Recently, I started dragging my feet on the way to a workout. My excitement for fitness had started to fizzle. I had hit a plateau where it felt routine and, well, boring. While I exercise regularly – running, biking, surfing and working out at the gym in bad weather – I realized a key ingredient was missing from my routine: competition. I missed the adrenaline rush you get from playing against someone. In New York, we fight a lot of worthless battles – jockeying for space in a crowded subway train, competing for the attention of a bartender and, yes, scuffling in the street for a cab. Team sport offers us something healthy to fight over. After struggling to get excited for a long run, I knew I needed to feed off someone else’s energy. I needed to compete and I needed to win – or at least try to. I’d thought about joining a soccer team, but it’s hard to commit to a regular game schedule with my irregular travel schedule. Tennis allowed a little more flexibility. I could schedule matches with other people on the ladder anytime over a pretty basic website. Also, I played tennis fairly regularly as a kid and figured I could pick it up again with a few more decades of play in me yet. So I joined a league in my neighborhood (I’m lucky enough to live near some pretty good city courts).
During my first match, I came out strong but fizzled quickly. My serve had enough authority to convince me I still had “it.” I took a game and my opponent took two. He took a third and I took another. It was a match! But my serve vanished by the time the score reached 5-2, at which point I lost the set. With the mantras of my childhood tennis coach repeating “Look alive boys! Ready positions!” pulsing through my head, I launched into the next set. My opponent and I battled to deuce four times with multiple break points. I played better the second set, but lost 6-0. By the end I was exhausted. But the match was easily one of the most fun workouts I had had in months. Lost but not defeated, as the saying goes. With a little competition back in my life I learned something I had totally forgot: losing can feel very good.
Here are three more ways to be a good sport.
Let’s be clear: Getting into running can be painful. Practically no other sport challenges the body as immediately as running. It’s high impact and new runners can expect some pain in the knees, side stitches and, of course, those shin splints. But if you can break though the initial barrier with regular runs – never pushing yourself too hard – you’ll be running pain-free in a short matter of time.
Running is pure exercise; all you need is a good pair of sneakers, but getting your gait analysis is key to finding the right ones. Most people don’t even know that running shoes are made for certain gates (over-pronators, under-pronators, neutral). Chances are you might have even spent years in the wrong shoes and it could be contributing to knee pain or joint discomfort right now. So once you find the shoe you like, stick with it. I’m partial to a pair of Brooks running shoes (I’m on my fourth pair).
If you’re brand new to running, do three 30-minute runs per week. Don’t worry about distance, just get running for that all-important half-hour. If you need to stop or walk, don’t sweat it – but keep at it for a few weeks. You will notice increased stamina very quickly, and soon you’ll be counting miles and buying your second pair of sneakers to replace your worn out ones.
If you want to start floating like a butterfly, you’re going to need a good gym and a good coach. Boxing will not only get you in excellent shape, it will help build mental toughness as well. And, of course, you’ll be able to take out some pent up frustration on a bag. When you join a gym, get yourself a good pair of gloves, hand wraps and some new shoes. This assumes you have shorts and a shirt. Once you start training with a partner, you’ll need headgear, a mouth guard, a groin and/or chest protector and sparing gloves.
Geared up? Then you and your instructor can work on your stance and your punch. Forget about bouncing around like Mohammad Ali; that will just waste your energy and wear you out. Instead, focus on keeping your weight evenly distributed on your feet with your knees bent. Hands should be up in front of your face with your dominant hand in back. After working on some basic footwork, you’re ready to start throwing punches. Remember to exhale as you throw your punch. Clench your fist and muscles on impact and release as you pull your hand back. It’s key to stay relaxed.
And there you go… stinging like a bee.
Learn to swim today and you can do it for life, thanks to the low-impact nature of the sport. It’s also a great way to mix up your exercise routine.
Make sure you get a good pair of goggles. I find those with a solid nose bridge piece leak less, but that depends on your face shape. Experiment with a few models until you find the right fit. And guys, time to ditch the board shorts for something a little more streamlined; there are tons of options that will drag less without going full on Speedo.
When you’re just getting your feet wet as a swimmer, aim for doing 20 minutes non-stop. You can rotate strokes but the breaststroke and freestyle will probably be your go-to moves. Make sure to vary your pace with a few fast laps to get the heart going. Soon you’ll be working on flip turns and getting up to 60-minute swims.
What sports do you play to stay fit (and actually stick with it)? Let us know in the comments below.