55 Sincerely Small Ways To Be More Fit
Incremental progress is indeed progress, and these small additions to your normal routine can have a big impact.
Becoming fitter — a little healthier, a little stronger, a little more flexible, a little more in-tune with your needs — is a worthy goal. And an attainable one, too. You don’t need to overhaul your routine. Big results can happen if you focus on very small, very manageable changes every day. Banging out some air squats instead of being idle. Giving the kids a few more shoulder rides. Paying a bit more attention to your steps. We’re not saying these will turn you into some sort of V-shaped deity. But if you choose to make things a bit more difficult in your day-to-day world and make incremental changes, chances are you’ll be surprised by their effects — and how the momentum they build leads to better, healthier habits.
To offer you some inspiration, here, in no particular order, is a list of small things you can do to prioritize fitness in your life. Start by adding a few of these suggestions into your day and, after they become more habitual, add a few more. If anything, they’ll show you that micro-progress is indeed progress. And that’s all we need to be a little bit healthier.
1. Always Dress To Work Out
No, we don’t want you to wear a sweatsuit to your cousin’s wedding or cut-offs to your big board meeting. What we mean is that, whenever possible, take advantage of today’s athletically minded business casual clothing. Wear moisture-wicking slacks that have a bit of stretch and undershirts that can easily double as workout wear. That way, when you take the stairs instead of the elevator or hit 10 reps of air squats at the office, you’ll be ready.
2. Get A Kickass Water Bottle
Chances are you need to drink more water. An easy way to do so? Spend a bit on a water bottle with a design that you love (we like this one, this one, and this one). It sounds silly, but this makes you more likely to carry it around with you, which makes it more likely that you’ll drink lots of water throughout the day.
3. Perform Wall Sits While You Brush Your Teeth
Or calf raises while you wait for your onions to caramelize. Or air squats while you tend to the grill. Or one-leg stands while you watch TV. Or… you get it. The point is: Making good use of those small, idle moments you have throughout the day can add up to significant gains in the long run.
4. Tell Your Boss You’re Going For A Lunch Run
Exercise during the day has huge benefits for productivity, not to mention your personal health (naps too, but that’s a different story). If you have an open-minded boss, try to normalize working out during the day. The lunch break at the desk ended years ago — why not try to boost your team’s productivity with a good 30-minute bout of exercise?
5. Do Cardio For Time, Not Distance
It’s a lot easier to plan for 30 minutes of cardio than it is to try to map out and run a 5-mile loop. Just head out the door and run (or walk) one direction for 15 minutes, then come back. Boom. Cardio’s done for the day.
6. Walk Around The House Like A Bear
Crawling around on hands and feet is an established body-weight exercise. Commit to commuting between rooms like a wild animal… lumbering, hopping, galloping. If you can turn it into an imitation game with toddlers, even better.
7. PERFECT THIS MOVE: Pigeon Pose
The absolute best stretch for the IT band and hips, pigeon pose is such an important and great stretch that, yes, can be super painful. Luke Ketterhagen from Yoga International, however, eases us into it with just-right variations in this video.
8. Invest In A Standing Desk, And A Regular Desk, And Your Coffee Shop
Boy, does standing more during the day help everything from your neck to your hips feel better. But we don’t mean standing still — studies have found prolonged standing can be just as bad as sitting. So what to do? Move. From sitting desk to standing desk to coffee shop. The ultimate goal is to move every 30 minutes.
9. Hit The Floor
Yeah, your couch is probably great. Super cushy with a nice ass divot you’ve been cultivating for years. But take the opportunity to sit — or lay — on the floor more when watching TV, talking on the phone, or playing with the kids, as it forces you to engage your core and work on your mobility.
10. Install A Pull-Up Bar
And put it in a high-traffic area of your home. If you have a doorway, you can install one. Then, the bar will be in plain view, staring at you, daring you to use it. Even if you can’t do a single pull-up, you can just hang around. Speaking of which…
11. Hang Around More Often
Whether performed on a pull-up bar or on a piece of jungle gym at the playground, dead hangs are a classic movement that decompresses your spine and shoulders and helps you develop a stronger grip. Grip the bar. Let everything but your hands hang loose. Do them often.
12. PERFECT THIS MOVE: Plyometric Jump Squat
Dr. Jordan Metzl is an influential sports medicine physician with a specialty in keeping runners fit and strong (through his Ironstrength routine). One of his specialties? The Plyometric Jump Squat. Have at it, but follow the instructions for form in his video.
13. Embrace Disguisercise
Exercise may be a newish invention, but disguisercise is timeless. The simple doing of non-sedentary tasks, ideally ones you enjoy, offers more long-term health benefits than the most intensive fitness routines. Learn to love using a push mower, mulching the yard, or shoveling snow. Whatever’s a physical and onerous task, recast as an opportunity to work on strength, balance, and attention.
14. Make The Morning Ritual Happen
There’s no healthy morning ritual that’s healthier than the next. If you’re Laird Hamilton, you drink a glass of salt and lemon water, make a smoothie, drink an espresso, and stretch. If you’re Dwayne Johnson, you drink a coffee and get in 50 minutes of morning cardio, take a break to fuel up, and then hit the weights for a few hours. If you’re like Fatherly’s Editor-in-Chief Tyghe Trimble, you have a small glass of kombucha, a small coffee with oat milk, and do a few sets of pushups (and then make the kids lunches and pack their bags and dress them and...). The one thing they all have in common? They’re starting the day on the right foot — serving yourself — which can snowball to better choices throughout the day.
15. Walk The Plank, Avoid The Cracks, And Beware The Lava
You know how your kids can’t walk a straight line down the sidewalk? Take that as a lesson in mobility. Whether they’re avoiding all the cracks (“lava!”) or finding a wall to walk on, stepping only on the white parts of the crosswalk or seeing how far you can walk backward, mixing it up on an everyday walk is just good for you.
16. Measure Your Sleep
“Seven hours of sleep is the minimum threshold for survivability,” says Kelly Starret, the mobility guru and author of Becoming A Supple Leopard. Starret says the first thing he asks anyone — pro or amateur, God-like fit or down and out — is how they’re sleeping. He asks, and then he measures it. “They have to show me their sleep,” Starrett says. “What gets measured gets managed.”
17. Learn To Love Checklists
Make a list of three to five habits you want to build (for example: walk for 30 minutes, drink 64 ounces of water, stretch for 15 minutes). At the end of every day, mark off each item that you complete. Treat it like a game where you try to hit each habit every day.
18. Don’t Chase The Exercise High; Chase The Satisfaction
“Exercise is not a drug, it’s not a high, it’s hard and sweaty and you don’t feel always particularly great when you’re out there,” says 76-year-old Amby Burfoot, a twice Boston Marathon champion who is still running like a champ. “When you’re finished you always feel great and don’t ever regret it.”
19. Lift Without Weights
The mind-muscle connection is an important part of becoming stronger. In order to maximize it, one trick is to alternate weighted reps with unweighted reps. Performing one set of, say, bench press with a normal weight and the next without any weight or bar, while squeezing and clenching to feel the movement sounds strange but can lead to better gains.
20. Pack Your Bags
Before you go to bed, pack your workout bag with everything you need for the gym. One less step before you go hit the weights means one less chance to talk yourself out of it.
21. Don’t Take The Closest Parking Spot
Ever driven in circles trying to find the closest parking spot, asking for a little stop-and-go traffic before you make it to the main entrance? What are you thinking? Park in the most distant spot — or better yet, a few blocks away — and enjoy the extra steps you get going to the store. Less time in the car, more time on your feet.
22. PERFECT THIS MOVE: The Burpee
Burpees are one of the most effective and efficient bodyweight exercises you can perform. The maneuver increases your stability, strengthens every major muscle group, and dials up your metabolism, all while burning serious calories. Do more. Then, do some more. Here, from Dr. Jordan Metzl is how to do one perfectly.
23. Kick Rest Days To The Curb
You shouldn’t be maxing out every day, but couch potato-ing on your days off does nothing for your fitness goals. Instead, try active recovery on your rest days to increase blood flow to your muscles, which delivers them more oxygen and speeds up recovery so you can be at your best when you get back to the gym. Active recovery workouts don’t have to be intense; anything from a leisurely bike ride to light yoga will do.
24. Don’t Bend, Squat
That is, rather than bending over to pet the dog, play with the kids, or open the oven, squat down. You’ll give your back some relief and strengthen your sit muscles in the process.
25. Use Your Kids As Kettlebells
Performing some kettlebell swings with a 35-pound toddler is good exercise — and makes everyone happy.
26. Jump Your Height
Mark your height on the floor using masking tape; work at leaping that distance from a standstill throughout the day — jumping with power, landing softly. Get the whole family in on the competition.
27. Help Yourself With Assisted Handstands
You can kick into a handstand against a wall just about anywhere or anytime. Within seconds, you’re building strength and balance, and might even generate a lot of great ideas thanks to all the oxygenated blood washing through your brain.
28. Rock Out
That is, find a good landscaping rock. Clean and nicely shaped, these 50- to 60-pound rocks are perfect for hauling around. Keep one in a canvas duffle bag at the bottom of the stairs and take it with you whenever you go up or down throughout the day.
29. Keep A Jump Rope Within Easy Reach
Hang it on the door. Pack it in your suitcase. When a run is impossible because you’re watching the kids in the backyard, jump rope for 10-15 minutes instead, for an incredibly efficient workout with a multitude of benefits.
30. Avoid Your Children
Play a serious game of tag in which you do your best to evade any number of young children — do not let them catch you.
31. Walk Backward…
Walking backward is an excellent way to build cardiovascular health as well as strengthen joints and muscles that aren’t targeted in standard ambulation. Specifically, it’s a great way to build strong knees.
32. … And Haul Your Children Backward
Backward pulling works out oft-neglected muscles and focuses on the glutes/quads/other big muscles that are core to strength and weight maintenance. Throw kids in a sled/wagon, depending on the season, and walk backward, pulling them through the neighborhood, up the park hill, etc.
33. If You Take Any Class, Make It Yoga
Incorporating it into your routine in some way will change your fitness for the better. You can use it as a monthly check-in with your body (What’s tight? What’s weak? Where are the injuries going to come from?), a weekly stretch and self-assessment, or your primary strength and flexibility training. It does it all.
34. Try A Group Workout
A recent study found that exercise has huge cognitive benefits. The only thing better? Exercising with other people. Not only does sharing a workout have measurable gains for your brain, other people keep you honest about your routine. So you’re more likely to go get them.
35. Join Strava
Or any fitness app with a social component. To log your hours, to be excited to post your workout is a good thing — as long as you don’t take the competitive part of the app too seriously. Go for a personal streak, not a best time on your local running route. And give kudos to your fellow athletes on the app. Everyone could use more support.
36. Put Your Kid On Your Shoulders
They’ll enjoy the view and you’ll enjoy — or, fine, appreciate — the benefits of the extra weight, which forces your stabilizers to kick in. Plus, lifting them up to the perch is an excellent way to use the full mobility of your arms. Now do a few squats.
37. Buddy Up
Often the hardest part of working out is finding the motivation to do it. That’s where having someone to keep you accountable comes in handy. Go to the gym with a friend, join a local soccer team, or pre-pay for three martial arts classes a week. Because no one wants to disappoint sensei (or lose their money).
38. PERFECT THIS MOVE: The Plank
Planks are great, but make sure you aren’t doing them thoughtlessly. In this video, Kelly Starret walks us through a way to make planks more meaningful by challenging the shoulder positions. Hands straight and a little partner resistance (if someone is around) is all you need to focus on.
39. Sit Up Straight
Just like your mother told you. Butt touching back of chair. Feet on floor with ankles in front of knees and knees slightly higher than your hips. Distribute your body weight evenly.
40. Sit For 30, Walk For 5
Sitting all day at your desk job puts you at risk for heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure. But new research shows that walking for five minutes every half hour lowers your blood pressure and blood sugar. It doesn’t need to be a fast walk, either. A slow stroll around the office or the block is all you need for big benefits.
41. Focus On The Downswing
Research shows that the most important part of any strength-building exercise is the eccentric contraction — when your muscle fibers lengthen, sometimes against resistance from gravity or weight. This would be the portion of a bicep curl where your arm straightens back out or your core straightens out after doing situps. Do this part of the exercise slowly for maximum gains.
42. Use Your Legs Instead Of Your Hands
Need to turn off the light switch? Light your leg and use your foot to flip it. Have to pick a toy off the floor? Grasp it with your toes, lift your knee upward, and deposit it in your hand. Your kids will love this one.
43. Short Trip? Don’t Drive
Weather and time permitting, do the environment and your fitness a favor and swap the car for a bicycle or your own two feet when the trip is short enough. Need to run to the store for some milk? Take a walk. What about dropping the kids off at school? If the kids are ready, you can ride your bikes together. Just don’t forget the helmets.
44. In Fact, Don’t Use A Car For Anything In A 15-Mile Radius
Consider this us throwing down a challenge: Can you walk or bike instead of getting in the car? If it’s, say, 15 miles away or less, you bet you can. Grocery shopping? Make it a few trips with a backpack and a bike (or work your way toward a sweet bike-packing pannier system). Picking the kid up at school? How much more fun is it for them to hop on a bike seat or gator? Heading to the drugstore that’s a mile away? Jog there.
45. Go To Sleep Minutes Earlier
Yup, just five minutes. Will such a short amount of time make a difference? Not exactly. But it will hold you accountable for your bedtime. Think about the five minutes and you think about your daily bedtime ritual — a time that should be as sacred for you as it is for a toddler.
46. Track Your Steps
Yeah, we know. This one has been around for some time, but studies continue to show that frequent, cumulative movement matters — maybe even more than your HIIT workout. Aim for 7,000 a day. Then, after a few weeks, aim for 7,500. Ten thousand a day or greater is the ultimate goal.
47. Walk And Talk Like You’re On An Episode Of The West Wing
Take a page from Aaron Sorkin and embrace the walk and talk. Walk around while taking work calls or catching up with your buddies over the phone. Not only will this help increase your steps but the activity and change of scenery will also refresh your brain, helping you listen more intently and speak more thoughtfully while getting your steps.
48. Choose A Basket Instead Of A Shopping Cart
Whenever possible, that is. As you load up the basket with groceries, the additional weight will work on grip, forearm, and shoulder strength as well as core stability.
49. PERFECT THIS MOVE: The Face Pull
The face pull, a favorite of trainer Jeff Cavalier of AthleanX fame, is a cable or banded pull move that, done properly, strengthens your shoulders, rotator cuffs, forearms, and back while also improving your posture. In this video, Cavalier explains the move, why it’s so important, and how to do it properly.
50. Race Your Kids Down The Sidewalk, For Your Health
First of all, it’s fun. And it shows your kids that dad’s still got it. Or wants to still have it. But it’s also an excellent way to give yourself a boost of cardio — and tucker the kids out in the process.
51. Meet Up With Friends For Breakfast, Instead of Drinks
Or whatever works for you. But meeting up for drinks doesn’t have to be the de facto hangout option. Meet for coffee. Breakfast. A run.
52. Adopt The 20-Minute Rule
Do any cardio activity — walk/run/jump rope — for 20 minutes at the same level, no dips, no breaks, no speedup.
53. Perform The “Old Man” Test
A balance and flexibility test that was big on TikTok earlier this year, the old man test works like this: Stand on one foot, barefoot, and put your sock and shoe on and tie the laces before you set that foot down. Repeat for the opposite side. Why is this such a challenge? “Standing on one leg without the support of the other foot or hands is a challenge on its own,” Hardikkumar “HD” Unjia, a physical therapist in Woodbridge, New Jersey, with SportsMed Physical Therapy, told Fatherly. “Adding the requirement of picking up items and putting them on the other foot adds a level of complexity, targeting mobility and concentration.”
54. Play Harder With Your Kids
We’re not talking about roughhousing here (though the benefits from roughhousing are surprising and clear!), but tell them you’re going to do a workout and invite them to join. If they’re little, invite them to be little weights. If they’re bigger, you can work on good form together. If they get distracted and bored, let them go. You’re not only normalizing fitness for yourself — it’s as essential as brushing teeth — you’re showing them it’s something they need to find time for, when they’re an old fart like you.
55. Choose The More Difficult Path
“People are at their best — physically harder, mentally tougher, and spiritually sounder — after experiencing the same discomforts our early ancestors were exposed to every day,” writes Michael Easter in his excellent bestseller The Comfort Crisis. Scores of evidence back this up. No, this doesn’t mean you need to hunt your meal every night. But one thing it means is that when you choose a more strenuous path — say, taking the stairs instead of the escalator, or taking your morning walk while wearing a backpack loaded with 20 pounds of books — you’ll be better for it.