Workout Alternatives for Fun and Fitness

We all want to be in better shape, and that means becoming more active. For some people, though, the idea of spending hours a week in a gym sounds like as much fun as math homework. If you want to raise your heart rate without having to stare at yourself sweating in a mirror, here are four alternatives to the everyday, ordinary workout regimine.

Free Running/Parkour

You may have recently seen commercials, music videos, or action films featuring runners flipping over or through anything in their path, or leaping from great heights without breaking stride. This isn’t wire-supported stuntwork, it’s a discipline called parkour or free running.

Comparable to skateboard tricking without the board or breakdancing across rooftops, parkour is based on the principle that a free runner (or traceur) should not be stopped by any obstacle he meets. This is an exciting way to improve your balance and incorporate an upper-body workout into your daily run.

Running

Developed in France by a gymnast named David Belle, the basics of parkour can be done by any person in average health and the only equipment needed is a good pair of lightweight running shoes. Most cities and many smaller communities now have groups of traceurs who regularly meet for freerunning practice and organized “jams”.

Ages of participants commonly range from early teens into the forties, and parkour is non-competitive, so there’s no reason to be intimidated by more experienced traceurs. Find fitness tips, training videos, and a group near you at www.urbanfreeflow.com.

Western Martial Arts (WMA)

Martial arts classes are an excellent way to increase energy, power, and focus, but finding the style and setting that’s right for you can be frustrating. Warrior wannabes who don’t relish doing dressed-up aerobics in a cardio kickboxing class or being screamed at in Korean may want to look at fighting traditions from that OTHER hemisphere. Medieval and renaissance swordplay, formation fighting, and battlefield grappling are being revived by a new breed of Western Martial Artists.

This is no dark ages stunt show, but a demanding system of study, drilling, and sparring using weapons that predate sport fencing by hundreds of years. WMA confers benefits for the mind and body, including better stamina and coordination, a higher pain threshold, and a fear-conquering confidence in one’s abilities.

Training and practice usually occur at informal meets in parks, using sparring gear that can be collected for less than $200 (especially, don’t skimp on head protection). You don’t have to be a history nerd to break in, but expect to quickly develop a working vocabulary and a sense of tradition.

Thoroughly check out a fight circle before joining; some are dedicated to recreational or theatrical swordplay that may not suit your needs. The Association of Renaissance Martial Arts provides essays, study group directories, and other resources online at www.thearma.org.

Adult Playground Games

It’s been common knowledge that adults play dodgeball since the Ben Stiller farce of the same name hit theaters two years ago. Less known is that kickball, tetherball, foursquare, and other playground games are also alive and well among the post-pubescent set.

Don’t be surprised if your local players are highly competitive: these games are intense and emotions run high. Fifteen minutes of panting and sweating are all you’ll need to remember how victory thrills and defeat stings on the kickball field. Not for nothing do we watch children play all day and ask, “can we bottle that?”

Adult recess activities are played in schoolyards, gyms, and community centers across the country by a diverse bunch of people who haven’t forgotten how to have fun. Leagues and tournaments exist, but less formal drop-in games are the norm.

Dress for exertion and bring something to rehydrate with, because you’re going to feel the effects of every day since you graduated fifth grade. Searching through your favorite engine will locate local groups like www.recesstimesports.com in the Northwest, or the New York City Social Sports Club at www.nycssc.com.

Irish Dance

Jumping in place for an hour would make you sweat even if you weren’t also doing precision footwork to complex rhythms. Folk dances from around the world are in vogue as exercise right now, from Morris dancing to tribal bellydance, but it’s hard to beat Irish dance for a high-impact, calorie-burning workout.

Opportunities to compete and perform abound, as do Scots and Irish festivals, Highland games, and pubs where your progress can be shown off to an appreciative audience.

Private lessons are expensive and schools expect major commitments from their students. Beginners should start looking at community colleges and rec centers for an inexpensive introductory course. Dance shoes are about fifty dollars and are often available through the instructor.

Stretching is vital to stave off shin splints and twisted ankles, so do some research on ballet dancers’ tricks for conditioning your legs and absorbing shock from jumps. A searchable directory of events, teachers, and more can be found at www.irishdancing.com, online home of Irish Dancing And Culture Magazine.

Get Started Now

All of these activities are likely to be available to you locally or semi-locally, even if you don’t live in a major urban center. Some you can start today, solo, and build a group around you as you attract interest. One or two meetings a week and some dilligent practice on your own time are all you need to become competent, and to start whipping yourself into shape.

So go run up the side of a building or swing a sword at some friends this weekend. It’s more exciting than twenty minutes of treadmill, and you’ll learn more new things and meet more interesting people than you would counting reps and staring at the spandex in front of you.