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?

TAGS:  body fat

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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166 thoughts on “The Best Exercise There Is, Hands Down”

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  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!

    1. 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.

  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.

    1. +1

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


    2. I’m right there with you. Give me a CHALLENGE and I’ll rise up. Make it a routine and I’ll get bored.

    3. what is the training for 25 pull ups? assisted / unassisted?

      1. 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.

      2. It’s a website: or something like that. There’s also It’s fun because it’s a challenge, which I like.

      3. Hey Mark,
        Love the books & website. I am passing along the greatness of your information to all who will listen. Many friends & family have already bought your book! My reply to your question after being in the Marine Corps for almost 10 years, where the pull-up is one-third of the scored & highly important USMC physical fitness test, is as follows:
        –do pull-up “ladder’s” in which you increase the rep’s completed during a workout,
        –do weighted or “negative” rep’s,
        –switch your pull-up grip (palm in & out, close grip / wide grip)
        –and (!) be sure to strengthen the other weakest muscle groups used during a “pull-up” — with specific emphasis on the forearms. Using “Gripz” are one great way to do so.

  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.

    1. 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.

      1. 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!). 🙂

    2. 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.

  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.

    1. +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.

  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 ^^

  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”!

    1. 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.

  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?

    1. 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!!!

      1. 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!

        1. 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!

  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.

    1. The introduction of fitness (as an institution) by convenience with machines that literally turn you into a gerbil on a wheel, you mean?

    2. 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…

      1. 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.

      2. 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.

  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.

  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).

  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

  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!

  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!

  14. Salsa dancing: best exercise ever. Boom. (plus you look sexy doing it, no matter what weight you are)

    1. I’d have to agree with that one plus jitterbug. Too much fun gettin all sweaty and such

      1. 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.

      1. Agree 100%
        Zumba is the 3rd best invention, right after hot water and the microwave, followed by fire and the wheel

  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.

  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.

    1. deer … carcass … dripping fat … ahhhhh

      Best comment in this thread!!!

  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.

    1. Ii love this idea – if nothing else, it helps change it up! Thanks!

    2. 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!

  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?

    1. 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.”

  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!

  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.

    1. 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.

  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?

    1. 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.

    2. 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.

    3. 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. 🙂

      1. (p.s. Fit2B is online, so you don’t need to “go” anywhere… which is very helpful for me as a mom.)

    4. 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!

    5. 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.

    6. 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.

      1. 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.

        1. 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.

        2. 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!

  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……

  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!

  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.

  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?

    1. 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.

      1. 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.

    2. 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

  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.

  27. Great post Mark! “Do what you love” I live by it, and I love to run.long distance.

  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 🙂

  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)

  30. I love my erg. Something about rowing…aerobic, strength, and meditation all rolled into one. By far, my favorite exercise.

  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.

  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.

  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.

  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!

  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!

  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.

  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.

  38. Many thanks and a great article. My exercise is breaking and sawing wood – useful, and gets me tired and happy.

  39. A tie between squats and pull-ups. Both engage so many muscles . . .

  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.

    1. I agree, trampolines, mini or not, are AWESOME. They build strength, stamina, balance, clear your lymph system and most of all are FUN!

  41. Wonderful article, Mark! It perfectly captured the spirit and joy of what I discovered a year ago – this little Podunk gym, about 10 minutes from where I live. I used to drive by the place twice a day, never paid any attention to it, but one day last February, bored and ready for a change, I ventured in and decided to try a Cardio Kickboxing class, taught by a guy who could qualify as our own local version of Tony Horton! I was hooked after one session – I was tired and sore but also uplifted and happy and welcomed in by everybody in the class and especially the instructor. Every class is different, so my muscles never know what to expect, but I love every minute of every squat, burpee, pummel, plank, kick or punch. I printed your article out and I’m giving it to our instructor tonight. 🙂

  42. Hi Mark,
    As you say, do what you love to do. Consistency in any physical activity is the path to fitness and skill development. I would submit that getting outdoors is even better than working in a gym, subject to your climatic location. Surfing is a pretty impressive exercise. It is all about balance, timing, upper body paddling, lower body kicking, squats on a moving platform.
    I wonder what is the most effective outdoor activity?

  43. Fantastic post. Convinced by the literature, I went for a few years doing 5×5 programs. I got stronger, but only in spurts, and only to fall off the wagon after a few weeks. The reason was that I never really enjoyed that routine.

    Now, I lift kettlebells at home in the morning and play on the monkey bars underneath my workplace in the afternoon, enjoying both activities thoroughly, and am getting stronger with zero stress.

  44. I tread water 30 minutes a day rain or shine. It’s taken me 7 years to make this an absolute habit. Some days I swim, some days I just tread but the rule is everything has to move for 30 min, and I can’t touch the side or the bottom of the pool. Recently I found that I was a lot stronger than I had thought, when I was swimming in the ocean. I lift light weights and do some yoga and walking, but the real practice is the water. I love it and it’s a dealbreaker.

  45. Mark, you are spot-on! I finally started losing weight after DEcreasing the number of burpies I did a day from 10 to 7. You know why? Cause I would then actually do them!! Amazing how that works!!

  46. I love these posts where you read it and have that, “well, duh, yeah of course, why didn’t I think of that” moment…and realize that’s why I come back to MDA every day. Lately I’ve been trying to talk myself into a training regimen so I could be all analytical about it…but that’s not me. This post instead makes me want to get that rope attached to the tree so I can climb, make my garage a climbing wall, get some more tennis games in, wrestle the kids more (hey, wife too), and keep up with the occasional sprinting, bodyweight training, and lots of walking.

  47. Great post! I love running, and have started running in my Vibram FF, but my wife makes me feel guilty if I do something I like. I’m however sticking to it and will continue to run with a smile on my face.

  48. For me, hands down, it’s swimming. I love it, I feel like a kid doing laps, I was so proud when I learned to flip under water to go back, I guess it just reminds me of a happy childhood.

  49. I agree doing what you love is the way to go.. I started Outrigger Canoeing last year and just love it. we train 5 hours a week and after every training session I never feel like coming off the water. I also love walking up the hill. great work out here in Far North Queensland Australia.

  50. Absolutely agree 100%! I’m a personal trainer and have managed gyms. Of those few people that actually use their gym membership, even fewer use it regularly, and many don’t actually enjoy their workouts but feel like they should be attending and doing it for their health/fitness…

    Me personally I’ll do whatever I feel like on any given day. Sure sometimes there are things that you have to do to progress in something specific even if you’re not so keen, e.g. I’m currently rehabilitating my foot following surgery so toe raises/walking etc is required daily, I also have a triathlon coming up in May so I know I have to do some regular swimming and cycling. Outside of any ‘must dos’, I don’t have any ‘should dos’, I just do whatever I fancy, however I do something most days. So I don’t have a ‘gym routine’ that I follow, 1 day may be KBs, another BB squats n bench press, another cable machine, or any combination thereof… additionally I’ll kayak, SUP, walk, cycle, row etc whatever I ‘feel’ like and that I’ll ‘enjoy’! And that’s the key if you ‘feel you should’ and you’re ‘not enjoying it’ then it’s time to find something ‘you want to do’ and ‘enjoy’.

    Have FUN and keep moving 🙂

  51. What a great article. And I’m living proof of the truth of this (as is the author).

    A few years ago I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis. Doctors told me “tough luck, no cure, take these expensive meds the rest of your life” (in not so many words). I chose a healthy diet (SCD) which is not dissimilar to the primal lifestyle. Part of my journey was to run a half marathon and raise money for the Crohns and Colitis Foundation. I did and discovered I hate road running, but found a love of mountain running.

    I know Mark doesn’t like the endless cardio, and I don’t either. But being on a trail for 10 miles in a blizzard is amazing. A treadmill for 10 minutes is excruciating.

    This love for trail running has made me love other activities. More family hikes. We take Krav Maga and Ju Jitsu classes as a family. To run trails better I lift harder, do more body weight workouts, and even do yoga. Like Mark points out, this one sport I’ve found that never seems like a chore has changed my outlook on “training”. I’ve done trail races, Tough Mudders, and just love to improve my overall fitness.

    It’s fun to be fit and active and never step into a “gym” other than my little garage gym.

  52. My favorite exercise is finding a bear in the forest then throwing rocks at him so he chases me……….talk about sprinting!!! I also enjoy showering in chicken blood then doing crossfit in the shallow waters in the Everglades.

    1. Find one with cubs and throw rocks at her. You will get a better workout.

  53. I have found mine. Living in Colorado it is hard not to climb the rocks. I am doing indoor sport climbing now but will. Be taking it outside this spring.

    Now if I could only find something to do on my days away from the slab ………..

  54. I’m now feeling thoroughly vindicated. After pushing through a workout on Monday (resistance and recovery boards only), because just having the blues wasn’t a good enough reason to bunk off, today I opted to enjoy my walk home in the sunshine and spend 15 minutes on the stationary bike at home instead gazing out of the patio doors down the garden at the setting sun.
    Loving how you continually challenge us to think, and to assess, and sometimes reassess, for ourselves just what is right for us – and that can change in a heartbeat. Stop – evaluate – do what feels right.
    Thanks as always

  55. What if it is nothing, though? I cannot think of one I like more than not moving.

  56. Yay great post!
    Pole dancing and pole fitness is my kick.
    I also do trx and ballet.
    I love the making lovely shapes and turning in space needing no man to lift me.

    And my abs and shoulders are ripped from lifting my own body weight!

  57. Hi Mark! Thanks so much for this post. We couldn’t agree more with you. We used to spend every afternoon in a gym that we absolutely dreaded! The people there were mean, the machines were always full and we left feeling more annoyed and down than when we arrived! NOT COOL! it wasn’t until we signed up to our local CrossFit gym when we realised that we could actually enjoy exercise! It is perhaps the biggest 180 we have ever experienced! It is amazing to wake up at 5am and WANT to head outside and workout. We’ll forever be grateful for the ‘yes’ response we said when someone asked us to come and try it out because ‘we might just like it’! Thank gawd we did! 😀 😀

  58. Mark, when you tell someone to “do something you’ll do” I have to cringe because it really is a cop out. Two thirds of the population already know this and choose to sit on their collective butts instead. These people and myself included need something more to motivate them….say a 60 year old person in better health than most 20 year olds(wonder who that could be). There are so many things out there to enjoy but people just need the inspiration to do them and for me a 56 year old male who knows what’s good for myself(thanks to much of the info you and others share with us) I think a little motivation from people like you helps me more than being told to enjoy it.

    1. I’m not sure people DO know this, actually. I think most people believe that to be in shape you have to really suffer in some way.

      If this article didn’t motivate you and you could benefit from something more concrete check out the (free) Primal Blueprint Fitness ebook: Maybe that’s what you need. If not, check out the fitness category where there are several hundred articles with various forms of inspiration and motivation:

      Good luck.

      1. Love those sprinting articles! Curious though, what if I loved jogging 2 hours a day and told you it gave me such mental clarity. Would you alert my to the dangers involved with cortisol, joints,etc.. or would the joy I get out of it trump any warning. Personally I know sprinting is better for me but what if I just loved that jog(I was going to say run but that’s insulting to a sprinter).

  59. I completely agree with this. I loved running, I felt like it was a great way to enjoy nature and feel free. I would incorporate sprinting up sled hills in the middle of my runs, I would go running through the woods jumping over rocks and logs, I felt great and I continued to improve my performance.

    I got good enough that I decided I was going to run a marathon. While I am glad that I did it and the marathon itself was an amazing experience, the training killed my love for running.

    Training made running a chore instead of the joy it once was. I was doing the same thing, but it felt forced, my performance suffered and I got injured much more often. You could just chalk that up to over training, but I really think it was more about attitude and state of mind.

  60. This article couldn’t be more true. I instructed many of my clients back when I was personal training that the best workout they could do was one they would voluntarily stick to.

    Dragonboating is my thing; well any type of paddling on the water will do. I also have a few goals ahead of me as I am slowing meandering into crossfit. Like doing handstand walks, proper front squats, and 25 un-assisted pull ups.

    I think stress plays a huge negative effect into “grimacing” through workouts. As Mark said, their are great workouts like squats and sprinting. If your stressing out before your workout even starts and even during your workout, are your really creating a positive healthy effect on your body? Stress to me is the biggest health hazard out there.

  61. I can barely take 2 steps on a treadmill….but get me on a small single track trail dodging roots, branches, downed trees, rocks, streams, the occasional deer and I can run around with 20+lbs of food/water/notebook & pen all day all over…

    if given the choice of paying money to go inside a gym…I get better results playing around in the woods (climbing trees, lifting trees, bending trees like a bowflex, chasing animals, trekking against current in a stream or river, balancing on fallen logs). you get vitamin D, fresh air, and I personally MUST spend at least 30 minutes outside everyday…or else I turn into a hibernating bear and I eat way too much raw honey

  62. Well, there is a flipside to this. Once you have neglected exercising for years and years because of a not so primal office job, and you have become overweight, there may be no fun to exercising at all, no matter what you try. Everything hurts and make you feel exhausted. Even walking can become a nightmare. So once you are in this dark spot, you will first have to get your body out of there. Only after some human perseverance you will be capable to enjoy moving your body again. So in thtat case I would rather rely on willpower than on pleasure. My n=1 experiment taught me the moment you feel like exercising might be postponed for more than 20 years….

    1. I think having that 9 to 5 routine year in and year out takes its toll on a lot of people. You come home tired and hungry and working out or playing is not exactly on the short list of things to do. If you do get a perhaps 2 or 3 day a week workout routine in its hard to keep it up even in you do get positive results. My suggestion would to at least eat paleo and when the motivations to get more physical comes around you’ll be ready.

    2. So very, very true. I started walking last summer. Forced myself mostly to do it but it wasn’t too bad. A couple months into it, I ended up with Achilles Tendonitis and bone spur on my heel. Months later and just into PT, found out my calf muscles and gait are all screwed up and I’ve got lots of retraining to do. Should have stayed a couch potato (only half joking).

    3. There is one thing that might work in that case–crank up your favorite music and move to it. That really would feel better than doing nothing. Keep in mind also that moving a bit does get chemicals flowing that make you feel better, and that you can do this in tiny little bits through out the day–dance to one song or part of a song when you get the chance to sneak it in. That will lift mood. Movement also gets chemicals flowing that help to heal inflammation. You do have to bring your thoughts into the picture, and give yourself the gift of a goal and a plan that bring you pleasure. You can also keep in mind that by doing so you honor the forces that brought you into being, and give thanks.

  63. Agree with the spirit of the post.

    I if you had to do a single exercise for 3 months which one would you choose?

    My answer would be the burpee

  64. Great article.

    My workout is lots of chin ups and pulls ups. Started at age 40 with the pull up rubber bands. Now do between 50 and 100 a week without the bands. They rock and can be done to exhaustion in under 20 minutes.

  65. I’m a 55 yo, 5’2″ out of shape woman, with at least 20 lbs to lose. Over the decades I’ve done the usual relating to fitness. Out of lack of motivation, and some aches & pains I’ve been sidelined from even basic walking for almost a year. Started primal eating, strict, (from vegan no-fat), at the beginning of the year, and a chiropractor has been helpful in healing ouchies. Two weeks ago I started one-on-one boxing lessons (not kickboxing, but real boxing). What a blast. The hour session flies by. I’m shaping up fast! It was scary to walk in that boxing gym the first time, but now I wish I’d done it years before. It’s fun to beat up on beat up on people, legally! Be open to new experiences.

  66. I was think about burpees, but I do agree that the one a person will stick with is the best. In fact, I need to get to moving myself.

  67. Great advice. At 66 I retired and decided to hit the gym to hopefully live a little longer. (Prostate cancer and a pacemaker are my constant companions.) April 14, I’ll be 82. I have been working out for 16 years averaging 5 times a week for 1 hour at our small gated community gym in Guadalajara, Mexico. As your article stresses: Variety is the spice of life.” I jump around from cardio (not too much anymore as at 6′ 1″ and 154 pounds, I don’t need to lose anymore weight), weights, kettlebells, suspension training, floor exercises, medicine ball and a lot of stretching. I love it and as long as God gives me the strength, I will continue. For me the gym atmosphere is motivational as many will approach me to give them advice and I love to guide them as many people don’t have the faintest idea of how to train. Most of them were stuck on steady state cardio, but now most of them are into HIIT. So anybody reading this, let me tell you that the human body is an amazing piece of equipment, feed it nutricionally and exercise it and you will be amazed. Remember it’s the only body we have and it’s not easy to find spare parts to keep it running smoothly, so challenge youeself with exciting new routines constantly and set yourself a goal of reaching and belonging to the 100 club.
    God love and God speed.

    1. Well Joe, it sounds like you are on your way to the 100 club for sure. Good going!

  68. I do the routine from ‘convict conditioning’, you do a single movement a day. This way you cover the full body over 6 days. That being said, I find that kettlebell swings are a full body workout that really work your core. EVERY athletic movement originates from that part of your body and doing swings targets the core very nicely.

  69. I confess: I don’t much care for exercise per se. If I do fifty pushups or pullups, or lift some weights, at the end of it the weights, myself, and everything else is just sitting there exactly as if nothing ever happened.

    I’d much rather actually DO something. Go on a hike or ride a bike to someplace I’ve never been. Load some bales of hay into a pickup truck. Maneuver a heavy transmission into place under that truck. At the end of something like that, I’ve actually accomplished something, whether it’s a tangible goal like fixing a truck, or something intangible like just having some fun on a bike.

  70. I disagree on this one.

    My first holdup is the citation to studies on lab mice. Human beings are complex creatures. We can engage in meta-cognition. Basically, think about ourselves thinking.

    This produces powerful abilities and brain functions. Happiness is a choice, and our happiness muscle can be exercised. Writing 5 things we’re grateful for before doing an activity allows us to enjoy just about anything we’re doing.

    Secondly, making big change is difficult for us. It drains mental energy. We’ve evolved to avoid what looks like painful change.

    Successful change usually starts small and builds up from there. So for someone to enjoy a new workout, they can take tiny steps until it becomes more of a habit. Early success becomes intrinsically motivating over time.

    Finally, this sounds close to the “follow your passion” argument in career advice circles.

    That advice leads people to avoid the difficult work of getting better at something. The improvement people see cultivates passion for what they’re doing. This is different than looking until they stumble on something they’re passionate about.

    Here, it could be more helpful for someone to get started with something, focus on small increments, and turn it into a habit. Once they’ve developed that habit, they can take small tests with other forms of exercise.

    This is different than quitting exercises that are hard in favor of finding something you’re more passionate about. Every exercise routine should be difficult at some point.

    Stress creates growth.

    Cal Newport writes about the “passion” issue at

  71. Haha, I laughed at the Lady Gaga line. My gym here in China has been playing the same Lady Gaga CD on loop since October. By now I can basically time my workouts by which song is playing.

  72. I agree, the best exercise by far is rebounding on a quality small trampoline. Just like jumping on the bed when you were a little kid! By using centrifugal and centripetal force, it exercises every muscle in your body, even your eye muscles! with no strain on your joints, in only 10-15 minutes a day. But you can do more after you become acclimated, even use hand-held weights to make it more challenging. It will keep you in shape for any other activity you enjoy. You don’t have to go to the gym; you can do it at home whenever you like. And it works for people of ALL ages, even children and the elderly, with some precautions so they don’t fall. Also improves your immune system because it gets your lymph moving. Awesome!

  73. I love horses. Riding, grooming, cleaning stalls… The most fun on earth. Fresh air, rain or shine and meditative. The rest of life is a 23 hour interruption between ‘workouts’!

  74. I love beer. I drink a lot of it. I’m right handed. I’ve got the strongest right arm in my neighborhood – up, down, up, down, up, down. Not bad for 86, eh?

  75. Hmm, while I somewhat agree, repetitive workouts have been found to lose their effectiveness relatively quickly. Your body will adjust and get used to the stress. I personally don’t agree that there can be one perfect exercise. Mix it up.
    This is bordering on the “something is better than nothing” argument… commit too be fit!

  76. Great article! I might add that while it may be true the best exercise is the one you will do, a variety and planned program will get you the results you desire. Don’t be stuck in a rut, doing that one favorite exercise. Plan it, change it and do it on purpose!

  77. WOW! Didn’t see that coming…..but you are ABSOLUTELY right!

  78. Thank you for saying it this way!

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

    It is cliche, but that’s almost a synonym with truth, right? 😉

    We’ve over-complicated things so much by giving arbitrary “facts” about what’s better, etc, that many people are frozen in confusion, putting off doing anything when they’re not sure who to listen to.

  79. Hey Mark, you really know how to capture my attention with your headlines, then throw me for a loop. Love your writing and your perspective on life! I guess in my case I can only totally agree with you on this one….my husband and I have been retired for 10 years now( we are both 60 this year!). We ski (downhill, cross country and back country) for 4 months every year, then spend spring and fall in Mexico…snorkelling, beach walking, desert hiking. In the summers we grow a huge garden with organic veggies and fruit, preserving, pickling, dehydrating and fermenting and then go mountain biking, swimming, hiking in the nearby lakes and mountains.
    We love our lives and intend to continue all of the above well into our Golden Years!

  80. Totally agree with this post. I have a few CrossFit friends who have encouraged me to try it over the past few years. Not my thing! Too regimented, too artificial, too…inside. Going for a walk or skating outside on a rink or hiking in the mountains or playing in the ocean or climbing with kids at the park? I’m in. I add a little bodyweight workout in my living room a few times a week and feel just fine 🙂

  81. Word!
    I’d like to recommend to Mark and all Apples (if you haven’t seen him already) “Ido Portal”.
    Look it up on YouTube.
    This guy is epicness embodied!
    He has a very primal approach to “exercise” too.

  82. Great idea Mark! The best exercise has to be something that will continually get people moving. For me it varies, but I’d go with dancing!!! With this exercise I can twist, lunge, squat, handstand and generally get my groove on anytime anywhere.
    Let’s get the world grooving and moving again!

  83. Hollow rock is the single best exercise you can do. Forget the plank.

  84. Every morning I get up, drink my morning bpc and then I do at least 15 burpees before I walk or bike 4 kms to work. During office ours I will go outside and do 15 more a couple times a day. Its the only cardio workout I do. Burpees are incredibly intense and on top of that they give you some psychological benefit in the postures involved. Its a winning, cheerful move that leaves you feeling cool and on top of things, best way to describe it.

  85. Best article I’ve read all month.

    I hate running, mostly because I had a severe knee injury as a kid and it’s painful. I have involuntarily, and painfully, tried to become a “runner” because people are constantly telling me “I should”, and “it’s the best”.

    I’ve been attempting to train for a 10k this year, and honestly dread every moment and it’s draining me. Not too mention the stress and exhaustion I feel after running has caused me to be sick, or skip a few days of working out. And then I feel like a failure because I don’t like it.

    You know what? I’m over it.

    I love cycling, Zumba and cross training. These things energize me and make me want to go back daily! I’m happier when I get done, than when I started. It’s stress relief and I love it!

    Part of life is knowing who you aren’t, and being happy with it.

    Awesome, awesome article Mark. Thank you.

  86. I started to sprint consistently, twice a week, and it is amazing. Same results as 100 miles on the bike without the pain associated with that. My C reactive protein score was 12.3.. Every joint hurt. I feel like I am cheating. I bike now only slowly and in beautiful places. Grok on. Gary

  87. Some really great points. As a health and triathlon coach I find it fun to “geek out” on the latest news, whether it’s research or someone’s take on a particular. As a chiropractor, I’ve made it my business to know the in’s & out’s of some of these movements my patients are performing. Having said that, it’s not everyone’s job or passion to be trying out the latest exercise routine. Love your advice of just getting out there doing something they love.

  88. Parkour, hands down. It’s not even exercise. It never feels like a chore. But it is a workout.

  89. Hi great topic. I prefer exercise with KBs in Pavel Tsatsouline style because it works for me and it´s fun. If I had at least two options for exercise I would definitely pick up TGU and KB Swing for sure. 🙂

  90. Hi
    Excellent article; I haven’t been to a gym in the last 6 months, due to where I was relocated to work. I adjusted my routine and started a work-out regime which included long brisk walks, sprints, running distance in the park with hills, calisthenics, and yoga at home (supported with 7lb hand weights). I also engaged many of the stand-alone “home” training exercises suggested by Mark Sisson and the dynamic Gabby Reece and Laird Hamilton, and have also been using a book which explains and guides how to practice pilates at home. Mixing things up and shaking things up have put me into the best shape of my life. At the drop of a dime, I can go out and run a 15km, and my flexibility has quadrupled. I haven’t felt this great since I was 19, and with that, now see “gym culture” as a limited space. I’ve saved money and also have more free-time on my hands.

  91. Is it just me or do other people find it hard to stomach all the experiments we inflict in the name of science. Just thinking about a hamster running to prevent being electrically shocked is pretty harsh and upsetting to think about. We may be learning everything we can about health but there’s a moral cost to pay as the guardians of this planet. I think I’ll practice my favourite exercise of walking in nature- enjoy yours. I ain’t no animal fanatic but I thought that point needed making when we are all in the Prime of our health.

  92. Your article is enlightening…can’t make someone do anything unless they want to and ready for it. Sometimes a life situation makes one change.
    I did not like gyms, looked like a mesh of clinking steel equipment, musty smell, and unbridled testosterone. I like structure; doing something with a trainer; having a purpose for the “torture”.
    10 yrs ago ( at 50) I started Alpine ski racing. 6 months on the snow; 6 months of summer – hiking, walking, short distance running. 2 yrs ago (at 58), had a bone scan and was diagnosed with severe osteoporosis (lumbar and left hip areas). Life changing; threatened the future on skiing (I am 5’3, 105 lbs Asian)
    A friend told me about the excellent trainer/training at the Crossfit gym. I had to change my perception of Gyms.
    Except for double unders, I ENJOY and look forward to each structured session!
    At 60 (March 13), I am stronger and healthier and still ski racing. (a followup bone scan showed an great improvement)
    Whatever inspires a person’s body to MOVE is what is best.
    Thanks for your article.
    P.S. love the Primal Fuel

  93. If your body is sick, you don’t FEEL like doing any exercise, there will be nothing you like. So IMO, it needs to start with diet. Otherwise, you will always be trying to flog a weak and sick body into action, and no surprise the outcome will not be as beneficial as hoped. IMO, a big reason why exercise and health are correlated is because healthy people naturally have more energy and feel liking getting up and moving around. They like it because they feel energetic. I have been on both sides of the coin so I’ve seen it from both viewpoints.

  94. Its all about being versatile, usually I do a lot of gym strength training, recently i started riding bike which i totally love, if i travel and there is no decent gym around i do sit ups and push ups and jog whatever it takes to keep moving and even if its only for 30 minutes

    easy to do and easy not to do but a small simple error in judgement will lead to disaster –

    thanks for providing great information

  95. I love changing exercice routine, although I always stick to at least an hour of Zumba a week and a long run while my girls are on their bike….then I play it by the season. I live in Switzerland – meaning water and mountains. I truly feel blessed to alternate cross country skiing, down hill with swimming in summer and some trekking….shame I still have to seat in front of a computer 6 hours a day….but at least I have great outdoor options to keep me moving.

  96. What a lovely read! I am a fitness instructor and I try to give this emphasis of “enjoying” and “taking enjoyment” in the exercise(s) my clients and I are experiencing together. If a newcomer is nervous or reluctant as to whether participate I comment “my class is focused on enjoyment…come and give it a go…if you ENJOY yourself embrace that and let it become part of your lifestyle. You can then start to feel motivated, confident and more content with yourself.”
    I also believe that it’s great to try new and challenging activities …keeps the mind and body alert. If an exercise feels boring or becomes dull etc…move on and get stuck into something new and paramountly ENJOYABLE !
    Thanks for some great articles 😉

  97. I train really hard and I am relatively new to the Paleo way of eating (approx 6 months). Initially I lost weight but have found that I have now gained about 3kgs and cannot get rid of it.

    I also tend to carry most of my weight around my belly. I am trying really hard to get my belly down and dream of a six pack but unfortunately nothing seems to be working.

    I run 10km twice a week and do crossfit type training four days a week for about 45mins.

    Does anyone have any suggestions for me?

    1. Belly is always the last place to loose it from & the first place it goes back to, so look for improvements elsewhere first.

      Use a tape measure, body fat analyzer and a mirror to track your progress rather than a scales. I dropped 4kg in the first few weeks of going primal but I am now back at the same weight. However I have dropped a jean size & 2% body fat, (probably would be more but for my intermittent biscuit (cookie) weakness!).

      Also that’s quite a lot of high intensity, cardio heavy training. Before I started, I was training 1 hr, 6 days a week; a mix of weight’s, swimming, running & martial arts. Now I train 15-20mins a day, same mix – Stronger, faster & not constantly tired. I would guess my endurance is less but you don’t need it for everyday tasks so I’m not bothered.

      Try easing off & add some low intensity for a few weeks – see how that works.

  98. It sounds like you share the same values as me. I too believe fitness should be all about doing something you love, whether its hiking, playing golf, or lifting weights. Everyone has something they enjoy that keeps them active. Sometimes it just takes some experimenting and creativity to find what you enjoy. I think it’s important to focus your efforts on these things because not only will your body benefit more, you’ll perform better and enjoy yourself in the process. It’s a win-win-win.

  99. Your posts help me make small changes that really add up and keep me motivated. Thank you Mark:) -Alisha

  100. Add me to the rebounding crowd. I used to do a lot of walking but now that I have a torn meniscus, rebounding is the only form of exercise I actually enjoy and am consistent in doing. And rebounding to music is even better.
    I just turned 68. A week before my 61st birthday my 7th & 8th grandchildren were born (twin boy and girl) and I did a LOT of babysitting before they went off to kgn. Believe me–that’s the ultimate workout for a so-called senior!

  101. I’m always pointing my clients in the direction of recreation. Finding enjoyable activities is the ultimate way to maintain consistency and strength. However, for many, the strength to play pain free and injury free is lacking and that’s where a little routine comes in handy.
    Traditional fitness needs to bridge the gaps for people from deconditioned to sufficiently conditioned to play, and if there is then a desire for it, strong enough to perform or compete at higher levels.
    I think its important to reference the enjoyment of the voluntary exercises to reinforce the need for certain supportive exercises for the gap from sedentary to fit.

  102. I used to go to gyms and enjoyed them years ago. Then they got boring and too noisy as I got older, so I joined a BUG group (Bicycle User Group) and cycled all around the countryside with a bunch of people I enjoyed being with. I even went on a cycling holiday with 1800 people and we cycled 560 km over 8 days. It was a great atmosphere and a great way to see the country. I really got to know where the hills were! Now I’m in a different location with very long winters and haven’t done so much exercise. Until recently. I discovered the mini trampoline. What fun! with music. I couldn’t agree more, the best exercise is the one that you will do, that you actually enjoy!

  103. Stationary bike 3 days a week in temperatures below 40 at LA Fitness otherwise outside on a real bike works for me all year long.

    Watching others workout in every imaginable way while not actually moving is entertainment, otherwise actually moving is engaging enough.

    I enjoy bicycling wouldn’t you say