The Best Sports for a Great Workout

Improve Your Fitness Level Without Setting Foot in the Gym

Below view of young man and woman playing squash

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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 towards the top of your to-do list.

The good news is, you don’t have to set foot in the gym to get your competitive fix 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. So, if you’re ready to improve your fitness but prefer competitive sports to a gym, give one of these competitive activities a try.

Road Cycling and Mountain Biking

Road 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 and more specifically the quads, glutes, and hamstrings will also feel the burn after putting in a few miles. Plus, there are 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

Calories used per hour for a 154-pound person: Expect to burn approximately 580 calories riding at a moderate pace of 10 mph or less. Pedal faster and you can burn up to 1200 calories in an hour.

Squash and Racquetball

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. Both squash and racquetball target the muscles in your back, shoulders, arms, chest, quads, glutes, and hamstrings, while also working your core. 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.

Calories used per hour for a 154-pound person: Expect to burn anywhere between 600 and 800 calories playing a game of squash or racquetball. The higher the intensity, the higher the calorie burn.

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 and possibly a cart, because, 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.

Calories used per hour for a 154-pound person: Expect to burn approximately 330 calories playing one hour of golf. Increase that to around three hours for 18 holes, and you can burn 1000 calories. 

Water Sports: Rowing, Kayaking, Paddle Boarding, Canoeing 

Rowing, kayaking, canoeing, and paddleboarding 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.

Calories used per hour for a 154-pound person: Expect to burn approximately 372 calories kayaking, rowing, or canoeing, and 408 to 450 calories paddleboarding or competing in an outrigger event.

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

Calories used per hour for a 154-pound person: Expect to burn approximately 532 calories in one hour of moderate-paced swimming. Increase your stroke speed, and you will see that number increase to 744 calories per hour.

The Three Legs of a Triathlon

Whether you’re a lifelong athlete looking to test your endurance and strength, or an exercise newbie needing a goal to work towards, 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.

Calories used per hour for a 154-pound person: Expect to burn approximately 590 calories jogging at 5mph, 580 calories cycling at a moderate pace for an hour, and 532 calories swimming at a moderate pace for an hour.

Court Sports: Basketball, Volleyball, and Tennis

Basketball, volleyball, and tennis all 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. While all three 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.

Calories used per hour for a 154-pound person: Expect to burn approximately 600 calories running up and down the court playing a game of hoops, 300 calories passing and spiking the volleyball, and 600 calories playing an hour-long tennis match.

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 bunch 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.

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