Build Your Fitness by Accident

Just because you're having fun in the sun, doesn't mean you aren't also making progress toward your fitness goals.

Summer affords us the opportunity to take our fitness outside, andI wrote recently on strategies to design training sessions around fun and outdoor locales. While these can breathe new life into any training program, summer offers even further opportunities for fitness than simply taking your workout to the local park or beach. Summer weather and schedules offer us the chance for some accidental fitness.

Accidental fitness is any movement or activity that will challenge your body and mind, get you moving with intention or intensity, yet hides its demanding nature underneath fun.

We often think of games, sport, and play as ways to utilize our fitness; something to be enjoyed after we take care of business in the gym. However, fun and play can also bring us closer to our fitness goals themselves. In this case, the ends can be the means.

CrossFit HQ tells us to “regularly learn and play new sports.” Max Shank has espoused the benefits of HIIP (High Intensity Interval Play), and I personally incorporate as much play as possible into my training. Regardless of which style of exercise you prefer, whose expertise you value most, and which camp you might fall into (if any), games, play, and novel challenges are a huge piece of becoming a fully-embodied human.

Below I’ll discuss many of my favorite “accidental” fitness activities. Remember though, these are simply a launching point. The lesson is not to throw a Frisbee because this coach loves to play Frisbee at the beach. The lesson is to explore, to play, to move your body in ways you never have, and to let fun or competition bring the intensity and intention.

(But seriously, go throw a Frisbee!)

Go Learn a New Sport

While sports are available to you any time, summer offers especially easy access to sports leagues of every type and skill level. Join a local recreational sports league to bring some fun and novelty to your movement practice. No need to fret about knowing any of your teammates or having no prior experience with the sport. Most leagues will match you with a team, and there are few better ways of making friends.

As for experience and skill level, be sure to find a league that matches the level you are looking for. I have played for a softball team were the objective seemed to be to drink as much beer as possible while occasionally taking a turn at bat. I was also once in a soccer league filled with numerous former professional players. Leagues exist at every level; just find one to match your intentions. Most towns have summer leagues for soccer, softball, volleyball, basketball, kickball, and many other sports.

If you cannot find a league that fits or you simply want less of a commitment, organize a pick-up game with a few friends. I’m always amazed at how hard I end up working after an hour of 3-on-3 basketball with friends.

Want to Play a Game?

Outdoor games offer my personal favorite “accidental” fitness activity. These games often have no clear objective other than fun, and they offer as much intensity as you put into them. I find that we can so easily (and accidentally) ramp up the intensity into bouts of all-out effort. I’ve never sprinted faster than after a slightly-overthrown Frisbee, never scrambled harder than to drive for a football or Spike Ball, or focused harder than to keep a long rally alive with a volleyball.

Playing catch and most other silly outdoor games do not have any other purpose than fun. While your regular training program should be fun, it should also be purpose-driven. These outdoor games offer a beautiful and necessary reprieve for the intentional and goal-oriented mover. Dive in, let the fun take over, and you will likely end up working much harder than you knew possible.

Play With the Experts

The best play strategy of all is to play with those who do it best: your kids and your dog. So much of what I’ve discussed above could be distilled into “play like you used to.” For some fun and high-quality play, you need look no further than the experts.

Play with your kids, or your friends’ kids. While the kids in your life can’t touch your snatch PR, they can probably run and climb for hours, sit in a perfect squat for 20 straight minutes to play Legos, then run and climb some more. See how long you can keep up with your kids at play. While their little movement practices do not have any of the intentionality or structure that your training typically consists of, you would be hard-pressed to keep up with them for a full day. Next time you’re on an outing, stay with your kids rather than reading a book, looking at your phone, or chatting with the other parents on the sidelines. You might get some odd looks, end up in a tree, or wearing a silly hat, but your body and mind will relish the fun and novel challenges.

Dogs share the top spot in the category of “World’s Best Players.” Like your kids, they are ready to play at a moment’s notice. Taking walks and playing fetch are wonderful ways to move, but you can bring even more fun and intensity into your canine playtime. I’ve never met a dog who does not love to play tug-of-war or chase you around the yard.

Get Out and Play

All of the ways to play I’ve discussed are merely to get you started. They are some of my personal favorites, and activities readily available to most.

Movement and life are not separate. Every minute offers an opportunity to move and become better at your body. This is never truer than during the summer months. Take advantage of the more open schedules, inviting weather, and longer daylight hours. Get out and play!