You wouldn’t be on this website in the first place if you didn’t enjoy working out, want to be fit and healthy, and see your body as somewhat of a temple. But sometimes it can be difficult to pinpoint the best activity for yourself – one that fits your personality and your demeanor, and one that you’ll find fun, get results from, and continue to want to take part in, day after day, week after week. There are literally hundreds of options out there – everything from aqua aerobics to zorbing – and many are equally effective (okay, not zorbing). And you may have other challenges you’re taking into account, like time constraints, motivational deficiencies, nagging injuries or chronic pain, budget concerns or [fill in your own issue/excuse/demon here]. That’s when it’s doubly important to choose the right activity to dive into, one that’ll keep you excited, motivated, passionate – and not broke. Let’s take a look at some common fitness goals. As you move down the list, you can determine which one of these ambitions best describes your own athletic desire, and proceed accordingly.
The Goal: Lose Weight/Burn Calories
At the risk of sounding obvious, running is one of the best, cheapest exercises you can do if your aim is to burn calories and thereby lose weight. An hour of running at a moderate pace (10 miles per hour) will burn around 700 calories. That’s pretty darn good. And you can up the ante with interval training – for every three minutes of jogging, sprint for a minute. Not a fan of running? No problem. An hour-long spin class will burn nearly as many calories – if not more, depending on how sadistic your instructor is. And it’ll be easier on your joints.
The Goal: Get Stronger/Build Muscle
Activity: Weight Training
Newsflash: working out with weights helps you build muscle and become stronger. You knew that. It also strengthens bones and burns quite a few calories. Write down all of the exercises you do with them and then go do the exercises yourself. (Or, if money is not an issue and you like the results, keep going with the trainer.) Other options: Resistance training (with TRX straps), push-ups, pull-ups, bodyweight squats, etc.
The Goal: Get More Flexible
Although often overlooked, flexibility is essential to a healthy body. Activities that stretch and lengthen your muscles will help you improve your posture, increase your range of motion and relieve stress. Yoga is the OG in terms of improving your body’s flexiblity. You don’t have to be limber to start yoga, either. Just join a class, keep an open mind, try your best and gradually you’ll become as flexible as a gymnast (or close, anyway). You’ll also burn a ton of calories. To raise the caloric stakes after you’ve got the swing of things, go with bikram yoga (hot yoga). And pack a second shirt.
The Goal: Work Out Efficiently
There's a lot of talk about CrossFit. Some love it. Some hate it. But if you’re the “wham bam thank you, ma’am” type of person when it comes to your fitness, and you’re just searching for a discipline that will help you burn a lot of calories, produce a lot of endorphins and give you a great workout in a short amount of time, look no further than CrossFit. A CrossFit workout can last as few as 15 minutes. Yes, that’s really all the time it takes to knock you on your butt with a high-intensity barrage of burpees, body-weight squats, sit-ups, ring pushups and other functional moves. Don’t believe us? Take a class and get back to us. Other options: HIIT training, P90X.
The Goal: Life-Changing Experience/Adrenaline Rush
Training for and completing a triathlon can be one of the most rewarding, exhilarating and challenging experiences of your life. It involves swimming, biking and running for long distances, so it forces you to train in all three disciplines for several months, if not a full year, in advance. (And if you’re talking about an Ironman Triathlon, then, yes, you should put in years of preparation before sitting down to that massive fitness feat.) You’ll probably want to train with a partner or a group, otherwise it’s easy to lose your drive (and your nerve).In terms of distances, your classic four triathlons are sprint, Olympic, half-Ironman and Ironman. If you’re new to them, start with a sprint – that’s a half-mile swim, a 12-mile bike ride and a 3.1-mile run. (Easy, right?) Then progress from there. Other options: Half-marathon, marathon, long-distance cycling, mountain biking, rock climbing, and obstacle course races like Tough Mudder.
Consistency is key
Once you do choose an activity, consistency is key. Which is why it all comes back to choosing something you love doing (or think you could love doing) and practicing it as often as you can.
Whatever activity you select, make sure you enjoy it – or at least enjoy the feeling you get after you finish it.
About Shawn Donnelly
Shawn Donnelly has written for Esquire.com, UrbanDaddy.com, Maxim, Men’s Fitness, Men's Health, Muscle & Fitness and Boating, among others. A graduate of the University of Missouri, he lives in Brooklyn with his dog, Maclin.