Practical alternatives to weightlifting?
February 19, 2015 1:36 PM   Subscribe

I'd like to become physically stronger. I've tried weightlifting, but I have trouble staying interested in repetitive tasks without a practical, tangible goal ("get muscles" is a goal, I guess, but somehow it's not enough to keep me focused). What are some practical, everyday, hobby-like activities I can get interested in that might help me become stronger?

I don't care about losing weight; I'd just like to have stronger muscles—I'm super weak and feel useless and frail, and I want to feel stronger, more capable, more confident and sure of myself, and more at home in my body.

I struggle to stay invested in exercise purely for exercise's sake, so I'm hoping to get into something that's more like a productive activity. (I also really liked this comment about how exercise shouldn't have to cost money, and I like the idea of exercising more "naturally" or incidentally, if that makes sense.) I liked some ideas in this post about unexpected ways of getting stronger arms (like pottery or ping-pong); however, I'm looking for ways to get fit all over, not just in my arms (if possible).

So far my list is: gardening and possibly rock climbing. What are some other hobbies I could get into that might make me stronger?

(P.S. Even though weightlifting hasn't been a great hobby for me, I think it's awesome for those who are into it—no offense intended to weightlifters through this question!)
posted by honey wheat to Health & Fitness (24 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
I approach fitness from a similar mindset; I can't handle the gym, but outdoor sports motivate me a lot. So I'd second rock climbing, and particularly bouldering -- if you're climbing without a rope it allows you to get a lot more actually-pulling-down-on-holds and less screwing around with ropes/partners/etc. Mountain biking, backcountry skiing, and whitewater kayaking all have the same effect on me, though they're not as muscle-focused (or at least not as fast-twitch-muscle-focused).

As for other activities, chopping wood or clearing brush are up there, as are a lot of farming-related tasks, but they're often not the sort of thing you'll have much call for unless you live on a sizable piece of property.
posted by craven_morhead at 1:47 PM on February 19, 2015 [3 favorites]

I'd like to suggest yoga as a possibility. It's great to have an hour with no distractions where someone guides you through devilishly simple moves that really do strengthen you from head to toes!
posted by starscream at 1:49 PM on February 19, 2015 [4 favorites]

I think your question is interesting because weightlifting is the one fitness thing I've been able to enjoy, specifically because it has very quick tangible results in terms of the amount of weight I can lift, which (at least for the first while) increases pretty much every time you train.

So, just in case you were training with low weights and high reps and machines and whatnot, which I would also find quite boring, I'm going to suggest trying lifting free weights, and lifting heavy weights for low reps, and see if that works better for you. As a bonus, the workouts are done very quickly and you have to put in a lot of rest days or it doesn't work!

If you do try that, get somebody knowledgeable to show you how to do it.
posted by emilyw at 1:57 PM on February 19, 2015 [7 favorites]

Best answer: Since you find rockclimbing appealing, you might enjoy volunteering with organizations that maintain hiking and mountain-bike trails.

Trail maintenance activities can include: shoveling dirt, shifting rocks (they work up through the ground over the winter, or bears move them looking for ant nests), chainsawing fallen trees, tossing logs, trundling wheelbarrows, cutting vines with shears held high above your head, cutting brambles with hedgecutters (they're heavy enough that my back muscles can't take it for long), squatting while moving about in the undergrowth killing invasive species, etc. etc. Not to mention hiking to and from the section of trail you're working on, while carrying tools.

Also, since you're a volunteer, you'll have a coach who really really wants to keep you motivated.
posted by feral_goldfish at 1:57 PM on February 19, 2015 [6 favorites]

Hand tool woodworking! Rip sawing or dimensioning stock by hand won't turn you into the Hulk but it'll get you sweating and breathing hard (just realizing that I always try to make it sound so sexy -not sure why).
posted by bonobothegreat at 2:02 PM on February 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

Honey wheat, if you don't mind me asking, what was your lifting routine? I don't do well when I go into the gym without a plan and goals, but when I'm on a fairly strict, goal-oriented routine (something like 5/3/1 or BFS), I find it a lot easier to hit the gym.

Yoga might be a good option; you can go to a class or do it on the cheap at home via an app or DVD. There are also lots of other bodyweight fitness routines floating around out there that you might enjoy. r/bodyweightfitness is a great resource for routines, information, and inspiration.
posted by protocoach at 2:02 PM on February 19, 2015 [4 favorites]

a regular, challenging yoga practice will definitely make you stronger (I've got rock-hard legs and biceps now!)
posted by bearette at 2:33 PM on February 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'm starting with body weight fitness, and my only goal is to do one more rep than I did yesterday.
I'm doing a modification of the 7 Minute Fitness routine.
Here are my exercises:

Jumping Jacks
Push Up
Mountain Climbers
Hip Raise

I do each of these for 40 seconds and then rest for 20.
The only thing I do is count how many reps I can get done in those 40 seconds.
Then I add them up.
For planks, they always count as 40.
For example, there are 8 exercises and let's say I did 40 reps, and that's a total of 320 reps.

The next day, or the next workout, I try to do one more than I did the day before.
That would be 321.

In the beginning I started out SLOW, so I could focus on form, doing the exercise correctly with the maximum amount of ROI and minimum amount of OHMYGODTHATHURTS.
Even if I just did ONE perfect one, at least I learned how to do a perfect one and not get my dumb ass hurt.

I feel better, I feel like I'm accomplishing something.
I'm sleeping better. I'm getting bigger and better defined.

And so on.
posted by John Kennedy Toole Box at 2:34 PM on February 19, 2015 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Volunteer at a food bank or Habitat for Humanity's restore. That could be a lot of lifting.
posted by maurreen at 4:06 PM on February 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'm going to suggest this because for once, I'd like to see someone do this in real life. (Louis Cyr started the process, but wimped out halfway through.)

Go to a farm in the spring after the baby animals are born. Find a mellow animal mom who will let you pick up her newborn lamb or kid or, if you're ambitious, foal or calf. Pet it, pick it up and put it down a couple of times, pet it again, and go home.

Come back the next day and do the same thing.

Repeat until the animal is fully grown and you are a rippling mass of muscle.

So yeah, it's weightlifting, but it's adorable weightlifting.
posted by maudlin at 5:41 PM on February 19, 2015 [10 favorites]

Martial arts?

(Weightlifting is sort of the thing that's most effective at getting you what you want, though. You could do a very basic full-body routine in 30-40 minutes once every five days, even that would help. Although the farming activities people have talked about have their appeal!)
posted by cotton dress sock at 5:52 PM on February 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Same!
(No, seriously, I'd love the results of weightlifting, but gym based exercise for the sake of exercise, bores me to frustration).

Things I enjoyed:
Rock climbing
Judo (you learn to fall down without hurting yourself! Super useful! Then you pick up other human beings and throw them around!)
Hiking (with a pack - the longer you go, the heavier the pack, as you need to take tent etc)

Don't underestimate the effect of throwing on a backpack and walking home with your groceries, from supermarket or farmers market. It adds up, and maintains strength.
posted by Elysum at 7:00 PM on February 19, 2015

There's something special about a disciplined practice in tedium. Monks do it. It basically is exactly what meditation is. could you approach weightlifting that way?

If not, try rowing (kayaking maybe). Great for upper body and core.
posted by jander03 at 10:20 PM on February 19, 2015

Also not an alternative per se, but on the rare occasions I'm at the gym, I like weightlifting because it's repetitive and I can think about other things. I especially like audiobooks and podcasts coz makes it feel more 'productive' than "just sitting there exercising".
posted by yeahlikethat at 10:31 PM on February 19, 2015

I'd like to throw in a recommendation for boxing/kickboxing, because that actually made me willing to hit the gym several times a week. Pounding the crap out of a heavy bag doesn't feel like tedious exercise, but definitely makes you stronger as a side effect. Basically any sport that you're willing to pursue as an amateur, though, will have an impact. Dancing will give you better endurance and core strength, or if you're the adventurous type, maybe try parkour. The traceurs I know are all built like gymnasts, and that's something you can do on your way to/from places.
posted by tautological at 11:01 PM on February 19, 2015

Best answer: Mixing and pouring concrete. For infrastructure or art.

Not just gardening: rock gardening.

Litter campaign volunteer. Especially around waterways.

Technical theater, which has elements of moving furniture, carpentry, and lugging sound and lighting.
posted by GPF at 2:52 AM on February 20, 2015

came in to suggest yoga. you use your own body weight, and being able to go farther and deeper into a specific pose from one week to the next was always an incentive for me.
posted by sabh at 9:54 AM on February 20, 2015

I don't like the gym or weight lifting either. I'm curious about what your plan/program/routine was.

Part of my problem is that going to the gym always seems like a such a production for something that I don't really like doing. I never found any alternatives that I would like enough to do for it's own sake and would fit in my schedule or, more honestly, that took little enough time that I could stay motivated to keep doing it.

Instead, I bought a used weight set off of craigslist and put in my basement. Then I went to work on Starting Strength but only twice a week instead of three. So now I just throw on some workout clothes, grab some water, and go downstairs to workout. Even with a good warm-up 3 sets of 5 reps doesn't take a ton of time and each workout is only three movements. Then I run upstairs, take a quick shower, get dressed and go about my day.

Though I did have to switch to a different, similar program to keep progressing, I've been able to maintain the habit for over two years straight now and I've missed less than a handful of workouts over that time. I still don't like doing it but it doesn't take much time so I just suck it up and get it done and I LOVE the results.

It also helps that I have a long-term goal of being able to dead lift 400Lbs (I'm currently up to 335Lbs). Once I hit that mark I'll stop adding weight and just keep trying to add reps for as long as I can before I die. So I have a goal that, if I reach it, I get to stop trying so hard and things should feel a little easier. I have a spreadsheet printed out with all of the weights that I'm supposed to be lifting in each set and I make notes on it so I can see the progress and I'm genuinly excited for the day when I get to "stop" as I've defined it for myself.

So clearly I think you should give weightlifting another shot. If you don't another idea is going for walks or hiking carrying a weighted vest or some other, evenly distributed, weight (I worry about a heavy backpack causing an injury or developing some muscles faster than others). You might still need to work on parts of your upper body but it should give you a good workout on your legs and core.
posted by VTX at 10:10 AM on February 20, 2015

I've always hated the repetition of gym exercise. I love yoga and rock climbing; both have made me stronger and more confident in my body's ability to bend and hold. I haven't lost any weight from it, but the weight redistributed itself a bit as my core strengthened.
posted by serelliya at 1:33 PM on February 20, 2015

posted by WeekendJen at 2:30 PM on February 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

The people I know who do hula-hooping (and who do hoop isolation tricks) have really, really toned arms and abs.
posted by megancita at 3:28 PM on February 20, 2015

I haven't done any 'exercise' in almost a year. About three times a week, I go to the bouldering gym, simply because "try to get to the top of an interesting puzzle" is the most entertaining thing I can think of to do with the evening.

Having been scrawny all my life, I just changed my body type on OKC to 'athletic'. This stuff is seriously the magic potion.
posted by piato at 4:41 AM on February 21, 2015

Response by poster: Thanks for all the thoughtful answers! I've highlighted a few that I think I am most likely to try out. I appreciate the help!
posted by honey wheat at 8:36 PM on February 22, 2015

Best answer: I'm posting awfully late, sorry, but did want to echo the suggestion of finding somewhere to volunteer. A lot of charitable organizations are plagued by people who are there just to earn community service hours for school/legal reasons, and only want to do the bare minimum. So an organization that may look fully staffed, may still be desperate for someone to show up and do the literal heavy lifting.

I may as well mention my particular thing, which is helping give kids physical therapy through horse riding. Stables that do this are all over the place throughout the US and generally are happy to take volunteers with no horse experience. The work I do is hella hard - there's plenty that I am just not able to do yet, though I'm getting there. Lots of lifting and shifting heavy gear, and lots of running alongside horses to assist the rider.

Just a thought - and if that doesn't sound like the thing for you, I bet there are a lot of other similar opportunities out there in the field of physical therapy / disability assistance, where you'd be using (and building) your own strength to help someone else who is less able.
posted by jessicapierce at 9:40 AM on February 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

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