Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
26 Feb

The Best Exercise There Is, Hands Down

equipmentThrow reality out the window for a second and entertain a hypothetical. Imagine you can only do one exercise for the rest of your life. If you had to choose a single exercise to do for the rest of your life, right here today, what would it be? It’s a popular question with a divergent set of answers depending on who’s being asked, and for the most part I see where everyone’s coming from.

If you ask the AARP, it’s the plank, which is easy on the joints, involves every body part, strengthens the core which can help prevent falls, is very safe for seniors (the intended audience of AARP), and you can do them anywhere without equipment. I have no fault with the plank.

If you ask the NY Times to ask various experts, it’s the squat, or maybe the burpee, or maybe sprinting uphill. These are all exercises that stress the entire body, that can be performed with high intensity to elicit the highest possible training effect in the least amount of time. You could do a lot worse than squatting, doing burpees, or sprinting.

If you were to ask Mark Rippetoe, I’d imagine you’d hear “the low-bar back squat” because it supposedly elicits the greatest hormonal response, builds oft-neglected posterior chain strength, makes your entire body stronger, and simply “makes a man outta ya.”

If you ask Rich Froning (top CrossFit athlete), it’s the barbell thruster, a fairly simple to learn “two in one” exercise combining a squat with an overhead press.

If you ask Charles Poliquin, it’s the snatch grip deadlift done on a platform, which increases the range of motion over the regular deadlift and builds overall strength and size better than any other exercise he’s seen.

Those are good candidates. A person could get and stay very strong, fit, fast, and healthy doing any one of those exercises for perpetuity, even to the exclusion of all others. But a thruster isn’t the best exercise there is, hands down. Nor are squats (of any kind), deadlifts (of any kind), or planks. Sprints are cool, but they aren’t the best.

The single best exercise there is, hands down, is the one you’ll do.

If I were giving a talk, this is where I’d pause until the eye-rolling, scoffing, and guffawing stopped. Go on, I know you’re thinking it. “The best exercise is the one you’ll stick with!” is a cheesy, cliche answer that you’ve heard a thousand times before.

But it’s true. By the most objective definition, the most effective exercise is the one you’ll do. Because heavy squats are fantastic for strength, unless you don’t do them. Because sprinting makes you lean and fast, unless you’re not sprinting. The same is true for everything. It only works if you do it.

One reason is consistency: adherence begets success. You don’t get stronger or fitter or leaner because of a single workout. You get stronger or fitter or leaner because of the cumulative effect of many, many workouts done on a consistent basis. Search the literature for research on exercise adherence and you won’t find much about the “benefits of exercise adherence” because the benefits are accepted as basic law. They’re implicit. You will instead find dozens of studies that seek to figure out the best way to promote adherence in various populations, because adherence is the most important factor in an exercise program’s effectiveness.

The key is figuring out which exercise you’ll actually do. And I don’t need scientific references for the notion that you’re more likely to do a physical activity that you actually enjoy doing. It’s a fundamental law of nature.

To me, the reason doing something you like is the best exercise isn’t only because it’ll promote consistency in your workouts. It’s also because doing things that you legitimately enjoy doing benefit you in other ways. This is called voluntary exercise – physical activity in which you willingly and readily engage. Certain animal studies confirm that voluntary exercise is more beneficial than forced exercise:

While some research has found forced exercise to be more beneficial in certain conditions like Parkinson’s disease, that’s probably because those conditions are inhibiting or preventing any meaningful amount of voluntary exercise. A mouse with Parkinson’s disease isn’t going to use the treadmill much at all unless you force him to. He needs forced exercise because voluntary exercise isn’t good enough due to his condition. In healthy people, though, without physiological impairments that directly impede the initiation of voluntary movement, doing exercise that you legitimately enjoy doing will be more beneficial.

Consequently, what many people do “voluntarily” for exercise looks pretty forced to me. Forcing a hamster to run on its wheel for a couple hours by using the threat of electric zaps isn’t so different from willing yourself to the gym, the influence of those break room donuts on your waistline hanging over your head. Most animals (and certainly not lab rats) can’t and won’t perform unpleasant tasks unless they absolutely have to; they won’t decide to do them because “it’s good for them.” Humans however can act as authoritative enforcers looming over their meat bodies, directly overriding the natural inclinations for the “greater good” of the organism.

When you’re summoning the willpower to grimace your way through a miserable workout routine, you’re not doing “voluntary exercise.”

When you dread your workout and feel physically ill at the prospect of going to the gym, you’re not doing voluntary exercise.

When you either love what you’re doing or feel a powerful calling to it – even if it’s physically grueling and not exactly “pleasurable” – you are doing voluntary exercise and the benefits will likely be greater than if the reverse were true.

I submit my non-peer reviewed N=1 experiment: when I started doing what I actually enjoyed, like playing Ultimate, going on hikes, stand-up paddling, running the occasional sprint, and lifting weights for about an hour a week, my health, fitness, strength, and body composition improved immensely. This jibes with the current research showing that finding an activity you enjoy doing and doing it consistently likely promotes adherence to other forms of general physical activity, too.

There’s just something about fully committing to an activity with every fiber of your being that elevates it above other activities and even makes it more effective.

You see this in the Olympic weight lifter that lives and bleeds for the sport, who’s really only at home and at peace with a cloud of gym chalk dust swirling around his head. You see it in the dancer making the immaterial material, the basketball player pulling off impossible moves even she didn’t see coming to weave through the lane, and the cyclist reaching the summit just as the sun comes up. You see it in  the bodybuilder who can trigger and engage specific muscle fibers by angling the weights a little differently and who likens the post-workout pump to really good sex. And you see it in the elderly but sprightly woman you see walking her elderly but sprightly dog every morning, noon, and night like clockwork by your house.

Would the cyclist be better off in a spin class doing intervals set to Lady Gaga songs (that happens, right?)?

Should the bodybuilder lay off the isolation exercises and focus on “real strength”?

Would I be better off doing CrossFit instead of playing Ultimate on the weekend?

No. These are people doing their thing. These are people who have chosen wisely, who’ve found it. And it doesn’t matter what it looks like, or what it involves, as long as you’re doing the thing. Even if, according to gym lore or the latest research, the exercise isn’t quite as “effective” as another one.

Of course, this is a hypothetical. A thought experiment to help you take stock of your fitness life. Are you currently mired in an involuntary workout routine that you read about on a legitimate training blog? If so, consider switching gears. Try something else, something fun, something you’ve always wanted to do or maybe once did but for various reasons (“growing up”?) stopped doing. Try it for a month and deemphasize your previous routine. Find your thing.

Once you do find it, you won’t look back.

Thanks for reading, everyone. What do you think?

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. Great points Mark–

    For me the best exercise if the one I feel like doing at the time. I box, sprint, walk and do the hills… but not all the same day!

    Pastor dave Deppisch wrote on February 26th, 2014
    • I’m with you on that! It’s important to challenge yourself, but I think ‘listening to your body’ (yep, another cliche) is important. What sounds good today? Body weight exercises? Heavy lifting? Walking? Sprinting? Do what makes you feel good.

      Mandy wrote on February 28th, 2014
  2. Love this! My fitness and overall health decreased a few years ago because the gym was getting boring. My wife signed me up for a triathlon. That was fun. Then she bought me P90X and Insanity (I have a great wife). Those were fun. Then I decided I wanted to run a marathon. That was fun. Then I set a goal to do 25 pull ups. That was fun. For all of the above activities there was/is someone telling me “that’s not that good of an idea.”

    I’m in the best shape of my life.

    You’re dead on.

    Trent wrote on February 26th, 2014
    • +1

      I like the idea of ever changing and varied goals. Always fit, never bored. I think this is what I’m looking for.

      Thanks!

      Sean wrote on February 26th, 2014
    • I’m right there with you. Give me a CHALLENGE and I’ll rise up. Make it a routine and I’ll get bored.

      Steve wrote on February 26th, 2014
    • what is the training for 25 pull ups? assisted / unassisted?

      Craig Chapman wrote on February 26th, 2014
      • If you can do more than 5, certainly 10, very much unassisted. I would throw in some with extra weight (a backpack works well) now and then and perhaps even work towards a one-handed pullup while you’re at it.

        Bill C wrote on February 26th, 2014
      • It’s a website: 50pullups.com or something like that. There’s also hundredpushups.com. It’s fun because it’s a challenge, which I like.

        Trent wrote on February 27th, 2014
  3. I go to the gym to lift four days a week. The best part about it is leaving the gym. I loathe the exercise and the environment — always too loud even with ear plugs. I like the results but I hate the process.

    Tuba wrote on February 26th, 2014
    • Same here. Too loud and too many distractions. I’m trying to save up to buy my own barbells and weights so I never have to go back to the gym. I much rather enjoy or endure the outside.

      Christian wrote on February 26th, 2014
      • I go to an O-lifting garage gym 4 days a week. I use the term “garage” loosely – it’s an area fenced in by tarps and a solid roof. It’s freezing in the winter, and anything below 50 degrees outside (here in Seattle) requires two different propane heaters and various layers of clothing. Your grip gets better because you have to wear gloves to touch the bars or kettlebells sometimes! The coaches maintain that if you love doing all the outdoor activities you say you do, you shouldn’t have a problem regularly working out outside.

        Our trainer doesn’t allow music, but we have the best group of people and we all make jokes like 13 year old boys! It’s awesome and I wouldn’t trade it for much else (except … maybe… an indoor space!). :-)

        Mel wrote on February 26th, 2014
    • I joined a gym close to my work, worked out on lunch but stopped. I dressed as ugly as possible, didn’t work all that good. Too many “how you doin’?” to get any work done. Sigh. Not that I was any amazing looking person but apparantly “ordinary dressed in ugly clothes” was good enough.

      2Rae wrote on February 26th, 2014
  4. This gets to the heart of play vs work. People find enjoyment in play and are willing to stick with it, but if it’s work, not so much.

    I hate the gym, and would not be motivated to do any exercise for “weight loss”. On the other hand, weights enhance my skiing materially, and set me up for the rigors of all mountain riding. That is why I “do exercise” at the gym.

    In other words, framing an activity around play, and based on improving or enhancing something you love to do, makes the activity enjoyable and easier to stick to.

    tw wrote on February 26th, 2014
    • +1

      In general, I enjoy lifting; but I REALLY enjoy seeing how lifting makes me a better athlete for volleyball and softball. I can hit the ball harder and jump higher for volleyball when I’m lifting heavy and I’m much stronger; I can also hit the ball farther in softball and run faster. It’s what makes lifting enjoyable for me.

      Stacie wrote on February 26th, 2014
  5. It’s still oftentimes a matter of compromise. I love strength training and feel great from my 2 hours of the Miles’ Body Pump class per week (plus some bodyweight or short cardio training here and there). But if I could only do what I love most of all, I’d be hiking in the mountains all day long. Good luck finding that in a European metropolis though ^^

    Irina wrote on February 26th, 2014
  6. Any info on the efficacy of batting cages for a full body workout?

    I’m a pretty big guy, and have developed a long and powerful yet smooth slow pitch softball swing, so I’m not just out there moving my arms, though I don’t know how much swinging a bat actually does for the lower body.

    I have a tough time sticking to a program on more contrived exercises, but when I’m in a routine I can easily go to the cages every day and generally try to stop somewhere around 100 pitches to prevent blisters and skin damage to my hands. I’ll be worn out at that point, but if it wasn’t for the blisters, I could (and sometime do) take a break, retape my high friction spots, and watch other people hit while I recharge for another round.

    One thing that had me amazed was how much the cages cranks your heart rate. You don’t notice it like you do with classical cardio exercises because the intensity comes in extremely short bursts and between swings you’re generally focused on hitting and thinking about crushing the next pitch as opposed to how tired you are, but if you have a well developed swing you can easily get your heart pumping up to “max”!

    Patrick wrote on February 26th, 2014
    • If it’s anything like tennis, which was my thing for years, the asymmetry of the repeated movement is something watch out for. Eventually, I started developing back trouble and tennis elbow (tendinitis) because I wasn’t conditioning overall, just doing the tennis, which was all-out competitive. Eventually I realized I couldn’t “play tennis to stay in shape” but would have to “stay in shape to play tennis” at that level.

      Tom B-D wrote on February 26th, 2014
  7. It would be interesting to flip this analysis on its head: what is the worst exercise to do, if you had to do only one exercise for the rest of your life. Or perhaps put a bit more mildly, what single exercise, even if you enjoy it and do it consistently, really doesn’t improve overall fitness? Or, what are the characteristics of exercise that, even if done consistently, confer relatively benefit? And why?

    Rand wrote on February 26th, 2014
    • I have been unable to come up with any exercise I like to do well enough to keep doing it. So this reply is super helpful! Instead of thinking of what I like, I need to think about what I hate and do the opposite.

      My idea of exercise hell is being forced to play basketball. I hate everything about it. So I need to do to anti-basketball—yoga? Tai chi? This really helps me!!! Thanks!!!

      Rhonda the Red wrote on February 26th, 2014
      • I did it!! I went to a yoga class last night! And it kicked my rear end. I am sore in places I never knew I had. But it was wonderful, a completely anti-basketball experience. I can DO this. I might not be able to drag myself off the couch for a run, but I can sure stretch and breathe!

        Rhonda the Red wrote on February 27th, 2014
        • This is wonderful! Congrats to you! I think the “opposite” thing is genius, and might work for me, too. Basketball, tennis, softball – eye/hand/leg coordination is not my forte – those are my ugh-things.
          I can walk and hike for miles, but when it’s 8 degrees outside, that ain’t happening. Yoga is brilliant!

          EmayInPA wrote on March 4th, 2014
  8. I wonder if we’ve stripped away a lot of benefits of exercises with modern inventions. For example, there are probably benefits to running in the park or sprinting on the beach that you just don’t get by doing the same activities in the gym, though it may still be beneficial (maybe similiar to nutritional differences of a pasture raised egg to a factory farmed one).

    The voluntary vs. forced excerise notion also seems very key, and much overlooked.

    John wrote on February 26th, 2014
    • The introduction of fitness (as an institution) by convenience with machines that literally turn you into a gerbil on a wheel, you mean?

      Wenchypoo wrote on February 26th, 2014
    • Gyms are a place where we humans go into herd mentality. After decades of frequenting several gyms – as a trainer and personal pursuits – I decided to stop altogether, train at home and build my own work out equipment, pursue non-gym exercise activities, etc – my fitness and sense of well being tripled almost immediately…and after a decade plus of never setting foot in a gym again, its still on the rise. I just keep tweaking my regimine, building new stuff, etc…keeps mind and body connected. Whereas at the gym we tend to split the two as we trudge thru, squeeze it in, and shut out the miscreant bodybuilder gym rats and bimbo females who make them unpleasant places to be…

      tom LI wrote on February 28th, 2014
      • You sound like an elitist. Just because you don’t enjoy going to the gym, doesn’t make it an unpleasant place to be. Who are you to judge these gym goers as ‘miscreant bodybuilder gym rats and bimbo females’? You to me are what is wrong with the health and fitness topic, you compare yourself to others and convince yourself you are better than them because you do THIS instead of THAT. Probably just to make yourself feel better. I bet these bodybuilders and bimbos don’t even notice you in the gym because they are busy being concerned with their own workouts and their own lives.

        erin wrote on March 2nd, 2014
      • I love going to the gym. I get energy and inspiration from the other people working out whether they’re somebody super-fit or somebody who looks like they just got on a treadmill for the first time and are sweating just walking at a slow speed. It’s my happy place. I also love the various exercise classes I attend at my gym although I really mix it up and rarely go to the same type of class more than once a week as I like the variety. But I also like to walk/run on the beach and in my hilly neighborhood, hike in the woods/mountains, go on long outdoor bike rides, etc. For me, variety is required to keep me exercising. i basically wake up in the morning and decide to do what I’m in the mood for that day. So I enjoy gym-time, alone time in the outdoors, occasional exercising alone at home with my limited equipment or just doing bodyweight exercises, and they’re all good. None is better than the other.

        Judy wrote on March 4th, 2014
  9. Great stuff Mark. Finding something that is fun for you is the most important thing. I work with clients on a regular basis and those who find a type of exercise or movement that they are passionate about are always way more successful in the long run than those trying the newest fitness fad.

    Nate wrote on February 26th, 2014
  10. This is why I love MDA–rather than prescribing a one-size-fits-all approach to diet or exercise or anything, it’s the finding-what-works-for-you (within a rigorous, scientific framework, of course–it’s not anything-and-everything-goes).

    Ben wrote on February 26th, 2014
  11. Awesome article… This is so true for exercising and life!
    Example: Employment… When I go to the place that pays me my wages – it isn’t “work”. It is a place I like to be, it is generally a fun place. Everywhere I have worked, I have always had fun.. when that goes away – its time for a change!
    I do the same for my exercises…. When they stop being fun and enjoyable, its time for a change!
    My wife….. when she stops being fun and enjoyable… I DIGRESS! LOL
    HAVE A GREAT DAY EVERYONE :)

    Rod Hilton wrote on February 26th, 2014
  12. Great post, Mark. A lot can be said for the best exercise being a highly individual thing. While many can say the squat is the best, a lot of people do not have the mobility or genetic makeup to squat properly. Therefore it is easy to see that it would not be the best exercise for them.

    Finding the best variations of the main compound exercises and doing things you enjoy is the key!

    Gary Deagle wrote on February 26th, 2014
  13. It’s so true, Mark. I used to run grueling amounts and hated every minute of it. A Saturday morning spent running 15-20 miles instead of hanging out with my hubby and kids sucked! Now, I do yoga five days a week, a 3 mile jog and pull-ups one day, and sprints every Sunday morning, plus walking, bike rides, chasing the kids, hopscotch , etc. I am in better shape than ever and weighing about 15 pounds less than when I ran marathons.

    Keep up the positive threads!

    Heather wrote on February 26th, 2014
  14. Salsa dancing: best exercise ever. Boom. (plus you look sexy doing it, no matter what weight you are)

    Beck W wrote on February 26th, 2014
    • I’d have to agree with that one plus jitterbug. Too much fun gettin all sweaty and such

      Peter wrote on February 26th, 2014
      • Plus Beck W, I find that wanting to be good at partner dancing for the rest of my life is leading me into other forms of exercise and body work that I wouldn’t have touched – no reason to. Now there is.

        Peter wrote on February 26th, 2014
    • Love Zumba! It really gets me going!

      Maxine wrote on February 26th, 2014
      • Agree 100%
        Zumba is the 3rd best invention, right after hot water and the microwave, followed by fire and the wheel

        wildgrok wrote on February 26th, 2014
    • +1

      Alice wrote on February 27th, 2014
  15. I couldn’t agree more.

    IMHO, I design pretty great fitness programs for my clients, but even a lunkhead such as myself knows that even the best fitness programs are 100% useless if the trainee doesn’t do the darn thing.

    Finding a plan that fits into YOUR lifestyle is vital if the plan is to be active & eat healthy over your entire lifespan.

    Douglas Robb wrote on February 26th, 2014
  16. I’m thinking the best enjoyable exercise is carrying the deer carcass over my shoulders 2 miles back to the teepee…and thinking of the fat dripping down my chin around the campfire.

    Nocona wrote on February 26th, 2014
    • I wanna do that!

      Bill C wrote on February 26th, 2014
    • deer … carcass … dripping fat … ahhhhh

      Best comment in this thread!!!

      wildgrok wrote on February 27th, 2014
  17. “The single best exercise there is, hands down, is the one you’ll do.”

    Vets have said this about cat food, no matter how filled it is with junk. It may be the healthiest cat food on earth, made with your own two hands, but if the cat won’t eat it (for some strange reason), it’s worthless. Fortunately, I have yet to make a cat food that’s turned away–if it’s meat that offends (like one of my cats), I switch to seafood.

    The exercise I’ll willingly do I described here before: lawn mowing with or without a weight attached to the crossbar. When out shopping, I turn the stores into my personal gym (no loud, horrible music or egos involved)–park far away from the door, grab a cart (or flatbed), head to the heaviest item in the store, load the cart or flatbed up (totally adjustable weight–lifting heavy things), then push it up and down every aisle whether I need to go there or not (this is resistance–bonus points for steering into the crowd, forcing you to dodge and weave with a full load). When I’ve ended at my starting point, I unload the cart/flatbed (again, lifting heavy things), then proceed to do my own shopping. I have the option of heading over to the laundry detergent aisle and selecting the largest volume bottle there, and picking it up, then swinging it like a kettlebell-no purchase necessary- and swing right there in the store.

    After I’ve checked out, I get to hike all the way back to the car (more walking), unload my purchases, hike back to the store with my cart, and return once more to the car (cart corrals are for sissies!).

    If you shop at multiple stores, do this in every store you go into. If you make a single hit at a warehouse store, you’re less likely to be noticed and/or commented about. plus you make your membership fee do double-duty as your gym membership.

    No loud, obnoxious music, no loud, obnoxious people, no waiting for available equipment, and no making time for it during a busy work week–everybody shops, everybody needs food, and nobody has trouble making time for shopping.

    Need more weight? Take the act over to a home improvement store, and head to the section where the 50lb. and 100 lb. bags of sand, concrete, and gravel are kept. Try loading up a cart with bricks from the garden center. Again, it’s a free “gym” with little music, few egos, few prying eyes (people will just think you’ve got some project going on at home–how do they know you aren’t a contractor?), and absolutely no wait for available machines. Again, no purchase necessary!

    There’s also little time restriction on when you can go–these stores are open 7 days/week, and most are open until 9 p.m., with some open until 11. You can also make multiple visits during a week.

    Want to do your act at home? Buy the 208 oz. bottle of detergent, use it up, then refill it with water or sand for swinging. Buy a box or two of the warehouse store kitty litter boxes (40 lbs. each) and carry them around–put a piece of wood on top of them, and they become jump boxes. Buy the 50 lb. bag(s) of concrete mix, sand, or gravel, and lift it at home, or walk around your backyard with it in your arms, or in a wheelbarrow. Start a neighborhood lawn-mowing service for the elderly and super-busy people on your block.

    Why do I go through all this? To have more money to spend on clean foods–this is a sacrifice I gladly make (along with living without a TV, smart phone, and many other conveniences). Ask me in what year I last bought paper towels or used my dishwasher (another get-off-your-butt opportunity).

    To me, gyms are just like a job: you need a special wardrobe, a tolerance for bad music and big egos, fight for parking, a supervisor who determines your work load for you, and have a desire to join the flock (as it were) in the early mornings, after work hours, or on weekends. You also need a job to support this work-after-work. No way to kill two birds with one stone here.

    Wenchypoo wrote on February 26th, 2014
    • Ii love this idea – if nothing else, it helps change it up! Thanks!

      Wren wrote on February 26th, 2014
    • better yet, go find or procure 2 of those orange “homer” buckets from one of the big box home improvement centers – almost everyone has those and they’re hella useful and can be stored stacked inside each others. Fill them up with water (use lids if you’re inside) and walk them around your house, your yard, your garage, your apartment, up and down the stairs, whatever.

      a 5 gallon water bucket is ~40 pounds. Can’t hack that weight? Don’t fill it so full. Pop a lid on (they come with lids) and do swings or side carries. Major bonus to using this method is the core stabilization aspect of the water sloshing around.

      I suggest this workout to every one of my cycling coaching clients and not a single one of them has ever thought of it. And once you’re done, you can wash the car or mop the floor or water the plants!

      lfr wrote on February 27th, 2014
  18. What do you make of those who legitimately believe they enjoy workout routines that may qualify as chronic cardio–spiking your BPM to 75% for an hour on end, three times a week? Spin, bootcamp, kettlebell classes? Does the benefit of looking forward to it and enjoying having done it trump the potential dangers of sustained cortisol secretion and the reliance on the endorphin rush?

    Austin wrote on February 26th, 2014
    • I ask because some friends who I discuss this type of stuff with often worry that working out “less” will mean that they will have less to enjoy. They may not necessarily see results but when they don’t do their routine, they feel more stressed or enervated. While I personally liken “liking chronic cardio” to “liking pasta”, I also don’t want them to not enjoy themselves and end up thinking, “Hey, at least they’re moving around and staying active.”

      Austin wrote on February 26th, 2014
  19. Tennis is my “thing” – lots of fun while exercising, socializing and sprinting after drop shots and lobs. If I dropped down and did 10 push-ups after each mis-hit, I would REALLY be in shape! Great article and so true, you gotta have fun or it makes it a chore/bore. See you in Tulum!

    Janet wrote on February 26th, 2014
  20. The most enjoyable “exercise” I ever did was long distance hiking. It’s more than backpacking and hiking all day, it was a way of life and a community of amazing people. However, it did more against my health than for it. Plus you can’t go backpacking all day every day forever. Winter gets in the way. So does a job. So I’m left with strength training and hiking on weekends. I sometimes have to force myself to do these things because work and chores drain so much time and fun out of life that sometimes you just want to lay about the house and read, not go get all sweaty and sore.

    Diane wrote on February 26th, 2014
    • Why did it do more against your health than for it? How long were your trips? That sounds wonderful! I ask bc i would love to through hike the Ozark highland trail (200ish miles) when the semester ends. Making it a regular, way of life thing with a great tribe would be basically my ideal life.

      Caitie wrote on February 26th, 2014
  21. My suspicion is that some people are simply more athletic and thus enjoy physical activity more. These people are likely to be heavily respresented in this community.

    I wish I was one of you, but I’m not. I walk my kids to school and take walks with friends, force myself to do some brief and ever-changing form of weights and resistance work a few times a week (with much failure of adherence) because it’s necessary for good health, and almost always fail to do any sprinting of various kinds because I hate it so much. Over the years I’ve tried lots of different things, but have never found a form of exercise (other than walking/hiking) that I don’t pretty much loathe.

    Anyone else out there like me? What have you found that works for you?

    Allison wrote on February 26th, 2014
    • Then walking/hiking is your thing! It’s mine too! I use the elliptical or treadmill on bad winter days that I feel like moving…and as long as I am zoned out to the music on my phone, I’m good to go. You get me out on a trail somewhere…or even walking down the sidewalk right in the middle of town…I’m loving every second of it.

      Dar wrote on February 26th, 2014
    • I hear you! I am currently burning through a gym membership I never use. There have been obsessions in the past (swimming, half marathon, cross fit), but nothing seems to be taking hold right now. I do love long-distance hiking, but don’t have the time. I am currently starting a plan of putting dinner on to cook, setting a timer, and doing a 20 minute dance video if the kids won’t leave me alone, or 10 min. bodyweight + 10 min. mobility exercises if I get some peace. The bodyweight and mobility stuff is short and rewarding without turning into a dreadful slog. If it’s dance that day, then it’s a crazy group “class” that can be a lot of fun. I try to focus on upper or lower body in any one session, so it’s cool if I end up doing bodyweight several days in a row. Oh – and the girls got scooters for Christmas and I have to sprint to keep up with them. We take the scooters out 1-2 times a week, and it just about kills me, in a hilarious fun way.

      ncbookseller wrote on February 26th, 2014
    • Yep, I’m like you. :) I am not a fitness buff, never have been, though I enjoy feeling healthy and in shape. You’ll never see me posing for a CrossFit ad! And I am perfectly fine with that. I have other goals in life.

      I love to walk and we do that often as a family in warmer weather (we live in a small city). I also joined Fit2B studio, which is specifically for women and very go-at-your-own-pace. It’s also very smart: lots of thinking, lots of core work, being really careful to do things correctly and not just “burn calories.” I enjoy it and can usually get 3-4 workouts in during the week while my daughter takes a nap. :)

      Rebekah wrote on February 26th, 2014
      • (p.s. Fit2B is online, so you don’t need to “go” anywhere… which is very helpful for me as a mom.)

        Rebekah wrote on February 26th, 2014
    • I so know what you mean! I’m not a typical MDA reader. I don’t really like exercise. Through trial and error I’ve identified what it is I do like about the few ‘exercise’ things I do and, if I can find some way of making that happen, then it’s easy to do ‘exercise’. What I love?… the ‘woosh’ feeling! So, for example, I really like riding a mountain bike but I love riding a hybrid on the tar seal cos you get a ‘woosh’ feeling! Same goes for skating, cross country skiing (when it all comes together!) and swimming. Interestingly, I get the same feeling from Tai Chi. Can you identify what it is you enjoy about walking? Perhaps that would lead to other activities to do. Otherwise, why not just love the walking!

      Debbie wrote on February 26th, 2014
    • Dancing:square dance, round dance,line dance, rock dancing in bars. I’d love to take up ballroom dancing, but round dance is about my speed.

      Alice wrote on February 27th, 2014
    • I was in the military. It taught me to HATE exercise. For a long time I wouldnt do any exercise. I just learned to “play” instead. I love playing tag, jumping on a trampoline, swimming, playing frisbee, riding a bike (for fun, not to wrap myself in ridiculous logo-ed spandex and log miles after miles just to say I can) or hoola hoop or playing with a pet. What did you like as a kid? PLAY. Have fun with life. Its gonna be over soon so get what you can out of it.

      Nomad wrote on March 1st, 2014
      • For some of us, logging miles after miles is play. I don’t have time to ride big miles often, but when I do, I’m smiling like a kid. Of course, short rides around town are fine but nowhere near as fun. And wearing spandex, with or without logo, is to prevent chafing and be comfortable on long rides, not as a fashion statement.

        Judy wrote on March 4th, 2014
        • That’s what you got out of it? Well, honestly, no offense meant, but my point was not about people who love what they do, but more about the attitude many “sporting” people have about “you have to do everything as hard as I do, or your a wimp” mentality. It has ruined exercise for many people. I simply was trying to make the point that exercise can be enjoyable and even relaxing.

          As far as clothing, I don’t care if you want to glitter yourself up and wear a strawberry shortcake outfit, I reserve the right to feel like you look ridiculous, even if you don’t. I’ve met more than one person from other countries for whom bicycles are their only transportation – they practically live on them, and are honestly confused about why all the bike riders in america “dress like they are professional racers”. I’ve never been able to look at the clothes the same since :)

          Anyhow, lets agree to disagree. I hope you have a great day and am glad you have found something you love.

          Nomad wrote on March 4th, 2014
        • I’d also like to say, it doesn’t matter what I think. My main point is to do what you love. Who cares what anyone else thinks? I’m fairly certain I look like a moron when I’m hoola hooping. Very hard to pull off as an adult. But I laugh and have fun, so I do it!

          Nomad wrote on March 4th, 2014
  22. Sometimes clichés are useful and true. This one is. I do a number of exercises, but my hands-down favorite is walking. Fast or slow, it is all good……

    Mitch wrote on February 26th, 2014
  23. I think we all need to be reminded of this every once in a while. I’m one of those people that starts a new sport and thinks it’s the bee’s knees. So out I go and buy all the gear, join the local club and proceed to overtrain for the next year only to get injured and realise that I don’t actually enjoy the sport as much as I thought I did!

    So I guess I’ve been doing what you suggest but in a very expensive way!

    Chris wrote on February 26th, 2014
  24. so true. I hate it when people tell others what to do and what not to do. I like working out with weights but I hate doing the same things all the time. I know that switching up hinders progress, but that’s definately not the biggest thing I am after.

    fromthehillz wrote on February 26th, 2014
  25. I totally get what you’re saying. This is so important to remember. But currently I am in between “loves” and my current exercise plan resembles the lazy hamster that needs an electric shock to get out and move. After a few years of Crossfit, some power yoga and a little marathon training I am just burned out. Nothing excites me anymore and so I am finding it hard to keep moving. A hike with my dog sounds nice, but I find it hard to believe it will ever be enough to be truly fit or healthy again. I realize I am overthinking it a bit. Any suggestions?

    Erin wrote on February 26th, 2014
    • Have you tried bike riding? After 1-1/2 years, I burned out on CrossFit too. Though I had always exercised (weights) at the gym and liked it well enough, after CrossFit, I just couldn’t make myself do ANYTHING anymore. The thought of it just depressed me. Then I moved near a bike trail and have really enjoyed riding in the country. That and gardening make a good combo for me.

      Gina wrote on February 26th, 2014
      • Thanks, Gina! I also live near a bike trail, so I need to give that a try. Maybe it will make me feel like a kid again, thus finding the joy in movement! I appreciate your advice.

        Erin wrote on February 26th, 2014
    • I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. Your possibly over thinking things and as you say your between your ‘loves.’ You have a history of enjoying being active and fit. Sometimes the lazy hampster bits in between are needed to move forward. Keep the faith in yourself and something will come up. When I’ve been away from exercise or fitness for periods I feel the same but its important to me so I always get back to it as I’m sure you will

      Mothy wrote on February 26th, 2014
      • Thanks so much for the encouragement.

        Erin wrote on February 26th, 2014
  26. Best exercise? That’s an easy one: Sex. There are endless variations for working every muscle in the body, and it’s great cardio.

    Michael wrote on February 26th, 2014
  27. Great post Mark! “Do what you love” I live by it, and I love to run.long distance.

    Jade wrote on February 26th, 2014
  28. I have had various gym memberships over the years… all of which I hated. I thought I just hated exercising, but turns out that I just hated exercising in a damn gym! I go for a 2 mile walk/jog every day in just about any weather, and I really like it! I also do yoga and strength exercises in the comfort of my own living room, and guess what? Really like that too! Who’d a thunk it – I do like to exercise :-)

    KariVery wrote on February 26th, 2014
  29. I shared this with my sister, and I prefaced it with, “This is cheesier than MDA is usually, but it is a really good read.” She replied with, “Sometimes you need a little cheese….which is why primal is better than paleo. ;)” (organic, raw, local cheese, of course, hehe)

    Rachel wrote on February 26th, 2014
  30. I love my erg. Something about rowing…aerobic, strength, and meditation all rolled into one. By far, my favorite exercise.

    Mandolin wrote on February 26th, 2014
  31. Good point, skilfully delivered! Absolutely, it is fun to do the ones you won’t do from time to time and sometimes they may become the ones you do too. But just do the ones you do enough and you will be just fine.

    John McCooke wrote on February 26th, 2014
  32. If I play tennis,basketball,or go for a hike I consider it more fun than work. I workout so I can have fun at those activities and I never enjoy my workouts but am motivated by the results. So I really cannot agree that doing something you enjoy will necessarily be best for you. As far as I’m concerned large muscle high intensity workouts like squats,dead lifts,bench,and pull ups along of course with sprinting are the best for results and results are my enjoyment and reward.

    victor wrote on February 26th, 2014
  33. I like this. I’ve started and stopped different exercises in the past usually within a few weeks of starting. The one I started 6 months and still doing the twice a week 1hr 15min class is strength yoga. It’s a little different every time and I just love it, enjoy it, and it kicks my ass.

    Wafaa wrote on February 26th, 2014
  34. Well, I don’t enjoy any form of resistance training, but I do it anyway because I know it’s important for my health. However, I do use this pleasure principle in that hoop dance (which I absolutely love) is my standard warm up for everything else. I am always ready & willing to jump up & do some hooping, so I can ease myself into other, less appealing activity that way!

    Paleo-curious wrote on February 26th, 2014
  35. Several years ago I lived in another state and was very close to the beach. I had never been into “organized” exercise and was looking for an activity that would get me out of the house but not involve me sitting in a bar.

    My dad introduced me to the joy of walking on the local beach early in the mornings. Not only was I out of the house and not in a bar, but I was doing something that was actually good for me.

    The bonus was in the “scenery”. At that time of the day there were loads of very pretty girls laying on the sand wearing little or nothing. You gotta take your motivation/incentive anywhere that works for you!

    PJ wrote on February 26th, 2014
  36. Another great post Mark. Having worked in the fitness and gym world for many years after graduating University in Kinesiology, I got turned off of the entire institution. I am still turned off today as I see many of my clients (I am now a holistic nutritionist) struggling with “getting to the gym” like hamsters. I much prefer doing the activity that is called for by the day – skiing, snow shoeing in winter, paddle boarding, hiking in summer, etc. This is the philosophy I have raised my children with and instead of becoming curl monkeys, my boys are both functionally fit guys that can take on any activity thrown at them. What a great way to live.

    Jill wrote on February 26th, 2014
  37. Makes sense. I hate sprints for the sake of sprinting. I haven’t found any form of sprints that I like, just for the sake of doing so. However, when I go out with my dog, Dogula, and he plays keep away with his chew rope, and I chase after him, or when I play fetch with Oreo, who will bring the ball back, but loves to have someone chase him a bit first, it’s an entirely different story. Both are a series of short sprints around the yard, but I really enjoy it. That’s how I get my sprints in, more often than not.

    b2curious wrote on February 26th, 2014
  38. Many thanks and a great article. My exercise is breaking and sawing wood – useful, and gets me tired and happy.

    Kathy Stephen wrote on February 26th, 2014
  39. A tie between squats and pull-ups. Both engage so many muscles . . .

    Duncan wrote on February 26th, 2014
  40. At first I thought this was a most annoying post..
    then it made sense..

    The one you’ll do.

    Still..not very helpful to most.

    I’d say the best is bouncing on a mini-trampoline.

    It’s easy to do, low impact, extreeeemely beneficial for your entire body…plus.

    It’s fun and adds a spring to your step.

    Ooo Ooo OoRah.
    Jahn

    Jahn wrote on February 26th, 2014
    • I agree, trampolines, mini or not, are AWESOME. They build strength, stamina, balance, clear your lymph system and most of all are FUN!

      Nomad wrote on March 2nd, 2014

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