People like to ask which exercise is best. And while you can start listing activities by how many calories they burn and pontificate on the benefits of this or that exercise, it’s really no help at all.
Running is a formidable calorie burner, but if you’re bored out of your wits by running, you hate the high-impact nature of it, or it just generally doesn’t feel right, it’s not going to help you lose weight or get fit.
The best exercise is the one you enjoy. Because if you enjoy it, you’ll do it. And let’s be honest, as a population on the whole, we’re not unfit because we’re doing the “wrong” exercise. But because we’re doing no exercise.
So avoid becoming another exercise drop out by finding and sticking with activities you enjoy. This may take some experimentation. But a little trial and error will go a very long way. Rather than worrying about the pros and cons of a bunch of different types of exercise, try and find the type of exercise that is best for you.
Consider the following questions when trying to decide on your ideal workout.
Do you want to exercise indoors or outdoors?
This one’s pretty easy. You know whether you’re an indoor or outdoorsy sort of person. But also consider what time of the day you’ll be exercising, and if exercising indoors or outdoors is feasible or safe.
Remember that choosing one over the other doesn’t necessary preclude an activity. If you don’t like running or walking outdoors, you can just take it inside and onto the treadmill. The same goes for cycling.
If you are a nature lover and loathe the idea of being cooped up in a gym then you’d be better off focusing on outdoor activities, team sports, running and so forth.
If there are big seasonal differences in weather where you live, consider having a bad-weather alternative, as very bad weather can be dangerous, especially for cyclists and runners. In countries where snow is common, embrace the weather and try your hand at winter activities such snow showing, cross country skiing or ice skating.
Do you prefer high impact or low impact exercise?
High impact activities like running and jumping can be hard on your knees, ankles, hips and feet. If you have a history of lower limb injuries, knee problems or osteoarthritis, high impact activities may not be right for you.
High-impact activities tend to associated with being very challenging and having a high calorie-burn. However, low-impact exercise by no means equals easy or ineffective.
Low impact activities include super tough workouts such as spinning, rowing, and stepping, as well as other incredible cardio activities including walking, cycling, strength training, swimming and low-impact aerobic classes.
Read on: Low impact exercises that are challenging
How much do you want to spend?
Some forms of exercise are super cheap or even free. Running, swimming, walking, using a jump rope are all cheap exercise options. On the other hand, sports like triathlon, joining a gym or anything requiring a plethora of equipment can be expensive.
If you have a limited fitness budget, you can achieve great things with nothing more than a pair of running shoes and an exercise mat. As well as initial outlay, also consider the ongoing cost of your chosen activity.
Read on: Running plan for beginners
What are your fitness goals?
In exercise, the underlying principle for success is specificity, which simply means that if you have a specific goal in mind, your training should reflect your goal.
You become fit for the type of exercise you do. Your body adapts to the specific stresses you place on it; if you lift heavy weights you’ll get stronger and if you run for long distances, you’ll develop great cardiovascular endurance.
Therefore, if you have a particular element of fitness you want to work on, your exercise regimen should reflect this; there is no point doing endless sets of biceps curls if you want to be able to run a 5K! So make sure your workouts are aligned with your fitness goals.
Read on: How to keep a fitness journal
Want to stay home or visit the gym?
Working out at home means you never have to wait for the exercise equipment you want to use, don’t have to waste time commuting or looking for a parking space, and can exercise any time of day.
On the downside, you will probably only have a limited amount of equipment, you’ll have to train alone and without the supervision of qualified gym staff, there’s no social interaction, and you may end up buying equipment you’ll never use (hopefully not!).
Exercising at a gym means there’s a lot of choice when it comes to equipment, you’ll have access to other facilities such as a swimming pool or tennis courts, you can meet new people, and you don’t have to worry about equipment upkeep or replacement. However, you do have to pay for the privilege.
Both training at home or at the gym can work – it all boils down to what you prefer.
Read on: Gym guide for beginners
How much time have you got?
Some forms of exercise are fairly time-efficient; you get in, train hard, and get out in one-hour or less two or three times a week. Other forms of exercise require a far greater time investment.
If lack of time means you have to skip workouts, even the best type of exercise is not going to be effective. If time is an issue for you, look at time-saving workouts such as interval training, HIIT, HIT, circuit training and other high intensity training methods. Working out from home is more time-efficient, so a home gym, exercise DVD’s and circuit workouts are an option.
Read on: How to sneak in a workout with a busy schedule
Do you like to workout alone or in a group?
Some fitness activities are inherently solitary; swimming being the most obvious example. If you like to chat while you work out, swimming is definitely not for you. Other quite solitary activities include strength training, cycling and sometimes running.
However, if you need more in the way of social interaction when you exercise, you may want to consider group exercise classes or team sports. Alternatively, you may simply want to work out with a buddy for company and mutual support and encouragement.
Consider group activities like soccer, basketball and volleyball, if you want the full part-of-a-team experience.
If you’re not sure yet, the gym can be a good place to start. The gym can be as social or solitary as you choose to make it, and you can also try a host of different activities.
Are you competitive or non-competitive?
If you haven’t got a competitive bone in your body then playing competitive sports isn’t for you. However, if you get bent out of shape because the person next to you on the treadmill is going a little faster than you, you might need some competitive action.
There are hundreds of competitive sports that will help keep you fit from distance running to tennis and from soccer to squash. Some sports are team sports while others are individual.
Take heed – competitive sports can be very consuming both in terms of time and energy. However, that is a big advantage, as you have something bigger than staying fit to keep you motivated – the need to win. If you want to do well, you will have to be committed!
Are you healthy or injured?
Some fitness activities can make existing injuries or illnesses worse so you should always consider your current level of health and fitness before starting a new activity.
For example, if you have bad knees, there are a number of activities which you should shy away from. A history of shoulder problems may mean that tennis isn’t a good idea. If you have high blood pressure you should check with your doctor before heavy weight training – especially lifting weights overhead.
If you have been ill or injured lately, speak with your doctor who will be able advise you on what is and isn’t suitable.