Best Activities for When You’re Not a Gym Rat

Ditch the gym membership and get moving in these creative ways.
Published October 5, 2022

Many of us have at one time or another experienced a resistance to going to the gym, whether it’s because we find it intimidating or out of the way, hard to fit into our schedule or we just don’t like exercising in stuffy enclosed spaces. But there are plenty of other ways to stay active – no gym required.

Certified personal trainer and mind-body-soul expert Nicole Fevrier Davis takes an intuitive approach to figuring out what kind of activity suits you.

“I'm sure that I could list all the obvious ways to increase physical activity that you have probably heard before, but I'd like to introduce a slightly different thought: Let's consider your personality first, what kind of personality do you have and what activity level are you used to?” she says.

“If you are a sedentary, quieter, shy, or a loner type of personality who feels intimidated by a gym or the possibility of feeling judged and might need a little more motivation, then you want to first reassure your subconscious mind that you are going to do well and succeed no matter what activity you choose by visualizing your successes during your activity before you begin.”

Fevrier Davis also recommends choosing an activity that complements your activity experience level, interests, and personality.

“Perhaps finding a Tai Chi class, a slow yoga class in a small studio, or simply finding a stretch studio, or you could start with a beginner walking video on YouTube. It's important to do something that won't make you feel that the activity takes too much work. Swimming for example, might take too much time or changing of clothes, or dealing with a wet bathing suit in your bag might be too much of a hassle and prevent you from enjoying it long term.”

If you’re more outgoing and enjoy being with other people, and are maybe even a little competitive, she adds, you might want to find an activity that incorporates that, such as an adult volleyball, soccer or disc golf team.

“If you are very outgoing and love to move and dance but hate a gym, try out for a local dance theatre production. Many have extolled the virtues of being involved in the rehearsals for a show and inadvertently losing weight in the process.”

For Caroline Grainger, ISSA Certified Personal Trainer at FitnessTrainer Online Personal Trainers, sometimes the basics are best.

“Perhaps the best single building block of a strong fitness routine is taking walks,” she says. “It's something that people can do almost anywhere they live, and it has health benefits for everyone from small children to the elderly, and everyone from couch potatoes to elite athletes. Walking gets your heart rate elevated enough to provide benefits to metabolism, cardiovascular health and mood, and it also gets you out in your community in an easy, sustainable way.”

If you want to build off of walking and create a more intense workout, Grainger suggests adding calisthenics and body-weight exercises either at home or in a nearby park before or after your walks.

Matt Scarfo, a NASM-certified personal trainer and resident training expert at Lift Vault, builds on that by suggesting hiking as a gym alternative.

“While I love working out, I actually love being outside more than the gym. Hiking is a great form of activity because you get to experience a new environment and connect with nature. There’s no expectation to look or act a certain way, and you build your lower body in a unique way that you couldn’t on a treadmill or walking around the neighbourhood. Climbing a mountain, stepping over rocks and hauling a backpack with water and nutrition is a great way to build your strength so you can handle other activities, and improve your cardiovascular health. There’s likely a hiking path near you, even if you live in an urban environment, so it’s accessible to almost everyone.”

If you’d rather stay indoors, Scarfo recommends heading over to YouTube.

“There are plenty of videos, from yoga to dance fitness and traditional calisthenics that can help you add activity into your routine. The great part about YouTube is you can often find the perfect workout to fit your likes and your schedule, so you can exercise just the way you like to. There’s no cost, and no barrier to entry, just log in and start sweating.”

What’s important is that you get active, and find things you like to do – whatever that may be.

Personal trainer and powerlifter Robert S. Herbst points out that any movement is good, even in small increments, and those increments all add up.

“Many in the wellness space are moving away from advising people to exercise and instead encouraging them to do physical activity. The CDC and WHO talk about minutes of physical activity in their guidelines. While many people enjoy traditional activities such as lifting weights or running, others are encouraged to do anything they enjoy that gets them moving, from gardening to hiking to biking to the store. … Along the way, they should try to do activities that build muscular and skeletal strength as well as cardiovascular health. This can include things like rock climbing as well as housework. Everything counts and people should be creative and use their imagination. Fitness should be enjoyable on the way to enjoying its benefits.”

Activity roundup

Here’s a roundup of activity ideas from our experts and beyond – there are tons of ways to get active without stepping foot inside a gym. Just find the ones that speak to you.

1. Swimming

2. Walking – take the dog out, meet up with friends, or even join a walking club

3. Spinning – cycle to loud music in a dark studio, kind of like a nightclub

4. Jump rope

5. Adult trampoline classes

6. Adult gymnastics classes

7. Tai Chi

8. Yoga

9. Stretching

10. Dancing – try joining a local theatre group or signing up for a studio class

11. At-home workouts using online videos – there’s something for everyone

12. Join an adult sports team – pickle ball, hockey, volleyball, disc golf – the possibilities abound

13. Hiking

14. Rock climbing

15. Biking

16. Kayaking or canoeing

17. Jogging