obese people and realize everyone's not gonna be an anorexic or nutritious anorexic lol

Guest's picture
Guest

I realize this is an older article, but I thought I might add that if you do roller derby, you are often required to have health insurance, sometimes even a specific type, because of the risk of injury. That could be a con for some people. It's a really cool sport though.