Make Exercise a Blast (Volume 2)

Dodge, climb and paddle your way to fitness.
Man climbing rock
Hitting the treadmill or the weight room might be fine on a dark, gloomy, winter evening — but when the days get longer and sunnier, those indoor workout sessions can start to make you feel pretty claustrophobic.

Sound familiar? If so, it’s time to go outside and play. The five activities listed below are so much fun, you’ll forget you’re exercising.

Dodgeball
If you haven’t played dodgeball since you were a kid, it’s time to go back to school — this classic playground competition is the ultimate boredom-buster. After all, when else does nailing people with a ball count as exercise?

And unlike its depiction in the 2004 Ben Stiller movie Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story, you don’t have to fear some overzealous bro slamming you in the face with a rubber ball — most amateur leagues use foam “no-sting” balls, and don’t count head shots.

Otherwise, the game is pretty much like you remember it from grade school: Two teams try to pelt each other with balls and avoid being pelted by the other team’s balls. Once you’re hit, you’re out, and if your team eliminates all the other team’s players, you win. You can avoid getting hit by catching the ball, or by dodging it (hence the name). You’ll gain speed, strength and agility from sprinting, turning and jumping on a dime to avoid getting hit. Depending on the intensity of the game, a 200-pound man can burn roughly 455 calories per hour.

“You don’t know how or where you’re going to move until you see the ball coming at you, which means you’re going to keep your body guessing, and you’re going to burn a lot of calories while you do it,” says Neal I. Pire, MS, CSCS, director of training at Volt Fitness in Glen Rock, New Jersey, and an American College of Sports Medicine fellow.

Learning curve: None.

Stand-up paddleboarding
Pro surfers like Laird Hamilton created a boom in popularity for this Hawaiian sport several years ago when they grabbed paddles to power themselves through the water on longboards. Since then, the sport has become a key part of off-season training for skiers and snowboarders, who prize its balance- and core-building power — every time you take a stroke, you’ll engage your entire trunk to move the board forward, and you’ll use every muscle in your legs to stay steady on the board through waves and currents.

Better yet, it’s a blast, and easy to customize to suit your mood and workout needs. Head to flat water on a river or lake if you’re looking for a laid-back activity after a hard workout the previous day. Hit up the ocean or white-water rapids for a challenge (take a lesson and don a helmet before attempting the latter).

Learning curve: It can be tough to find your footing on the board at first, but once you’re standing steady, you’ll be hooked.

Rock climbing
You don’t need to scale Mount Rainier to feel like a hard-core mountaineer; you just need to hit up a local rock-climbing gym. Most climbing gyms offer lessons on beginner routes outdoors, and most will have you feeling like you’re king of the mountain by the time the lesson is through. For tentative climbers, most gyms also offer lessons on their indoor climbing walls as a prep for real-world rock climbing, or as an adventure in and of itself.

“When you’re done ascending a good, long stretch, your heart is pounding out of your chest, and your forearms, shoulders and back are just shot after a good session,” Pire says.

There’s no greater sense of accomplishment than ascending a steep wall using only your own body, and knowing you burned more than 1,000 calories per hour doing so (for a 200-pound man ascending). Plus, rappelling to get back down is pretty awesome.

Learning curve: Slight, if you invest the time in taking a lesson to learn the ropes (har, har).

Outrigger canoeing
The ancient Polynesians created this sport when they paddled to Hawaii in long, narrow canoes with support floats parallel to the main hull.

Outrigger canoeing has gained a huge following on the mainland in recent years, with amateur racing organizations and clubs cropping up in just about every state.

You’ll want to jump on the bandwagon if you’re a water-lover with a need for speed — the outrigger canoe’s long, narrow shape allows it to glide through the water at speeds of up to 10 knots, much faster than many other nonmotorized vessels. Plus, the fast-paced, powerful style of rowing will keep you too focused on the task at hand to think about how hard you’re working (a 200-pound man will burn more than 1,000 calories in an hour-long session).

How it works: You and five of your new best friends will power the boat by taking swift, powerful strokes, working to match each other’s timing and speed to maximize power. “This is a megaworkout for your hips and lower back, and your upper back as well,” Pire says.

Learning curve: Slight. You’ll get the rhythm down by the end of your first session.

Rope courses
If you dream of being the next American Ninja Warrior, you could do worse than visiting a treetop adventure park, or a rope-based obstacle course from treetop to treetop in the woods. These courses, which allow visitors to travel through forests using rope swings, zip lines and sparse rope-and-wood bridges and platforms, have been popular in Europe and South America for years, and have recently seen a surge in popularity in the U.S.

You’ll come to an adventure park for the zip lines and Tarzan swings, which allow you to zoom 50 or more feet above the ground (while clipped to a safety harness). You’ll stay for the challenge of balancing on the rickety footbridges and climbing shaky rope ladders, all of which will improve your balance and coordination, not to mention your strength (remember the rope climb in gym class?).

Learning curve: None. Most adventure parks offer beginner courses so simple and safe, your kids can come along for the ride.

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