The Exercise Category deals mostly with the efficiency and improvement of exercise, with the goal of maximizing personal fitness.
- Strength training
- High intensity interval training (HIIT)
- Moderate intensity cardio
- Low intensity steady state (LISS) cardio
- Flexibility training
- Injury prevention
Despite me constantly going on about how everything ought to be backed up by methodologically-sound, double-blind, peer-reviewed scientific studies conducted by unbiased researchers, the writing here isn’t yet written with that level of justification cited.
Presently, this writing is basically just my thoughts. I’ve read research on things (at least some), so most of the stuff here isn’t just my opinion, but everything is still a bit loosey-goosey. You have been warned.
Hopefully I can make the writing more rigorous with time.
You should fix your diet in large part before focusing on exercise
You may have heard the phrases “you can’t out-train a bad diet” and “abs are made in the kitchen.” These things are mostly true.
If you made me put a number on it, I’d say getting in good shape is about 70% diet and 30% exercise. The exercise is an absolutely critical component that cannot be skipped, mind you, but there you have it. If you clean up your diet a lot, you can lose a lot of weight without ever exercising. I wouldn’t recommend it (as it’s obviously less ideal than having a good diet and exercising), but you can.
For this reason, I recommend you go look at the Food and Nutrition Category. Once you’ve got a good diet in place (or at least made a good start in terms of such), then come back and get the exercise habits in place.
Why you should listen to me
I practice what I preach
It’s super common in the fitness space for trainers to be in good shape. So am I in good shape?
Earlier this year, I dropped 3 inches off my waist in about 4 to 5 months, and I wasn’t all that out of shape to begin with. I lost 10 pounds while gaining muscle (which weighs more than fat), meaning I lost more fat than that.
With all this being said, I’m not yet really at fitness-model levels of completely shredded. I also didn’t really start working out seriously until this recent push, so don’t have years and years of experience regarding exercise. Make of these things what you will.
I’m not trying to sell anything
People trying to sell either their products or services (personal training, e.g.) have biases and conflicts of interest. I’m just sharing what’s worked well for me.
I’ve put a lot of thought into making things easy to stick with
If you find exercise boring, you’ll never do it. Of course YMMV since your tastes may not be the same as mine, but I “have reasons” why I do what I do. Born of me trying to get myself to stick with exercise over the years.
Consistency is way more important than anything else
The #1 mistake people make with exercise is trying to do too much too fast. If you’ve been a couch potato for years, you’re gonna have a bad time if you try to bench your bodyweight and run a 10k.
Trying to do too much too fast has all sorts of problems:
- You burn out and then do no exercise at all, which is way worse than doing some exercise that just wasn’t as hardcore as perhaps you had dreamed.
- You hurt yourself, and then you can’t exercise either.
- You come to hate exercise, and cement the negative attitude in your mind, which will make things hard for you for years to come.
Don’t do too much too fast. Just get out there and do something every day. (Or rest if it is your designated rest day).
Don’t feel bad about starting slow. I tried to lift way too much too fast in college and ended up not doing it again for years since it traumatized me. When I started again, I resolved to just accept where I was and work up from there. Thus, and I kid you not, I started out benching the bar (45 lbs) for like three weeks. I’m 6’5” and was ~210 lbs at the time, so if I can swallow my pride and spend some time on just the bar, you can too. If you add 5 or 10 pounds every week, every week, you’ll get there in time. Sustainably.
In my N=1 experience, getting a workout buddy is the best way to get consistent
I never could get myself to weightlift consistently before I had a workout buddy. Getting a workout buddy for lifting is literally the #1 exercise tip I can give. I still do cardio on my own (I’ve always had an easier time getting myself to do cardio), but I can’t recommend lifting together with someone else enough. They can watch your form too, which is super important.
Don’t feel any shame about where you are
Gyms tend be full of buff people. It can be discouraging to watch them, and then look at yourself in the mirror. Don’t fall into that trap. They may have been working out for years, while you may be just starting.
The only person you should be comparing yourself to is the you of last week or last month. I assure you that if you just get in there every week (and take things seriously when you are in there rather than goofing around), you will make progress. Over time you will become the buff person that once intimidated you.
Most places I’ve been, people are super friendly and non-judgmental. After all, everyone’s got to start somewhere. However, if you get unlucky and have a local gym full of judgmental jerks, just put on your headphones and ignore them. You’ve got nothing to be ashamed of.
I don’t do standalone LISS cardio
Among various types of exercise, low intensity steady state (LISS) cardio has the lowest marginal benefit, and is time-inefficient if you do it alone (that is, without multitasking while you do it). The only LISS cardio I do (walking, in my case) is when I am working on the computer while I do it, removing the vast majority of its opportunity cost. You can read more about what I do below.
If you are really overweight, do HIIT in lieu of frequent strength training
To my knowledge, high-intensity interval training (HIIT) is by far the most efficient way to lose fat, improve insulin sensitivity, and combat obesity. People trying to lose lots of weight in the most effective way should do more HIIT. When greatly overweight, losing the larger part of the fat ASAP is more important than building muscle, since being greatly overweight and insulin-resistant messes with hunger endocrinology, and basically sets you up to fail. The more overweight you are, the harder it is to stick with good habits since your body is always trying to stab you in the back: carrying lots of fat objectively leads to more hunger (making diet compliance harder), more fatigue and body aches (making exercise compliance harder), and so on. It’s a vicious cycle that you need to kick in the face before worrying about building muscle.
Benefits of exercise
Once you are only 20 pounds overweight (or something like that), I would advocate toning down the HIIT and starting strength training, so that you get the full range benefits from all kinds of exercise rather than just the benefits from HIIT. Here’s basically what different kinds of exercise get you:
- Flexibility training: little inherent benefit, but is super important because it makes it so you don’t hurt yourself doing everything else (particularly weightlifting and HIIT, although you should always stretch before serious exercise). A lot of people also find yoga and such relaxing (stress-reducing).
- LISS cardio: burns calories, and is good mostly in that it is better than sitting. Does not lead to as many cardiovascular changes as moderate intensity cardio and HIIT.
- Moderate intensity cardio: way more relaxing that HIIT, which usually drains you. Makes your heart more aerobically efficient. Excellent way to relieve stress.
- HIIT: excellent way to burn calories. Also helps improve cardiovascular health; many of the benefits overlap with moderate intensity cardio, but you get them in less time. Does that make it strictly better? It’s still a good idea to do both, in my opinion. (For someone else on the idea, see here). Moderate intensity cardio trains you to do somewhat lower intensity for a longer period of time. HIIT trains you to do really high intensity for a shorter period of time. Different activities, some overlapping benefits, but also some non-overlapping benefits. Avoid extremes: do both.
- Strength training: prevents muscle deterioration as you age, prevents bone fragility as you age, building muscle leads to higher resting metabolic rate making maintenance a breeze if you’re already in shape, and building muscle increases self-esteem and confidence way more than anything else. (Especially for dudes). Getting really shredded is more cardio and diet than lifting though. Everyone has ab muscles… but most people have a layer of fat over them. To see them well-defined, getting rid of the fat is way more effective than making the ab muscles slightly bigger.
All exercise is excellent for health, in that it:
- Burns calories. Some kinds of exercise burn more calories than other kinds (as above), but all exercise is miles better than sitting around.
- Reduces stress. Many people in America suffer from chronically elevated cortisol levels, which causes all sorts of health issues. Exercise is a medication-free way to greatly improve mental health.
- Gives you a fuzzy afterglow – a post-workout high. You may have heard of endorphins. Endorphins are literally our bodies’ self-made opioids (they operate on the brain’s opiate receptors). Only a few things in life give us a natural high, and exercise is high on that list. (Eating and sex are other important ones).
- Suppresses appetite – while appetite will return in time (and sooner rather than later, depending on the type of exercise), additional time spent in a state of reduced cravings and hunger will inevitably reduce the total number of calories you end up consuming in the long-term.
- Leads to better sleep. Better sleep has tons of health benefits, so if you count those as indirect benefits of exercise, then that’s a lot of added value.
What I do: weekly schedule
Every week. No exceptions (unless I am pretty sick).
- Every morning except Sunday (my rest day): 2+ hours of LISS cardio via walking briskly on a treadmill when working. (See below).
- Monday: Weightlifting day. Deadlift (specifically trap bar deadlift – see here), sitting overhead press, bicep curls (with curl bar).
- Tuesday: Cardio day – I usually mountain bike on local trails if the weather cooperates. Mountain biking is somewhat of a mix of HIIT and moderate-intensity cardio – pedaling up hills leads to bursts of high intensity activity, while riding the rest of the time (flats and downhills) keeps your heart rate relatively elevated (at least if you push yourself and ride fast). If the weather does not cooperate I typically do a HIIT jump rope workout inside.
- Wednesday: Weightlifting day. Bench press, dumb bell seal rows, tricep extensions (with curl bar).
- Thursday: Weightlifting day. Squat, pull-ups/chin-ups (with resistance band support so that I can do 3 sets of 8+ reps).
- Friday: Cardio day – I usually mountain bike on local trails if the weather cooperates. If the weather does not cooperate I typically do a HIIT jump rope workout inside.
- Saturday: Cardio day – I usually mountain bike on local trails if the weather cooperates. If the weather does not cooperate I typically do a HIIT jump rope workout inside.
- Sunday: Rest day. Walking/hiking is fine, but nothing more than that.
Once I buy a house, I’m planning to get a dog, which will add 60-80 minutes of walking to my day (probably somewhat less net, as I’ll forgo some of my morning standing-desk LISS to walk the dog). Dogs are an excellent way to force yourself to get exercise, since if you don’t walk them consistently, they’ll go berserk, tearing up your house and acting like moody teenagers with social issues. (Well, some dogs are kinda like that regardless, but in any case, the point is that dogs that don’t get enough exercise act up, adding built-in motivation for you to get out and walk, since if you don’t there will be consequences).
(Sidenote: If you don’t plan on walking your dog consistently, you have no business getting a dog. That’s cruel for the animal).
The super high exercise volume of three days of cardio a week on top of three days of weightlifting a week (and 2+ hours of LISS cardio walking on the treadmill every morning) only works because I’ve taken great pains to avoid all activities that are high-impact (like running, e.g.) or otherwise put noticeably high repetitive forces on one’s body. Overtraining and repetitive use injuries would be inevitable with this sort of volume otherwise.
It bears repeating that you should take things slow when starting, especially if you are overweight. (Extra bodyweight will inherently cause exercise to place higher forces on your body). Injuring yourself will be much more detrimental to your progress overall than proceeding at a bit more measured pace.
Other miscellaneous notes
When I travel, I mostly do bodyweight exercises for strength training (pushups, pistol squats, and pullups if I can find something to do them with), and jump rope for cardio. I also typically back off from my normal intensity some (essentially, engaging in activities at maintenance levels, but not more), and take a bit of a break to give my body a rest.
Stretch some every day, if you can remember, and definitely stretch relevant muscle groups before every workout. Use foam-rolling, lacrosse balls, and self-massage with your hands to loosen up tight muscles after workouts and the day after. (See self-myofascial release).
You should make an effort to lift only in flat (zero-drop) shoes without heel rise. I am a really big fan of the minimalist ultra-wide-toebox Lems Primal 2’s (I wear these full time – work, exercise, you name it), but they are a bit pricy, so if you already have other flat shoes with a relatively thin sole, those would work too.
Never do leg-intensive cardio (like biking, jumping rope) the day before a deadlift or squat day (doing such will interfere with these lifts if your legs are sore/tired).
Never deadlift and squat on days next to each other. These are the two biggest lifts, and you need to give your body a chance to recover between them, otherwise you risk overtraining or injury.
Try to add 5-10 pounds a week to the big lifts (squat, deadlift), and 5 pounds every couple weeks to the upper body stuff (bench, OHP, rows), until this progression gets too hard. Add weight to bicep curls and tricep extensions once you can comfortably do 12 or so reps for three sets at the weight you are on. When you jump 5 pounds you’ll probably drop down to 8 reps per set or something like that.
Why the activities I choose?
For weightlifting you don’t have a lot of options. You’ve gotta do the exercises. I prefer free weights (barbell + power rack) to a Smith machine, although if forced to use a Smith machine, I’d much rather deadlift and bench in it than squat. I’ve found that it’s way easier to overstress my ankles when squatting in a Smith machine, as it lets you get away with much worse form (since you don’t have to center and balance the weight).
When you do cardio at a high enough intensity (moderate intensity or greater), multi-tasking (as in watching TV while you run) doesn’t work so well. Doing stuff while you walk works fine though, and I can highly recommend multi-tasking while you walk (as below). I do recommend listening to music when doing moderate intensity cardio and HIIT. In fact, these are some of the times wherein I get my primary music fix for the week.
Here’s the short version of why I do what I do, with lengthier explanations following:
- I combine LISS cardio with work (by walking on a treadmill when working) for time-efficiency’s sake.
- I mountain bike for cardio whenever the weather lets me get away with such since mountain biking beats all the other options in terms of fun. (Mountain biking offers a degree of both HIIT and moderate intensity cardio, assuming you have some elevation change on the trails you ride).
- I do HIIT jump rope workouts when the weather is bad, since I find jumping rope to be the most fun form of cardio I can engage in inside.
Why multi-task while you walk for LISS exercise?
Burning calories by multi-tasking when walking is great as it essentially removes all opportunity cost for fitting this kind of exercise (LISS cardio) into your day. This makes it way easier to sustain a calorie deficit long-term. When you combine this practice with a well-thought-out diet and consistency in strength training and more intense cardio, everything that you need for accelerated fat loss is there. All you have to do is stick with it.
You could also hypothetically multi-task while operating a cycling machine, but I much prefer to do the weight-bearing activity of walking on a treadmill. You engage many more muscle groups.
Working on the computer on a treadmill
I own the LifeSpan TR1200-DT3 under-desk treadmill that I got off Amazon for like $600. When I bought it, it was the one that all the reputable review sites I could find recommended as the best bang for your buck (best balance of functionality, durability, and cost). I haven’t revisited this question since I bought it though, so you should probably do your own research.
Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to use it much since I have downstairs neighbors in my apartment complex, and it is too loud. I have instead been taking my tablet to the apartment gym where there are treadmills, and working there.
If I could use my treadmill at home, I’d combine it with my standing desk (to hold books/papers and a keyboard tray), and then a short-throw 4k laser projector supporting a large 150” image, like this one.
Using an enormous projected image (and then walking on a treadmill far back from the image) minimizes the impact of the head-bobbing that walking causes. Recall that I choose walking rather than seated cycling (which wouldn’t have as much of an issue with head-bobbing) since it is a weight-bearing activity, and a much more balanced workout overall.
Having a huge image like this also gives you the option of watching movies and such at near cinema levels of awesome, pulling double duty as the best sort of TV viewing experience money can buy.
I am planning on using this setup in the near future once I buy my own house and don’t have to worry about bugging apartment neighbors with treadmill noise. I’ll report back at that time.
I do a couple things to further enhance the free-calorie-burning idea:
- I wear a backpack that weighs ~45 pounds to increase the calories I burn, and further strengthen my back, core, and leg muscles. Here’s the gear I use:
- Aarn pack: Allows for excellent freedom of movement, while distributing most of the weight on my waist. This is important, as 45 pounds on just your shoulders will get uncomfortable real fast. I love this pack.
- Chest padding: I have a padded shirt to take some of the pressure from the backpack straps (shoulders, chest) off of me directly, and I also wrap the biggest strap pressure points (by the sternum strap) with strap pads.
- Weight plates in a weight vest: go inside the backpack. Sticking the plates in a weight vest keeps them from clanking, and also allows you to use the weight vest for pushups and pullups (the full backpack would get in the way). I personally use two 20 lb weight plates, but I am a big person (6’5”, >200 lbs), and smaller people would likely be better served by using somewhat lighter plates. Shoot for 15-20% of your bodyweight, or thereabouts. I would also check out the Rogue plate carrier as an option to compare the 5.11 vest against. It didn’t exist when I bought my setup, but it’s cheaper and might work about as well.
- Big towels: I wrap the weight vest that goes in the backpack in two doubled-up towels (i.e., two towels that have been folded in half lengthwise – folded in half on the longer axis), and this helps increase padding and comfort.
- I walk at a fairly significant incline. This greatly increases the number of calories burned without me having to walk faster. The benefit of burning more calories without having to walk faster is that your head bobs less, and thus it is simpler to keep your eyes trained on something (making reading easier).
- When I’m on a gym treadmill, I can just set the incline on the treadmill interface. Using an under-desk treadmill at home, you can create an incline by stacking some rubber pads under the front feet of the treadmill, which elevates the front of the treadmill.
Why mountain bike for cardio?
Cardio of longer duration can get boring really easily. One way I’ve found to combat this is to be “going places” when I do cardio: running, cycling, etc. from point A to point B. You get the wind in your hair, the sun on your face, variety from different scenery, and a good dose of fun from the sensation of speed (especially noticeable for anything with wheels, vs. running). By way of contrast, running on a treadmill while looking at a wall or swimming back and forth in a pool gets boring to me real fast.
(Note: I have no experience with Zwift or other similar ideas, but they might be an alternative to my going-places-outside line of reasoning).
Just cycling around one’s local neighborhood is certainly an option for cardio (you get some of the variety and “going places” benefits described above), but cycling on mountain biking trails blows it completely out of the water, in my opinion. In fact, it seems to me that while there are some other activities that can compare to mountain biking in terms of raw fun/enjoyment/adrenaline (riding motorcycles, carving at speed on electric skateboards, surfing, downhill skiing and snowboarding), it is rather unique in being extremely fun while at the same time providing a good workout (making the activity extremely time-efficient). Cross-country skiing also gives an excellent cardio workout, but it is nowhere near as fun as mountain biking in terms of raw enjoyment, as the speeds are slower and you don’t have variation in terrain (just smooth snow).
I suppose I should qualify that this exercise benefit of mountain biking only holds for up-and-down normal trail riding rather than downhill mountain biking (compare cross-country skiing and downhill skiing). Downhill mountain biking proper – where you take lifts up the mountain and ride down – doesn’t offer the same exercise experience. You need to pedal up those hills and on flat sections of the trail to get the good workout.
You can still get a good workout on electric mountain bikes
Electric mountain bikes do not necessarily rob you of exercise when you mountain bike, but they can if you use so much assistance that it is difficult for you to contribute human power since you are already going too fast for the trail you are riding on.
Rather than thinking of them as an exercise hindrance, I like thinking of electric mountain bikes mostly as a simple speed boost – you as a human can contribute 200 watts of effort (and get a pretty similar workout) with or without the electric assistance, but you’ll just be going much faster with the electric assistance. This is assuming you are using a low-ish overall amount of assistance – so that you aren’t constantly going massively too fast for the kind of trail you are riding on, like you would be if you used a high assistance level. (Technical twisty trails will be more inherently speed-limiting than flowy double track, etc.).
The big difference comes with hills. Without electric assist, you have to crawl up hills in a low gear, but with electric assist, you can kick up the assist level on hills so that you go fast up them too.
Thus, in getting a similar workout, you will cover a lot more ground and go a lot faster (especially uphill) on an electric mountain bike. Those are pretty large benefits in terms of fun, in my book.
Handling mismatches of greater electric assistance than you need for a given trail: braking to scrub off extra speed lets you still get good exercise
If you take pains to scrub speed with your disc brakes whenever you go into tight speed-locked corners, you can largely go ham on the pedals to your hearts content even on an electric bike. What do I mean by this? I mean that you actually can just about always pedal as hard as you want, even on a high level of electric assist, even on a speed-capped trail with lots of tight corners and switchbacks… you’ll just be constantly braking to scrub off the excess speed generated by a level electric assistance greater than what is truly needed.
The reason why pedaling harder necessarily leads to excess speed is because electric assistance on good electric mountain bikes is a function of pedal effort. That is, it amplifies pedal power, so if you pedal harder, you’ll get more electric assist power too. This is definitely how you want things for intuitive electric mountain biking. The consequence of this, though, is that if you always pedal hard such that you maximize exercise, there may end up being circumstances when the large amount of amplification derived from your high level of pedal power ends up leading to more speed than you can carry through a trail. You then have to brake to get rid of excess speed.
Have you lost anything from this situation? We’ve met our goal of still getting good exercise, and a side-effect is that you’ll always be blasting through trails at just about the fastest speeds you can, which of course is excellent from a fun perspective.
There are three primary downsides: First, you put more wear on your brakes and go through brake pads faster. Second, since you are constantly turning battery power into heat on your disc brakes, you end up paying for some extra electricity (wasted energy). Third, since you are constantly turning battery power into heat on your disc brakes, you get less overall battery life, and therefore a lower overall range.
The first two are essentially disadvantages only in terms of money: they go away if you throw money at them. The third one is a real practical concern, however. If you ride hard in the manner I have described, you do end up turning a good bit of battery power into heat on your brakes, which reduces your range. Buying an extra battery adds a lot of weight, so isn’t a catch-all solution to this issue.
This ultimately comes down to how much battery you have on your bike and how long your rides typically are. For me personally, since I mountain bike multiple times a week rather than all in one longer ride (better for exercise distribution, and also spreads the fun/relaxation throughout the week), my rides always stay short enough that this problem would not end up being important. Of course, YMMV.
I am perfectly willing to accept the proposition that adding electric assistance to mountain bikes will, in practice, probably decrease the amount of exercise you get by some amount. No matter how much you take pains to always pedal hard and just scrub speed where necessary (as above), you will probably not be perfect in this at absolutely all times.
However, it is my opinion that the differences here are quite small overall. The fact that it ends up being easier in practice to zone out and fail to get good exercise does not mean that you must necessarily get a worse workout; it is not inherent, but a self-inflicted problem (due to “user error,” as it were) that is soluble in large part. To put all this differently, you just have to be much more intentional about getting exercise on electric mountain bikes than normal mountain bikes.
The main takeaway though, in my eyes, is that whatever minor decreases in overall exercise potential exist are more than made up for by the large increases in overall fun.
Here’s some specific benefits of mountain biking:
Mountain biking yields more time in nature
Mountain biking gets you out in nature more than any other form of cardio I can think of. (Maybe vigorous snorkeling is on the same level? Kayaking fast on a lake at sunset?).
While there have been some studies suggesting health benefits to spending time in nature, the observational nature (heh…) of most of the research makes determining causality difficult. Put simply, nature could be more or less a red-herring: for example, the people in the studies might be healthier not because they spent time in green spaces, but because when spending time in green spaces, they exercised more and got more social interaction, both things causally linked to positive health outcomes (such as lower cortisol levels).
Nonetheless, the romantic in me is on board with the idea that taking in lots of fresh air and natural beauty is healthy for mind and body, and it certainly can’t be construed as a con.
Mountain biking involves superior novelty, staving off boredom
Mountain biking trails have constant turns, lots of obstacles (like rocks and roots), frequent (and sometimes rapid) changes in elevation, and so on. Contrast all this novelty with riding on an open, paved road. Which environment do you think is likely to keep you interested? For me and my easily-bored brain, it’s not even close.
Now, to be fair, riding around objects on the street (like crowds and urban features) is possible with some forms of cardio, but mostly too dangerous. Compare urban freeride in inline skating circles (as in here). The world is your playground, but unlike on restricted-use trails, you share it with many more people, and have a lot more sources of potential risk.
Mountain biking makes you live in the moment
To be able to effectively deal with all that novelty that we just discussed, mountain biking actively demands one’s attention – all of it, more or less. Riding on a smooth street is not even close to the same in terms of forcing “being in the moment.” Being in the moment is hugely beneficial, both in terms of increasing enjoyment, and helping you de-stress by temporarily forgetting all your problems and worries, with your mind instead laser-focused on the present.
Mountain biking does not carry problematically high levels of risk
While I would love to own a motorcycle, I have never been able to get over the high amounts of otherwise-preventable risk that motorcycles entail. To put things simply, I refuse to introduce the risk of serious injury or death in any activities I do, unless I absolutely can’t avoid such.
Fortunately, mountain biking of a non-downhill variety involves very little overall risk of serious injury (as long as you wear a helmet). While exercising on residential back roads vastly reduces the threat of being harmed by cars/the irresponsibility of others, exercising on trails completely eliminates the threat. (This isn’t unique to mountain biking, by the way – trail running also shares this advantage, for example).
However, it is true that there are in general many more objects to collide with (notably, trees) on trails, while if you wipe out on pavement, it’s mostly just abrasion and fall impact forces you have to deal with. It seems probable to me that the overall risk on tame to moderate single-track is comparable to moving fast on pavement, while proper downhill mountain biking is likely more dangerous to a substantial degree. So as long as you avoid the most dangerous forms of mountain biking, your risk of serious injury is quite low.
Mountain biking scratches the adrenaline itch
I have more to say here, but that will come on its own page eventually. For now, suffice it to say that mountain biking is an excellent activity for getting one’s adrenaline fix.
In a single sentence:
I think mountain biking is a great activity since it lets you safely get good exercise while interfacing with nature and having lots of fun, mediated through novelty (turns, rocks/roots, changes in elevation, etc.) and adrenaline from traveling at speed in close proximity to obstacles.
Why jumping rope when weather prevents mountain biking?
If I can’t be doing my preferred activity of mountain biking, then that means that I’m stuck inside due to seriously nasty weather. (I’ll actually still go mountain biking in somewhat inclement weather – things have to be pretty bad for me to stay in). No matter what, I find activities done inside to be less interesting overall, so as a general rule, I’d rather get things over with in less time. Hence HIIT.
There are many possible HIIT activities that one can engage in. Here’s a reasonably representative list:
- Jumping rope (mid-weight) (example gear)
- Jumping rope (heavy) (example gear)
- Battle ropes (example gear)
- Kettlebells (example gear – pick one company from this review, and then two weights appropriate for you. I would be at 20kg and 24kg bells at the moment, but I’m a large human at 6’5” and >200 pounds)
- Burpees, pushups, core exercises (leg raises, flutter kicks) – these activities require no gear.
Sprint training is good for HIIT and requires no equipment, but it is high-impact, and can’t be done inside super well (unless you have a track inside your house…). All of the above activities are relatively low impact, including jumping rope (at least if you do it right and minimize jump height).
How then to decide what activity (or activities plural) to do? Here’s some variables:
- Which activity burns the most calories?
- Which activity is a relatively full-body exercise?
- Which activity lets you have the most variety, novelty, and fun (variety and novelty are essential for fun)?
- Which activity can be done when traveling (since you can’t mountain bike when travelling, it makes sense to have this indoor form of cardio be the travel cardio activity)?
In my opinion, jumping rope is the best pick:
- Jumping rope burns an insane number of calories.
- If you do it with weighted ropes (either mid or especially heavy weight ropes, as linked above), it is a full-body exercise.
- Jumping rope lets you have lots and lots of variety and have a lot of fun, once you get good at it: you can mix in different jumping patterns (boxer step, running in place, etc.), side-swipes, cross-overs (both ways), and double-unders. All this means that I never get bored of it at all.
- Jump ropes are quite portable.
Crossrope is a well-known weighted jump rope brand. They make good stuff – I’ve tested it myself, having bought ropes personally with my own money.
I don’t recommend Crossrope gear though. The Amazon ropes I linked above are barely different functionally, but are way cheaper.
Jumping rope takes some skill and some development time before it gets really fun
Until the activity “clicks” and you build some coordination, jumping rope is not so great in terms of enjoyment. Constantly having the rope get tangled and mistiming jumps is frustrating, not fun.
Further, a lot of what makes jumping rope fun to me involves the more advanced stuff that you can’t do from day one: side-swipes, cross-overs and double-unders, for example.
What I’m getting at in all this is that it may take a while for the benefits of jumping rope to manifest. Like most good things in life, you have to work for it.
You don’t have to pick just one HIIT exercise
Personally, I do mostly stick with jumping rope. I just find it to be way more fun than any of the other options. But if you wish, you can add in more variety by doing some of the other HIIT options alongside jumping rope. Battle ropes and kettlebells also both allow for extreme variety in workouts, making them also very good choices.
More free exercise: When talking on the phone or talking to someone in person
If I’m talking to someone and it doesn’t have to be in a specific place, I’m doing one of three things:
- Driving (talking while driving is a good way to multitask to make the activity more productive)
- Walking outside (if the weather is nice, I always prioritize this)
- Walking inside on the treadmill (if the weather is not nice)
I’m always walking with the backpack setup (including outside), and if I’m inside on the treadmill, then I’ll be walking at an incline, as described above.
Walking while you talk is lots of extra calories burnt for free.