Get out of the gym and breathe some fresh air.
No one is trying to deny that yoga and pilates can dramatically improve your general level of fitness, increase your strength and flexibility, and enhance your quality of life. But for all the benefits, there are a number of things that a rigorous daily practice can’t give you – variety. The opportunity to escape four stifling walls.
In the middle of all of summer’s glories, getting in your daily workout shouldn’t mean that you have to trudge reluctantly inside. Weight-bearing activities, like running and lifting, help fend off bone thinning and osteoporosis which is an unfortunate side effect of growing older as a woman. Vitamin D can lift your mood, and social activities like boxing – yes, talking to your sparring partner counts as socializing – can make working out so much more enjoyable.
Here are ten activities that you can rotate into your workout routine to switch it up and sweat it out this summer. Playlist not included.
Long Distance Running
Christopher McDougall’s Born to Run was published in 2009 and instantly became a landmark text for everyone looking to hit the trail (or road). Among many of the interesting points that McDougall brought up was the fact that over long distances, women perform just as well or better than men. But you don’t have to go out and run fifty miles a day to reap some of the benefits described by McDougall. Even a few miles a week to your local park is a great start.
It’s an old truism around your local crag: If you’re a male climber who wants to improve, try climbing like a woman. Contrary to popular belief, upper body strength isn’t sufficient to win the day. Minor improvements in technique help you become a better climber much faster than doing pull-ups and eating your Wheaties. Plus, women generally have a lot less weight to haul upward than most men do.
Gone are the days of bros hanging out at the pier, the Point Break crowd daring each other onto bigger and bigger waves. Women now have their own surf clubs, world pro tours and big wave idols (hello, Layne Beachley). Besides promoting upper body and core strength, wave-hunting brings you to some of the most beautiful places in the world and – some say – is as great a way to meditate as burning incense and humming “Om.”
Okay, so Mark Twain famously said that golf was a good walk spoiled. And maybe golf is inextricably linked with “old people” and “sweater vests” in your mind. But if you don’t hire a prepubescent caddy, swinging your club and hauling your irons from hole to hole is surprisingly strenuous upper-body workout. Not to mention all the communing with wildlife that you’ll get to do while searching for your ball in the shrubbery around the sixth hole.
Women’s boxing gained a final veneer of authenticity when it was accepted as an event at this year’s Summer Olympics in London. Not only that, American Quanitta Underwood stands a good chance of picking up a medal. Boxing is a mentally engaging, social, full-body workout that is also an impromptu course in self-defense—as is any combative sport.
Like climbing, kayaking is a male-dominated hobby that is actually much better suited for women. A woman’s center of gravity is usually much lower than a man’s, and on average, women are lighter. Moreover, technique plays a far bigger role in being a proficient kayaker than mere upper-body strength. Kayaking offers an approach for everyone, from exploring the hidden corners of quiet lakes to navigating treacherous whitewater rapids. We’ll take both, with a healthy helping of independence and beautiful vistas on the side.
This team sport combines two or three adventure sports with the additional challenge of packing your own supplies and navigating your own way through the course, which could last hours, days or weeks. While many races require that a woman be part of each team, many races are for women only. The varied challenges give each person specific ways to contribute, many of which not related to physical strength at all. You don’t need to be brawny in order to read a map.
Weight-lifting has had its critics in the past few years, who say that the practice isolates muscles that would never be isolated naturally, causing imbalance and injury. But lifting weights also produces lean muscle mass, which helps you lose weight and improve at virtually every sport. Just be sure to weight-lift in ways that combine muscle groups. Swinging around kettle bells and medicine balls are more useful than doing bicep curls with a set of dumbbells.
Triathletes have long known that many harbors, rivers and lakes set aside dedicated areas for open water swimming. As triathlons become an ever more popular event, it’s important to set aside some time to train for this part of the competition—as well as literally soak in beautiful scenery. Just be sure to bring a partner, be aware of rip tides and currents, and know your limits.
Racquet sports, like tennis or badminton, are phenomenal ways to build upper body strength and strength around your hips, quads and core. If you’ve got the choice, play singles—you’ll run around the court way more, but still have the chance to socialize with your partner.