The Best Sports for a Great Workout

Below view of young man and woman playing squash

BraunS / E+ / Getty Images

Let’s face it, spending hours in the gym can sometimes feel like a real grind, especially if you prefer competitive or recreational sports over traditional cardio and resistance training workouts. But if you’re trying to get fit or maintain a certain level of health, committing to a consistent workout schedule is likely toward the top of your to-do list.

The good news is, you don’t have to set foot in the gym to get be competitive or boost your overall fitness. In fact, you can get all of that, and much more, by participating in your favorite sports several days a week. Here are some sports that will help improve your fitness.

Road Cycling and Mountain Biking

Roads or trails, fast or slow, cycling is one of the best sports you can do for overall fitness. Not only do you get a fantastic aerobic workout, but your leg muscles—more specifically the quads, glutes, and hamstrings—will also feel the burn after putting in a few miles. Plus, research has shown that for cyclists, especially those with diabetes, cycling can lower risk of premature mortality.

There are also bikes appropriate for all ages and stages. Intermediate to advanced levels can participate in road cycling and mountain biking, while beginners can start with paved trails. If you’re looking to satisfy your competitive side, consider entering a road or mountain bike race. 

Squash, Racquetball or Tennis

It’s not uncommon to see squash and racquetball courts full of people of all ages and fitness levels. That’s because a game of squash or racquetball can range from an entry-level sport to a highly competitive, intense workout. The key to making these fast-paced activities approachable for a beginner is to slow down the pace of the game.

Squash, racquetball, and even tennis target the muscles in your back, shoulders, arms, chest, quads, glutes, and hamstrings, while also working your core. Racquet sports have also been shown to lower the risk of cardiovascular disease mortality.

Combine that with the endurance, speed, balance, and agility, required to compete and you will quickly see how these two sports can give you a phenomenal workout while also burning a ton of calories.

18 Holes of Golf

Contrary to what you might think, you don’t need an expensive set of clubs to head out on the course. But, what you do need is a supportive pair of shoes.

In order for golf to make the list of best sports for fitness, you need to walk all 18 holes while carrying or pushing your clubs. When walking the course, golf can have multiple health benefits, including in cardiovascular and respiratory health. Plus, golf is a sport you can participate in at any life stage.

Water Sports—Rowing, Kayaking, Paddle Boarding, Canoeing 

Rowing, kayaking, canoeing, and paddle boarding offer a fun fitness solution for anyone who enjoys being outdoors. These sports all increase your heart rate, boost your muscular endurance and strength, and turn your body into a calorie-burning machine. If you’re looking to compete in a sport that requires rowing, consider joining an outrigger team.

Swimming

Activities that require your upper and lower body muscles to work together rank high on the "best sports for fitness" list. Swimming is the perfect full-body workout for anyone looking for an intense and competitive outlet that requires both strength and endurance. It’s also a smart solution for anyone needing a sport or activity that is easy on the joints.

Plus, swimming is a year-round sport with various levels of competition, so you always have something to work toward. If you’re interested in signing up for organized, competitive swim events, consider joining U.S. Masters Swimming.

Triathlon

Whether you’re a lifelong athlete looking to test your endurance and strength, or an exercise beginner needing a goal to work toward, training for a triathlon is the ultimate sport for fitness.

The combination of running, biking, and swimming will challenge every muscle in your body and boost your aerobic and anaerobic fitness. With distances ranging from the shorter sprint competition all the way up to a full Ironman event, there's something for every fitness level.

Basketball and Volleyball

Basketball and volleyball offer the physical benefits of a great workout while giving you the chance to let your competitive side shine. These sports require you to perform sprints, pivots, jumps, and slams, which tax the cardiovascular system and strengthen every muscle in your body. Plus, if you are playing volleyball in the sand, your muscles will have to work harder.

While both sports are appropriate for most levels, it’s important to note that beginners should start with a skills and drills class before moving to games or matches. There is a lot of movement required for both sports, so the risk of injury is high, especially if you have never played either sport before.

A Word From Verywell

While some of these activities require an organized team, special equipment, or a designated space to play, others just require time, energy, and, and your willingness to work hard and have fun.

That said, you don’t need to spend a lot of money to get started in any one of these sports. Many recreational programs provide the space and the equipment; while a quick Google search can produce thousands of used items for sale. Just be sure to talk to a healthcare provider before adding a new activity to your exercise regimen.

Was this page helpful?
6 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Ried-Larsen M, Rasmussen MG, Blond K, et al. Association of cycling with all-cause and cardiovascular disease mortality among persons with diabetes: the european prospective investigation into cancer and nutrition (Epic) study. JAMA Internal Medicine. 2021;181(9):1196-1205. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2021.3836

  2. Oja P, Kelly P, Pedisic Z, et al. Associations of specific types of sports and exercise with all-cause and cardiovascular-disease mortality: A cohort study of 80 306 British adults. Br J Sports Med. 2017;51(10):812-817. doi:10.1136/bjsports-2016-096822

  3. Murray AD, Daines L, Archibald D, et al. The relationships between golf and health: a scoping review. Br J Sports Med. 2017;51(1):12-19. doi:10.1136/bjsports-2016-096625

  4. Gee TI, Caplan N, Gibbon KC, Howatson G, Thompson KG. Investigating the effects of typical rowing strength training practices on strength and power development and 2,000 m rowing performance. Journal of Human Kinetics. 2016;50:167. doi:10.1515/hukin-2015-0153

  5. Lo GH, Ikpeama UE, Driban JB, et al. Evidence that swimming may be protective of knee osteoarthritis: Data from the osteoarthritis initiative. PM R. 2020;12(6):529-537. doi:10.1002/pmrj.12267

  6. Etxebarria N, Mujika I, Pyne DB. Training and competition readiness in triathlon. Sports. 2019;7(5). doi:10.3390/sports7050101

Additional Reading