By John Bobey
When you’re young, it’s not cycling, you’re just riding your bike. Baseball on Tuesday and soccer on Thursday? That’s not cross-training, it’s hanging with your friends. As a kid, no one tells you that running around like a maniac is playing, something you can’t wait to do, and once you get older it will suddenly become exercise, something you’ll hate to do.
Of course it absolutely doesn’t have to be that way, but responsibilities and jobs and life creep up on the best of us, too often leaving too little time for the stuff we know we should be doing. But good news: This can be fixed.
Since the jogging went mainstream in 1970’s, people have compartmentalized activities for “physical fitness” away from activities for, you know, enjoying yourself. No one says they’re going to the gym with the same enthusiasm as they’re going to meet the guys for pick-up rugby, because one sounds mundane and the other sounds awesome.
Here are just a few ways to rearrange your thinking and reinvigorate your approach to fitness:
Remember That Interval Training = Sports
Alternating periods of high intensity activity with low intensity—intervals—is all the rage, but there’s only so many sprints and jumping jacks you can do before going crazy. Try tennis. Or Racquetball. Or Basketball…or just about any other sport you can think of (well, except golf). Returning a serve and then dashing for a volley, or setting a pick then crashing the boards for the rebound is interval training, but you tend to forget that because you're engaged in the game, and you might even find yourself disappointed that the set…I mean workout, is over.
Train Like a Ninja
There are tons of gyms and programs and outdoor parks that have jumped on the American Ninja Warrior bandwagon, and in doing so have reminded people that climbing ropes and swinging on the monkey bars is a blast. If you’re bored with the same old machines and classes at your gym, shop around and find one that offers a selection of “obstacles” that will not only be fun to learn and master, but in doing so will work out muscles you forgot you even had. You also sign up for an event like Tough Mudder or Spartan Race that offer a little more variety than your typical half marathon.
Compete Against Yourself
Kids love to challenge themselves—just give one a stopwatch and see what happens. How fast can they run the bases or swim a lap or how many free throws can they make in :30? You were probably the same way. On the days when you’re not competing with others in your favorite pick-up game, create a little competition for yourself—higher, faster, heavier…discover the thrill of keeping track of your own stats. After all, you’re not looking for the best performance, just your best performance.
Step Outside Your Comfort Zone
Think back to the first time you tried something that’s now old hat…rollerblading or stand-up paddleboarding or even using one of them newfangled treadmills with a control panel more complex than the cockpit of a 777. Fresh effort is miraculous—scientists agree that learning a new skill helps keep the brain sharp, and our own egos rarely let us suck at something (if we can help it). Practice may not always make perfect, but it can snap you out of complacency and remind you how fun it can be to put yourself out there and fight for success.
Run With The Pack
Staying fit need not be a solitary experience. We are social creatures, and rarely do we bond more successfully than on the field of play. There are plenty of places to find a game, like gyms and the YMCA, and now there are also meetups as a resource for workout companions and even future friends. November Project is a great free option that's likely meeting in a city near you. (Nothing goes better with commiserating over that soul crushing hill than a post-climb cold beer.)
Just because you have to exercise doesn’t mean it can’t be fun. It should be, it can be, and if you just try one of the previous examples, it will be. (Unless you choose to play rugby—then you’re in for a world of pain.)
John Bobey is a writer/producer living in Los Angeles whose work includes The Today Show, Huffington Post, Saturday Night Live, and The Late Show with David Letterman. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Photo Credit: 1. David Cleeland (Instagram: @wrkshirt)