How to Find Exercise That You Love

A pair of happy hikers

What I really want to talk about here is movement, not exercise. But a lot of people think of movement as “exercise”. That word has a more negative conotation, and might just remind you of not enjoying PE at school, or forcing yourself to go to the gym to lose weight. If so, it can be hard to imagine that movement could be enjoyable, fun and even fulfilling. You might just believe you have to move more for the health or appearance benefits. But if it feels like a chore you’re less likely to do it, unless you’re very disciplined.

Chances are, if you’re on this blog, you’ve already found what you like and this doesn’t really apply to you. Or perhaps you know what you want to do, but feel like you suck at it and therefore can’t enjoy it properly. In this case I hope this post can help you find a path towards it.

Are there any downsides to exploring and finding a type of movement you love? I don’t think so. It can be surprising – even if you’ve always hated exercise, the right activity might become one of your favourite things. It can become a way of life, a big priority that eats up all your spare time (maybe you’ll even start to blog about it…). But trust me, if you find yourself in this situation, you won’t regret it.

Exercise can make you feel better for the simple reason that it helps release endorphins. You can get an even deeper and longer lasting positive effect through pursuing mastery of an activity. Seeing yourself get significantly better at something is very uplifting. And when you get good enough at something that you don’t have to think about your every move, you can enter a flow state, which some consider an ideal state of happiness. If you choose a more sociable activity, that brings its own benefits of community.

So first of all, it’s important to separate disliking an activity because it isn’t right for you, and not enjoying it just because you’re not fit enough (yet). As an example, some initial aerial classes I took were painful because my ability was so limited, but it’s one of my favourite activities now.

If your physical ability is the blocker, figure out what the one thing that would make the biggest difference in the shortest amount of time is. Focus on fixing just that for a bit. Would you like climbing if you had a stronger upper body? Would you do more circus if you had more flexibility? Would you enjoy dancing if you didn’t feel socially awkward? Would you prefer to play football if you had a team?

If anything like that rings true, then you need to understand that sometimes you need to do a bit of boring or uncomfortable preparation to move forward. I found that doing more pure strength training on the side really magnified my enjoyment of aerial silks. The strength training felt dull in comparison at first, but eventually I began to appreciate it a lot in its own right.

On the other hand, if you honestly think you’ll never enjoy any type of movement, you might just need to try some new things. I doubt there are many people in the world who wouldn’t like a single thing if they had the opportunity to try them all.

What Activity Should You Try?

Of course, you dont have to try every single thing. Asking yourselves some basic questions should help you narrow down the list.

Depending on where you live, location and availability can be a limiting factor. If you live in a remote village, you might not have the required facilities nearby. Do some research and see if any alternatives are possible. For instance, if you want to pole dance, you can install a pole at home – but training alone carries risks. . Or perhaps you love skiing but live in a warm country and can only travel for a week or two a year and need to find something to do the rest of the time.

Another limiting factor can be time. How flexible is your schedule? What works better – few longer sessions or shorter more frequent ones (eg long hike vs some squats at home)? What times of day and how many days can you make time? Notice I said make time, not find time. Often it’s not a question of time, but of priority.

One of the often easier questions to answer is how much you want other people to be involved. In the past, what has been your favourite way to exercise?

  • Individually
    • privately, in the comfort of your own home, or outdoors
    • in a gym, where you can do your own thing, even if other people are around
    • in a class, where you follow what the instructor says, but don’t have to interact with them or other students
  • In a pair
    • a lot of activities require one partner: 1:1 sports such as tennis, some types of dance, climbing, acro yoga, sparring, partner stretching…
    • some people find it easier to do any type of exercise with the support of an accountability partner
    • 1:1 with a personal trainer
  • In a group/team
    • team sports: soccer, basketball, voleyball, etc.
    • classes where you are expected to interact with other students
    • small group courses or retreats where you really get to know other people

Another big criterion is whether you like an element of competition or not. Some people thrive on it, others hate it. In a lot sports it’s optional if you want to avoid it.

How important is artistic/creative expression through movement to you? Unless the answer is “not at all”, consider dance, circus, ice skating… The connection doesn’t even have to be that obvious: for instance, you could find some through creating yoga sequences.

Do you dream of performing in front of a crowd, or is that idea completely repelling? If the first, that is an additional reason to pursue competitive or creative sports.

Do you prefer to exercise indoors or outdoors? If an activity you have in mind supports both, try both options. E.g. running on a treadmill in a gym is a very different experience to running a trail outside. It’s possible you’ll love one and hate the other,

Another factor that I’ve found makes a difference for me is whether movement is focused on speed, endurance or control. These aren’t awlays official or clear categories, but can be a helpful indicator. I usually dislike anything that relies on speed, timing, or generally gets my heart rate high for a long period: running fast, HIIT, some types of dance, many team sports… I am more okay with endurance activites, such as running for distance or hiking. But overall I prefer anything where slow and controlled movement is the goal, for instance yoga or calisthenics.

You can use all of the above to narrow down your options. For example, if you prefer individual non-competitive indoor movement but don’t have the discipline to do it at home, try going to a yoga studio.

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