If you’re looking for a way to get fit, there is no shortage of opinions about clever regimens to try. There are HIIT workouts, barre sessions, boot camps, Peloton influencers and Pilates gurus. But there is one piece of advice that almost every athlete and fitness expert points to as the key to success: Find an activity you like, and do that activity. That’s it.
If you love to bike, run, swim, dance, golf, climb mountains or play pickleball, then build a fitness plan to support that hobby. Basketball, squash, underwater hockey — whatever your jam — make time to do it. No amount of discipline or body-hacking can replace genuine passion for a sport or exercise.
With that in mind, here is Why Not Try, a series that introduces readers to new and different ways to exercise. As we head into a new year, it’s the perfect time to find one (or a few) you could get into. Why not try …
TESTING YOUR SKILLS
— BALANCE: Long-term fitness isn’t just about building speed and strength, it’s also about balance. Maybe you can run a six-minute mile and do 10 pull-ups, but how long can you stand on one foot? According to a recent research paper, about 20 percent of older adults struggle to balance on one leg for 10 seconds or more. What’s more, those who could not do it were twice as likely to die within the next 10 years. Fortunately, there are ways to improve your balance.
— FLEXIBILITY: Too easy? Test your flexibility. Experts say that flexibility is also a skill that can be improved just like strength or cardio endurance. And developing it can better your quality of life, so long as you put in the work. There are five tests you can do to find out if you are appropriately flexible, and, if you come up lacking, those same movements can help you improve.
SWITCHING UP YOUR GYM ROUTINE
— ROWING: Want a good upper body workout but don’t like weights? Hope to combine strength and cardio to save time? Like the feeling of rowing but hate actually being on water? Try erging.
Once known as using a rowing machine, erging is one of those rare exercises where you can get upper body, lower body and cardio exercise all at once. Classes are cropping up around the country, and this year, Peloton even created its own line of rowing machines. It’s not hard to learn, but there a few tips you should know to get the most out of the workout.
— BATTLE ROPES: Want to make a little noise? Try battle ropes. That’s right, those heavy ropes in the corner of the gym that look like they were dragged in from a pier provide a great full body workout while avoiding injury. Jesse Grund, a personal trainer in Orlando, Fla., told The Times: “If I was on a deserted island and I could only pick one piece of exercise equipment, I’d take the battle rope.”
Just attach them to the floor, grab the ends and start moving them up and down or side to side to create waves in the ropes. Not only will you build strength in your arms, you can get a solid cardio workout at the same time.
— PILATES: We all have that neighbor, cousin or co-worker who just can’t stop talking about Pilates. We get it, you really like your instructor. But how healthy is it really? Is it actually as good for you as devotees say? Yes, it turns out, it really is.
While it is especially beneficial for pregnant and postpartum women or those recovering from injury, you’d be hard pressed to find someone who couldn’t benefit from doing Pilates once or twice a week. It’s possible to do through online videos, but better to start with an instructor whom you trust. And while most classes involve some form of wooden contraption, you don’t need one to get into it.
HITTING THE WATER
— SWIMMING: There are plenty of ways to turn a pool — or even a lake, river or ocean — into a gym. For one thing, you can get into lap swimming. But hang on, it’s more complicated than it sounds, and it’s easy to waste your precious pool time. Plan out your intervals beforehand for either speed or endurance, and be sure to learn the lingo so that you know how to do a 4×50 followed by a 8×50 and then maybe a 4×25 cool down.
— PADDLEBOARDING: For those who don’t like chlorine, consider paddlesports. One of the most popular these days is stand-up paddleboarding, where you stand on a large foam board and paddle along like a gondola driver in Venice. It’s an excellent workout for both the arms and legs, and it’s a great way to explore the lakes and rivers around you.
“If only your arms hurt, then you weren’t doing it right,” Curt Devoir, director of the Professional Stand Up Paddle Association told The Times.
PUSHING YOUR BOUNDARIES
— GRAVEL BIKING: The real fun of the Why Not Try series is discovering a sport that you never thought you could do or one you had never even heard of. For example: gravel biking, a hybrid sport that blends the best of road biking and mountain biking. America has a shocking 2.2 million miles of gravel roads that go through some of the prettiest country imaginable. While a road bike can’t take the bumps and a mountain bike is maddeningly slow, a gravel bike allows you to explore the countryside at the perfect speed.
— BOULDERING: For another adventure, learn to rock climb without ever leaving the city or even tying into a rope. Bouldering gyms, which allow you to climb artificial rock walls close to the ground over soft mats, are all the rage in many cities. Partly that’s because short, 15-foot walls fit better into urban areas than huge climbing gyms, and partly it’s because bouldering is an exhilarating and social full-body workout that doesn’t require much gear.
Don’t be intimidated, just start with the easy routes and learn how to tumble a bit.
— DISC GOLF: Mark Twain supposedly once said that golf was a good walk ruined. If so, disc golf is taking back that good walk. Gone are the cumbersome bags of clubs, manicured lawns and silly carts. Disc golfers head out into local parks and forests and simply wander about, throwing discs between or around trees and rocks into strategically placed metal baskets.
Today there are almost as many disc golf courses as “ball golf” ones, most of which are free of charge. Some disc golfers might just traverse a local grassy park, while others crisscross mountainous terrain.
“It’s not about how far you can throw, it’s about where you are now,” said Melba Seto, a disc golf teacher in Calgary, Alberta. “The whole point is just being active and getting out.”
— PICKLEBALL: When it comes to fitness trends, nothing beat pickleball in 2022. It seemed like the game was everywhere, from San Francisco to South Africa. Yes, it makes some tennis players mad, but experts say pickleball is a legitimately solid workout. Some studies suggest 30 minutes of play are on par with a 30-minute jog or a session of yoga.
“Pickleball is not just a good workout, it’s a great workout,” said Lance Dalleck, a professor of exercise science at Western Colorado University.
But more than that, the thing that sticks out to fitness experts is that it’s an easy hobby to keep up and even a little addicting. And, with the right group of people, it can be the social highlight of your week.
LEVELING UP YOUR DAILY WALK
There are plenty of studies showing that many of us need to walk more. The problem, for some people, is that walking gets boring — especially if they’re taking the same route they’ve been doing for years. But what if there was a way to go for walk that made it either more interesting or challenging? What if there were six ways?
Some people add weight to their back or arms, while others get into Nordic walking. Speaking of Scandinavia, the Swedes have an interval training scheme, called fartlek (don’t laugh), that doesn’t require you to be chained to a stopwatch while upping your endurance.
Or you know what? Just turn on some music or take a call while you walk. The important thing is that you get out and stretch those legs.