Does your training routine feel a little, well, routine? No doubt, logging mindless miles on the road or trail for your next race or adventure can quickly become an exercise in the mundane.
So mix things up: “A training plan isn’t exactly a recipe,” says Peter Park, who trains various pro athletes, including Kelly Slater. “You don’t have to follow it exactly—throwing in a few fun sports every now and then keeps you sane and can actually help you get into better shape for competition.”
Swap your next training sessions for the following five, ultra-effective pickup sports—and become fit for the podium.
Standup Paddle Boarding
Fighting against the waves and current is a great test of your balance, says Park. “It requires you to engage your entire core, including your lower back, and it also improves your posture.” That can help prevent and relieve low back pain, which is especially common in cyclists.
What’s more, you’ll also strengthen your legs, upper back, and shoulders in a low impact way. “And once you become proficient at standup paddling,” says Park. “You can do intervals and high intensity work for more aerobic benefit.”
If you’re an endurance athlete, you probably only move in one direction: straight ahead.
“Everyone should move in all directions,” says Park. “If you don’t, you’re at greater risk of injury when you eventually move in a direction you’re not used to.”
That’s why Park recommends that single-plane athletes, like road runners and cyclists, take up a racquet sport like tennis or squash. It only takes you and a friend, and you’ll move in 360-degrees, he says. “And it also builds your hand eye coordination.”
Like tennis, basketball requires that you cut side to side, and it improves your hand-eye coordination. That makes you a better athlete.
“You’ll also become more explosive,” says Park. “All of that jumping improves your ability to explode in different planes of motion.” Legs that kick like pistons are a requirement if you want to be competitive at your next trail or road running race.
You might think ultimate Frisbee is a hobby reserved for those who went to small, liberal arts colleges, but the sport gives you great interval training, says Park, without even thinking about it; ultimate is essentially a series of sprints and rests.
And science confirms that ultimate Frisbee can give you a killer workout: A new study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that a during a match, players routinely max out their heart rate, complete more than 17 all-out sprints, and cover nearly three miles of ground.
Soccer players are some of the fittest guys in the world—and getting in on a pickup match is an ideal replacement for your marathon training run. That’s because, in a 90-minute match, you can easily run more than seven miles, says Park.
And because you go from jogging, to sprinting, to jumping, to cutting, you train multiple skills in a single workout. That gives you huge bang for your buck, helping you become better at nearly every other sport.