Take No Prisoners

BS Forms of Exercise and their Athletic Alternatives

Western society is plagued by obesity and general ill-health for many reasons: the raging incompetence of medical professionals; fitness snake-oil salesmen; belief in a variety of health-related myths; and desperate confusion about nutrition to name a few. Another serious problem is that people are generally confused about the meaning of exercise. Here are five non-exercises and their legitimate alternatives.

5. Walking

Unless we’re talking about hiking 40 km with a 20kg backpack over rough terrain, ‘going for a walk’ is not exercise. Walking, not sitting, is the natural state of the human body. You will never get anywhere even approaching ‘good shape’ by just walking. Perhaps, if you are a sedentary, obese, pathological eater, walking to and from work every day may help you lose weight. However, it is important to understand that that does not make walking a serious form of exercise. Everybody should walk several kilometers each day simply as a matter of living.

What you should be doing instead

Running, of course! Running is one of the best exercises available: it’s practically free in most climates; you don’t need any special equipment; it will raise even the most fit athlete’s heart rate; and it works all the muscles in the lower body.

4. Gardening

With the possible exception of muffin-baking, Freedent-toting, cheek-pinching, Becel-loving octogenarians, nobody should consider gardening a form of exercise. This is not to say that gardening (and moreso farming) are not hard work, but hard work is different from exercise. You can work hard your whole life and still not be able to run a kilometer if a pack of rabid paparazzi reporters were hot on your tail. Don’t confuse things that make you tired with things that provide good exercise.

What you should be doing instead

Between the ages of 16 and 60, most people will benefit from moderate resistance training (i.e., weightlifting). Twice a week is plenty, and I have had good results from once-a-week training when that’s all my schedule allowed. But stay away from “circuit training” and any workout that makes extensive use of machines or yoga balls. Take the time to learn how to train with weights effectively. It takes years to master the form of the squat, deadlift, bench press, press, row, chin-up, and so on, but the health benefits of resistance training with correct form are phenomenal – not to mention you look better naked. I once considered writing a book called the “No B.S. Guide to Weight Training” but Stuart McRobert beat me to it.

3. Dance

Professional hip hop, ballet, swing and break dancers sweat buckets because they execute highly athletic movements at extreme speed. Most everyone else sweats when they dance because it’s hot and they’re out of shape. Any activity that’s primarily undertaken while half in the bag is not good exercise.

What you should be doing instead

Gymnastics. As long as you don’t go overboard, gymnastics is one of the best forms of exercise. It develops balance, strength, endurance and cardio. It encompasses a wide variety of activities. The only downside is, you’ll need hands-on training. Of course, if you wanted to get good at dancing, you’d need hands-on training for that too.

2. Thinking

While it is true that sitting and thinking burns more calories than sitting and resting, thinking also makes people hungrier than resting, so they tend to eat more afterwards. Based on this study from Laval University, it’s pretty safe to say that the increase in appetite more than makes up for the increased calorie burn.

What you should be doing instead

Martial arts such as Aikido, Iaito, and Tai Chi require intense focus and concentration to produce exactness of form, while simultaneously developing strength, flexibility, balance, speed and timing.

1. Aerobics

I know I’m going to take heat for this, but it has to be said. Aerobics is bullshit. I know far too many people who have spent years doing step aerobics, dance aerobics, cardio kickboxing, boot-camp aerobics, etc., ad nauseam, and still can’t run a few miles or lift their own body weight. In contrast, good luck finding a marathon runner who can’t survive an hour of aerobics. The sheer number of people who are in terrible shape despite excelling at aerobics proves that aerobics is an ineffective exercise.

What you should be doing instead

I cannot overstate the benefits of swimming. It may be the best possible exercise. Swimming builds muscle across the whole body, provides excellent cardio, can save your life, is available all year in ubiquitous indoor pools, and has virtually no impact on your joints. And when you’re done burning 1000 calories in a one-hour workout, you can point and laugh at those featherbrained peacocks spasming in their aerobics class.


I am not a doctor. Check with yours before you start any kind of fitness program, especially if you’re seriously out of shape. Not all forms of exercise are appropriate for all people, but some form of exercise is appropriate for you.