Comradeship. A sense of self-worth. Trophies. All noble reasons to break a sweat. But as Cesc Fabregas’ selfies make clear, there are also more tangible benefits. Six of them.
We tend to gravitate to the sport that some whistle-toting PE teacher first yelled us into taking up. However, now that he’s dragged his net of footballs to the great kit room in the sky, you can make a more nuanced decision.
We tapped the country’s leading personal trainers for a breakdown on which sport you should take up to hit a specific fitness goal, and the gym move that’s going to turn you from Sunday league to superstar.
Best For: Burning Fat
As you should know by now, while it is plenty of time to do a workout, 20 minutes on the treadmill does not a six-pack make. For optimum fat loss, you need high-intensity intervals: 20 seconds of sprinting, 10 seconds of rest. Like trying to get on the end of that through ball then wheeling away once you’ve chipped the keeper.
“Playing football burns fat and builds muscle by recruiting both slow-twitch and fast-twitch muscle fibres,” says Harkirat Garcha from MotivatePT. “The constant switch between fast sprints and light jogging utilises aerobic and anaerobic energy, helping to burn more calories.”
Calorie Burn: 612kcals per hour
Best For: Rehab
Time out of the gym is as bad for your morale as your waistline. But hitting the squat rack too early will only extend your time on the bench. Slip your trunks on instead.
“Swimming is good because it’s non-weight bearing,” says Jones. “If you are suffering with an injury, swimming is a great way of staying fit without the impact, as water supports up to 90 per cent of our body weight.” It also works every muscle to help iron out any imbalances.
Calorie Burn: 476kcals per hour
Best For: Building Muscle Tone
If your only experience of bodyweight training is the occasional press-up, then you haven’t seen the kind of physique a pull-up bar can build. Calisthenics translates as ‘beautiful strength’ and is ideal if you fear lifting barbells is going to stop your suits fitting.
You can also do it with next to no equipment, says Roberts: “Simple tasks such as press-ups and planks can be advanced into more difficult exercises such as the dip, pull-up and even muscle-up.”
Calorie Burn: 297kcals per hour
Do This Move: To torch more fat, superset – bolt two or more exercises back to back, like press-ups and pull-ups, with no rest. “The exercises can be performed anywhere there is a floor and enough space to move in,” says Garcha.
Best For: Cardiovascular Fitness
Like running, but less likely to have you needing surgery: “Aside from the obvious cardio and weight-loss benefits, cycling has the added benefit of being much easier on your joints and having less impact on your legs, ankles, knees and feet,” says Garcha.
Calorie Burn: 612kcals per hour
Best For: Everything
If you’re after a body that bulges, grab hold of some steel: “It’s the go-to exercise regime to improve strength, body composition and many other areas,” says Roberts.
It’s also the one sport that has the most relevance to everyday life: “Learning to lift things up and put them down will set you up for long-term health benefits.” And help you carry the shopping in.
Calorie Burn: 340kcals per hour
Do This Move: “Most weightlifters are undone by poor form and stiff muscles. To avoid getting sidelined, practice moves without weight,” says Jones. Perfect bodyweight press-ups will hone your form for the bench.
Best For: De-Stressing
There’s a reason most footballers spend their week on the green. Golf is low impact and the focus it demands is akin to mindfulness meditation – when you’re only thinking about your swing, work worries tend to recede.
It can also get the injury prone back in action: “Golf is well-suited to anyone with pre-existing health problems,” says Jones. It’s low impact and won’t have you panting.
Calorie Burn: 238kcals per hour
Do This Move: Swinging in a single plain can build imbalances and cause back pain: “Strengthen your back by using rowing machines and light weights in a seated row position,” says Garcha. You’ll also add yards to your drive.
Best For: Functional Fitness
Like calisthenics but with rather more risk, climbing is all about functional strength rather than building mirror muscle.
The best climbers have rock solid forearms and wrists – not body parts that you’ll ever feel an urge to flex: “But it also offers upper body development,” says Jones. And Spiderman skills.
Calorie Burn: 680kcals per hour
Best For: Mobility
Training at altitude forces your body to adapt to a low-oxygen environment. You produce more red blood cells to capture what little’s available, which means that when you return to sea level, you can feed your muscles more of the good stuff and work harder for longer.
“The constant twisting and unpredictable terrain will also strengthen your core and improve balance and flexibility,” says Jones. Just try to stay off the fondue.
Calorie Burn: 408kcals per hour