The Best 15 Workouts for People Who Hate Exercise
Hate working out? Don't sweat it. Simply choose one of these fun activities and watch your fitness soar.
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Why you need activity
Whether you despise exercise or you’ve just never experienced that post-exercise boost of feel-good chemicals hitting your brain, it’s possible that you simply haven’t found the right exercise. So don’t think of it as exercise, per se, think of it as activity—because the science is clear that you need it.
A 2018 study from the American Cancer Society and published in the American Journal of Epidemiology found a link between long periods of sitting and a higher risk of death from cancer, coronary heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and diseases related to the kidneys, lungs, and liver; then there’s the increased danger of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, and nervous disorders. In the study, prolonged sitting—six or more hours a day—was associated with a 19 percent higher rate of death from any of these causes, compared to sitting less than three hours per day.
Finding something you love
If you’re sitting too much, it doesn’t mean you need to train for a marathon. Give one or more of the following options a try; you’ll find one that resonates with you—and none of them even feel like exercise. Plus, falling in love with one of these fun activities could lead to new hobbies, new buddies, a new waistline, and a new outlook on fitness. (Just be sure it doesn’t include these moves fitness trainers wish you’d stop doing.)
Play video games
If you’re a gamer, then you already have the equipment you need to get your heart pumping—all from the comfort of your living room. “Almost every popular video game platform has a fitness-based game that uses motion-tracking technology,” says Kami Price, a NASM-certified personal trainer and the head trainer at IdealShape. “Not only do they get you up and moving, they can also serve an even more fun purpose by bringing together your loved ones for a little friendly competition and bonding time.” Plus, if you have a tough time getting your kids to go out to play, this is a great baby step to encourage movement and you’ll serve as an encouraging role model. (Here are some fun workouts you can do with your kids.)
Set up an obstacle course
Some of the best activities combine fun, the outdoors, and a challenge. “Create your own neighborhood obstacle course,” says DeAnn Teixeira, fitness director at Skylonda Lodge, Woodside, Calif., which has a half-mile of obstacle routes tucked into a canopy of lush Redwood trees. “Look for playgrounds with monkey bars to traverse, park benches to leap over, balance beams, and climbing walls.” The fun challenge of an obstacle course can also take you back to the days of your childhood and the great memories of being carefree at the playground. The physical and mental challenges will help build confidence in overcoming other obstacles in life.
Hit the batting cages
Take yourself out to the batting cage: “Swinging the bat is a great workout for your upper body, legs, and abs,” says Dempsey Marks, an AFAA-certified personal trainer, yoga instructor, and creator of the PreGame Fit fitness program. “You will have so many laughs with your friends and family that the time will fly by. And watch out for the competitor in you that you never knew you had.” She explains that softballs are a bit easier to start with, but then for an added challenge try the hardball cages—you can adjust the speed; as you get better, you can try faster pitches.
Did you ever lose track of time while jumping rope as a kid? You can do it as an adult, too, says Janine Delaney, PhD, known as the Jump Rope Queen of social media, and a former professional ballerina. Delaney is a testament to the engaging, full-body activity of jumping rope. “It’s one of the most effective overall body workouts for any age level,” she says. “It provides a great workout, can be done anywhere, and is a lot of fun.” You can start your new jump rope routine with this fun speed and strength rope set.
Be a kid again
Speaking of childhood favorites, if you have little kids in your life, then you have no shortage of opportunities to run around or get down and do the crab walk. Be the cool mom or dad (or the favorite aunt or uncle) by joining in on their fun. “Kids move non-stop,” says Steph Wilberding, founder and head coach of HK Fitness. “Most of us used to do the same. As we get older, we slow down. Remember the game, tag? It’s a game of sprints, which is a great way to get in some cardio, increase your heart rate, and have some fun outside of the gym.” You could also try playing red rover, red-light green-light, Marco Polo, hopscotch, double-dutch, hide and seek, sharks and minnows, a snowball fight, or hula-hooping.
Join a sports league
When you’re playing a sport you love, you won’t fixate on all the exercise you’re getting. “Nearly every city or community has a recreational sports league with a host of teams you can join for a small fee,” says Price. “Most of these leagues also separate the teams into tiers based on skill level and how competitive players want to be. So regardless of whether you’re a weekend warrior looking to relive the glory days, or you just want to have fun, there will surely be something for you.” Consider sports like softball, kickball, dodgeball, tennis, and volleyball fair game.
Sign up for mermaid classes
If you’ve ever daydreamed about the magical lives mermaids must lead, then it’s time to swim a mile in their fins. Really. “Mermaiding is a full-body workout just like swimming, but it adds a fun and magical element of feeling like a mermaid while doing it,” says Christine Dustin, Fin Fun’s mermaid fitness instructor. The company sells mermaid fins—like a long sock for both legs with a big fin on the end—which you can use to swim like fish. To learn the basics, you can enroll in mermaid school or check out Fin Fun’s free, eight-week video series.
Work out your face
On days when you really aren’t up for moving your body, lie on your couch and give yourself a face a workout. “Facial Magic is based on a 100-year-old French method of proven resistance exercises that lift, tone and tighten sagging facial muscles and skin,” says Cynthia Rowland, founder/CEO of Rejenuve, Inc., a certified facial fitness trainer, and creator of the Facial Magic facial exercise system. “The exercises can be done anywhere, anytime, while seated or standing. All that’s needed are a pair of cotton gloves, which are used to anchor the muscles and create resistance, and your own two hands.”
Exercise in bed
That time you spend staring at the ceiling before you get up can be put to good use. “Mattress’cising removes any strain you might normally feel when doing these exercises on the floor,” says Erin Berman, in-house fitness, health, and wellness expert from Nectar Sleep. Her go-to moves include:
- Pillow prop: Stack two pillows at the foot of your bed. Lie flat on the bed with your feet resting on the pillows and cross your arms over your chest. Breathe in deeply as you pull your stomach in toward your back. Breathe out as you raise your upper body towards your feet. Breathe in as you lie down again. Relax your muscles then repeat five times.
- Diamond reverse crunches: Lie on your back with your arms along your sides, palms facing down. Bring your feet together and open your knees out to the sides so the space between your legs resembles a diamond. Press into your palms and brace your core as you raise your feet up over your hips. From this position, lift your hips up off the bed to push your feet straight up toward the ceiling. With control, bring your hips back to the bed. (Don’t drop your feet.) Repeat five times.
- Jackknife: Lie down with your arms above your head and keep your legs straight. Lift up your legs and arms to meet, then slowly release down. Repeat five times.
- Planking: Get into push-up position on your mattress, balancing on your forearms instead of your hands (which is safer and gives you more control on a softer surface). With your weight on your forearms and toes, align your elbows under your shoulders. Lift your body to make a straight line from your head to your heels. Hold this position for 20 seconds and then rest for 30 seconds. Try doing three reps. For an added challenge, gently step one foot at a time out to the side and back in, alternating each time.
- Arabesque leg lifts: Get on your hands and knees with your shoulders over your wrists, and your hips directly over your knees. Point your left toes, and extend and raise your left leg out to your left side. Bend your knee and bring the leg back in, then extend the leg straight out behind you. Bend the knee and bring it back to starting position to complete one rep. Continue for 30 seconds, then repeat on the opposite side.
Start a dance party
If you’re a music lover, it’s time to get more than just your toes a-tappin’: “Fifty to 60 minutes on your feet while moving to the beat can burn up to 450 calories,” says Arnit Kobryniec, a certified personal trainer in South Florida. So crank up your favorite tunes—you can use headphones or create a party by using a Bluetooth speaker like the JBL Lifestyle Xtreme 2—and dance like nobody’s watching. (Check out these dance-inspired workouts that don’t even feel like exercise.)
You’ve been walking since you were about a year old, and it’s still the gold standard when it comes to movement: you don’t need any special equipment, you don’t need to be a top athlete, you don’t need to change into workout clothes, and you don’t need a gym. One thing that might help: “Using a Fitbit device creates a sense of accountability,” says celebrity trainer, nutritionist, and Fitbit ambassador Harley Pasternak. “Not only are you accountable to yourself as you see the step count slowly crawl up on your device, but with the Fitbit community. You can cheer each other on and challenge each other in a healthy way.” Other activities, like going dancing, hiking, or playing sports, contribute to your daily step goal as well. So how do you hit the magical 10,000 steps per day recommendation? Try these 6 sneaky ways to walk more steps every day. Plus, the viral 12-3-30 workout is a great way to get some more steps in.
Let travel keep you active
Love to travel? Kobryniec suggests trying to complete a 5k walk or run in different cities around the country or world. “This gives you a chance to train at home for the race, plus run, jog, or walk through a city you’ve never seen before,” she says. And you’ll have the perfect excuse to chow down on the local cuisine after the race.
Let out some of your pent-up aggression in a healthy manner: “Exercises like ball slams, boxing, battle ropes, and tire flips release stress, get you connected with your body, help burn calories and build strength, and frankly are fun,” says Jonathan Jordan, a NASM-certified personal trainer and nutrition coach in San Francisco. “The stresses of living in a city, work, mobile devices, and family commitments can fry your central nervous system, but I’ve found that when I give my clients a channel for relieving that stress, they quickly get with the program.”
Make money on the side
Wouldn’t you just love to earn some cash just for getting off the couch? Well, amazingly, there’s an app for that. “There are apps that offer monetary incentives every time you check in or finish a workout,” says Kobryniec. For instance, Sweatcoin tracks and verifies your outdoor steps using your phone’s accelerometers and GPS location. Those steps get converted into the company’s currency, called Sweatcoins, which you can spend on gadgets, gear, and fitness classes—or donate your earnings to charity. With the app StepBet, you pledge your commitment to your step goals with a bet. Your money is pooled with other players and everyone who completes the challenge splits the pot.
Yes, Pilates seems like a lot of work—but not the lazy way. You can work on your six-pack in bed, stretch your legs in the shower, and firm up your butt during your commute. “You can be doing Pilates all day long without going to a class, watching a DVD, or spending loads of money on a gym membership you’ll never use,” says Kara Tatelbaum, Pilates guru and author of Lazy Girl Pilates, a series of movements you can fit right into your usual routine. Check out these Pilates moves:
- Windshield Wipers in bed: Bring your knees into your chest, keeping the small curve under your lower back. Twist your legs, keeping your knees together, right and left keeping your tailbone on the bed, while holding your arms up and parallel, facing toward each other. Repeat eight times.
- Wall Push-Ups in the shower: While you’re waiting for your conditioner to work, put your hands on the wall opposite your shoulders and take a small step back, feet side by side. Sink into a wall-pushup by bending at the elbows until you’re close to the wall, then press back out. Repeat 10 times.
- Marching on the toilet: With both feet planted hip-distance apart, make “genie arms” by holding your left arm out in front of your chest and bend it at the elbow at a 90-degree angle; place the right arm on top of the left. Keep your arms in place as you exhale, drawing your belly button into the spine (feel like you’re zipping up tight jeans). Lift your right knee up toward the ceiling, the foot coming off the floor only a few inches. Repeat the other side for at least 10 Pilates-style “marches.”
Be sure to check out the best Pilates reformers and Pilates chairs for your home gym setup.
- American Journal of Epidemiology: "Prolonged Leisure Time Spent Sitting in Relation to Cause-Specific Mortality in a Large US Cohort"
- Kami Price, a NASM-certified personal trainer and the head trainer at IdealShape
- DeAnn Teixeira, fitness director at Skylonda Lodge, Woodside, Calif., which has a half-mile of obstacle routes tucked into a canopy of lush Redwood trees
- Dempsey Marks, an AFAA-certified personal trainer, yoga instructor, and creator of the PreGame Fit fitness program
- Janine Delaney, PhD, known as the Jump Rope Queen of social media, and a former professional ballerina
- Steph Wilberding, founder and head coach of HK Fitness
- Christine Dustin, Fin Fun's mermaid fitness instructor
- Cynthia Rowland, founder/CEO of Rejenuve, Inc., a certified facial fitness trainer, and creator of the Facial Magic facial exercise system
- Erin Berman, in-house fitness, health and wellness expert from Nectar Sleep
- Arnit Kobryniec, a certified personal trainer in South Florida
- Harley Pasternak, celebrity trainer, nutritionist, and Fitbit ambassador
- Jonathan Jordan, a NASM-certified personal trainer and nutrition coach in San Francisco
- Kara Tatelbaum, Pilates guru and author of Lazy Girl Pilates