If you’re one of the many people who sign up for a gym membership in January – spurred on by endless New Year, New You social media messaging – there’s a high chance you might not be using it come February. And do you know what? That’s OK. Don’t beat yourself up about it. With so many external pressures these days, there are bound to be times when you aren’t able to follow the strict exercise plan you’ve set yourself in the hope of instant success.
It might be that you’re better suited to a different type of workout. Something that might not even feel like working out yet still burns the same calories, strengthens the muscles and still provides that all-important mental relief. Whether combined with a gym program or done separately, here are a few out-of-the-box alternatives for keeping fit this year.
You can’t walk around a city these days on a weeknight without bumping into a running club. The popularity of running as part of a group has exploded in recent years and it’s not difficult to see why. There’s safety in numbers and there’s also a soft accountability.
Running as part of a casual weekly running club is a great introduction to running. Runs usually take place on an evening after work hours, distances are kept short and the pacing tends to be comfortable, meaning you can still talk whilst running, adding a social element that passes the time.
Keep an eye out for bar and brewery-associated run clubs near you. There’s sometimes a free drink in it for you at the end. If evenings aren’t ideal, there’s always the tried and tested Saturday morning parkrun. A popular fitness phenomenon for a reason.
It might surprise you to learn that a lot of runners find trail running easier on their legs than standard runs on hard surfaces. A 10km run repetitively pounding the pavement is going to feel a lot different compared to the same distance running along uneven trails, which may involve bouts of walking up steep hills, navigating uneven surfaces and jumping the odd gap. Trail running is interesting for your feet and uses different muscles in your legs.
Trail running also has other benefits owing to its geographical nature. Running outdoors in a forest or the countryside means you’ll be breathing in cleaner air. Any exercise out in nature is also proven to be beneficial to the mind and your mental health.
Nothing to do with rugby in this instance, rucking is a form of exercise with origins in the military, whereby an individual walks a distance with a weighted rucksack (hence the name).
It’s relatively low-impact depending on the pace you’re walking, but the added weight helps to strengthen muscles, burn more calories than a standard walk and increase cardiovascular load progressively improving oxygen intake. Rucking is also associated with improved balance.
Unlike other exercise activities, you don’t need to invest in fancy equipment – all you need is comfortable footwear, something you might already walk or run in, and a comfortable backpack. The weight itself could be anything from a dumbbell to cans of beans.
If you really want to break out of your comfort zone this year, seek out your local climbing wall and book an induction. Few activities are as initially daunting but subsequently addictive as climbing and bouldering.
The health benefits are many. It’s a true full-body workout, so muscles in your upper and lower body are put through their paces, with even finger strength required for scaling heights.
Mentally, climbing is also extremely good for you. Mental agility, problem-solving and stress-busting qualities make a visit to your local climbing wall a must.
If you can muster up the bravery to walk into your local spit and sawdust boxing gym on a January weeknight for one of their standard issue £5 (prices may vary, but it’s usually a fiver) boxing fitness sessions, that is some achievement. Boxing gyms can be intimidating places but once you’re in, it’s almost impossible to find a better, more satisfying and rewarding workout.
Combat sports are of course not limited to boxing. Legendary chef and presenter Anthony Bourdain said the uptake of jiu-jitsu completely changed his life. Kickboxing is another option, as are MMA or traditional martial arts.
You don’t have to put yourself in danger but the discipline and the feeling of moving out of your comfort zone that comes with combat sports is unrivalled. That’s without even considering the fitness and strength benefits.
The good news is you can literally do yoga anywhere now. This ancient discipline has taken over and studios are now located in most towns and cities. If you’re unable to get to a studio, YouTube is your best friend. Millions tuned into Yoga With Adriene during the pandemic and for many, the bug stuck.
Yoga improves strength, balance and flexibility and is also associated with easing muscle pain and arthritic relief. It’s relaxing, thought to improve sleep and good for the mind, too. Use yoga as a platform for other exercise.
2024 is the year of padel. There were rumblings in 2023 but the courts are going to pop up this year like no one’s business. The tennis-like sport originated in Mexico and has seen exponential growth across Europe in recent years, proving to be second-sport popular in Spain and Scandinavia.
Many people describe the sport as addictive and it’s easy to see why. Padel is basically an accessible version of tennis, with longer rallies thanks to underarm serves and the ball being allowed to bounce off the court’s fibreglass walls. Unlike tennis where serving ability pretty much sorts abilities and the playability of a game, you can easily grasp padel in five minutes.
Super fun, accessible and owing to the frenetic rallies, you’ll burn a hell of a lot of calories.
Cold Water Swimming
We’re all aware that swimming in general is great for your health. Doing lengths in a local pool is great for burning calories and improving your fitness while the impact on your joints is minimal.
However, if you’re looking for extra benefits, consider cold water swimming. The cold water element of outdoor swimming is said to boost your immune system, reduce inflammation and enhance your overall mood and mental wellbeing.
As with any water-based activity, be sure to follow water safety guidelines and ideally swim supervised with a lifeguard present.
By no means a silver bullet. Nobody should go into this year thinking that workout apps are going to get them a six-pack through a few downloads of the app store. What does make absolute sense though is the ability to track your activity and workouts. In the same way that pre- and post-progress photos are proven to aid weight loss/body transformation (visual records of progress encourage you to stick to your goals), tracking runs and jotting down sets will help with visualising progress and keeping your motivation high.
Strava, Yoga Studio: Mind & Body, Stronglifts 5×5 and Nike Training Club are good places to begin. The other side of the app coin is the ability to join in with team sports on demand. Footy Addicts is an app which finds local 5-aside football games where you can turn up and play hassle-free, without having to organise the game yourself.