Physically Demanding Sport a Layperson Can Get Into
February 24, 2018 10:30 AM   Subscribe

Any creative suggestions for a sport that will really challenge my body, that I can participate in without prior connections or too much expensive equipment?

So I was always a very athletic person who just decided that sports weren't the number one thing I wanted to do, so dropped them before high school. Now I'm coming to realize that an outlet for my physical and competitive energy is actually a great thing for my emotional health. Does anyone have any ideas for any extremely challenging/demanding sports that a person can get into at 26 years old without too much expensive equipment? I really want the thrill of doing something that's a major challenge for my body and mind, and am looking for options that aren't just running (though running is totally an option). Also I don't do any sports right now, but I've been a professional backpacking guide and through hiking/running quite a bit have a higher than average fitness level now. I've also got a month without work where I could really throw myself into training for something before I become busy again.
posted by Wanderwhale to Health & Fitness (29 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
If there's a climbing gym nearby, indoor climbing.
posted by spacewrench at 10:34 AM on February 24, 2018 [16 favorites]

Swimming and rock climbing/bouldering come to mind
posted by Giggilituffin at 10:35 AM on February 24, 2018 [1 favorite]

I would suggest rock climbing, and specifically bouldering (in a rock gym) to start since there’s a very low equipment commitment and you can do it alone. It is both intuitive and yet very physically and mentally challenging. If you like it you can gradually increase your gear investment and check out roped climbing.
posted by Cogito at 10:36 AM on February 24, 2018

It maybe sounds like you are talking about something more individual/self-directed, but I also realized "that an outlet for my physical and competitive energy is actually a great thing for my emotional health" and martial arts has truly changed my life. It's extremely physically challenging, mentally occupying (running just gives me time to ruminate), and competitive (tournaments). It required a little bit of equipment but it's easy to get stuff used.
posted by raspberrE at 10:37 AM on February 24, 2018 [2 favorites]

May I suggest ice skating. Cost outlay: cost of skates; and punch ticket to your nearest indoor rink.
posted by BostonTerrier at 10:40 AM on February 24, 2018

If it's available where you are, cross-country skiing is the best, often available on free or cheap trails, and you can usually rent modest skis for cheap (and get used ones if you decide you like it). It's like trail running in that it can be just a nice way to be outdoors, or it can be a super intense workout with basically unlimited endurance races available. It'd fit well with your backpacking/hiking, if you get into it.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:44 AM on February 24, 2018 [3 favorites]

Learn to planche and V-sit. No equipment necessary.
posted by rhizome at 11:00 AM on February 24, 2018 [2 favorites]

Roller derby is extremely demanding , kit can get very expensive but if you buy second hand, a full beginners kits shouldn't set you back more than $150-$300 - a lot of leagues have kit you can hire while you're still deciding if its the sport for you but it might not fit in with your timetable - some leagues allow beginners to joint at any time but others have set schedules where they take in newbies, although if you have a local skate rink you could practice your skills there in the month you have and while you wait for your local leagues new intake. Access to leagues will depend on location and gender - female leagues are far more numerous than male or co-ed leagues.
posted by missmagenta at 11:13 AM on February 24, 2018

I am a broken record about this, but cycling changed my life. I have an expensive bike NOW, but you can go on Craigslist and get something perfectly serviceable for $400-$700 if you're careful. If you can spend $1000 comfortably, you can get something nice and shiny and new, or something worth about 2x that used.

Group rides are a wonderful way to find an additional tribe of friends. It's a super encouraging culture; most larger rides have pace groups (usually called A, B, and C, with A being crazy people like me and C being very casual folks sometimes still using flat-bar hybrid bikes) so everyone can find a place. Sometimes folks start with C, and get fitter and faster and find themselves moving through B to A, even, but there's no real pressure to do that unless you WANT it.

That said, I was a very regular customer of a local climbing gym for years in my 20s, and I loved that, too, but I needed something as I got a little older that had more of a cardio component.
posted by uberchet at 11:23 AM on February 24, 2018 [3 favorites]

Rugby takes players to the limit.
Expect injuries though, and few players compete after 30.
posted by littlewater at 11:47 AM on February 24, 2018

Ultimate Frisbee is significantly athletic, the people tend to be nice and you don't need specialist equipment to play.
posted by terretu at 11:49 AM on February 24, 2018 [6 favorites]

When I was your age I loved pickup basketball.

Hard to beat for aerobic fitness and competition, and it strengthens your legs in ways cycling and running just can't.
posted by jamjam at 11:53 AM on February 24, 2018 [1 favorite]

Bouldering is great. I got into it for similar reasons, and had been climbing solo at the gym and taking lessons. But after falling on my ankle funny (at the gym with the squishy floor and everything) I snapped my tibia and it came out the side of my leg. Between the compound tibia fracture, several surgeries, a month or two in bed in a haze of painkillers, a few more months learning to walk again, and an overall injury-to-recovery timeline of 7 months, I can't really recommend it anymore. I've met a fair number of other folks with orthopedic steel in the legs or vertebrae thanks to bouldering.

Top roping at a gym, on the other hand, is very safe.
posted by cnidaria at 12:28 PM on February 24, 2018 [2 favorites]

I loved boxing and kickboxing - extremely physically demanding, but very beginner-friendly as far as learning the basic techniques goes. Other than classes/gym access, all you need are gloves and wraps, and those are pretty inexpensive. (Also a good choice if you prefer having your feet on the ground - I’m too scared of falling for climby or skatey activities.)
posted by Metroid Baby at 12:52 PM on February 24, 2018 [2 favorites]

HEMA (historical European martial arts ), if there’s a club near you. It involves learning to use historical weapons, but it’s not at all the same as role play or re-enactment. It’s really a sport (I dabble, but I don’t really have the strength or stamina). It might be pricey for you at the tournament level though. Here’s a pretty good New York Times article. Here’s a site that shows where there are clubs.
posted by FencingGal at 1:23 PM on February 24, 2018 [1 favorite]

Seconding swimming. You use all of your body. It’s only as expensive as the cost of a suit and the y or gym (or perhaps free, if you have a public one near you) and goggles and cap if you’re feeling flush. I’m thrilled with my decision to start swimming.
posted by greermahoney at 1:24 PM on February 24, 2018

Ice skating and swimming changed my life back in the day. Join a master's swim team.
posted by jgirl at 1:24 PM on February 24, 2018

Another vote for basketball. Highly competitive, incredible aerobic workout, ultra cheap, you can play by yourself or up to nine other people, and you can be really bad and still find a place to fit in in most any adult game (try your ass off on defense and you will be a net positive for 99% of pick up games even if you can’t hit a shot to save your life).
posted by skewed at 1:45 PM on February 24, 2018

Soccer! The only equipment you need is pair of shoes, a pair of socks, shinguards, and a ball. You could set yourself up for less than $100. Finding pickup games is pretty easy on Meetup, and if you can find a wall you can practice by yourself.

Basketball is great too, but all the jumping takes a toll after a while.
posted by asterix at 2:19 PM on February 24, 2018

To combine several of the previous suggestions: you should train for a triathlon.
posted by mmascolino at 2:27 PM on February 24, 2018 [1 favorite]

Brazilian jiu jitsu. It’s an extremely physically demanding sport, and one of the few martial arts where full-contact, full-strength sparring is an integral part of it from day 1. Classes can be a bit pricy depending on where you are, but the only gear you need is a gi, which you can get for fifty bucks on Amazon.
posted by Itaxpica at 2:49 PM on February 24, 2018 [3 favorites]

posted by speakeasy at 3:42 PM on February 24, 2018

Rowing(crew) is quite fun and most clubs have learn to row classes in the spring.
posted by rockindata at 4:01 PM on February 24, 2018 [1 favorite]

Why only one? Try as many as you can and see what sticks. Playing multiple sports diversifies your portfolio, so to speak. In addition to each working different muscles, you're protecting yourself against an inability to play. What I mean is, skiing is wonderful, but it's not much help in the middle of summer. I love tennis, but it gets boring without a partner. Running is pretty miserable in the rain. When you play a bunch of different sports, there's rarely a reason not to play.

Most sports are pretty cheap to start, too. All you need is a ball for soccer, basketball, volleyball, touch football, and many others. Add in a racquet for tennis or racquetball, or a bat for baseball (batting cages). You could pick up all you need to get started with all seven of those for under $100. And a lot of sports with higher costs of entry (cycling, skiing, skating) have rental opportunities so you only need to lay out a few bucks to see if you're interested.

Allow me to suggest picking one endurance sport (running, cycling, XC skiing), one team sport (basketball or soccer being the easiest), and one individual sport (maybe tennis). That'll give you a good balance of muscle usage, endurance, and power.
posted by kevinbelt at 5:24 PM on February 24, 2018

Seconding boxing/kickboxing. Best workout I've ever had, and heavy bag work is as good as any therapy I've ever had.
posted by sapere aude at 5:43 PM on February 24, 2018

Olympic weightlifting. It’s one of the most difficult sports there is. You’d have to find a club/coach. You could not get even remotely proficient at it in a month. There are organized competitions throughout the year all over the country.
posted by MjrMjr at 7:03 PM on February 24, 2018

Since you like hiking and were a backpacking guide, you might like orienteering. It's basically competitive hiking/wayfinding. Find a club near you, turn up on the day of the event, pay $5 for a compass and a map (less if you already have a compass) and off you go! There are typically courses of varying difficulty. Some people run the duration whole course, and some people do it as a leisurely stroll. Really fun either way.
posted by BusyBusyBusy at 3:40 AM on February 25, 2018

Hm, I thought I commented on this one but I guess it got lost. I came here to say roller derby as well! Great community, very demanding sport. Happy to answer any questions about it :)
posted by theRussian at 6:26 PM on February 27, 2018

A friend just did her first Iron Man at age 47 and says she can't wait to do another.
posted by The corpse in the library at 4:01 PM on March 1, 2018

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