Exercises, Ranked By How Little They Suck

A handy primer for your New Year's fitness resolution.

by Emma Garland; photos by Charlie Kwai
09 January 2020, 11:22am

Exercise is crap. You know this, I know this, we all know this. We have to do it anyway, at least a bit, to avoid blacking out after running 12 seconds for the bus, but it’s purely needs-driven. Anyone who says they enjoy the process and not simply the results is either lying or a psycho.

Fortunately, there are many methods by which you can try to prevent your earthly body from disintegrating like sheets of cheap toilet paper – some less terrible than others. So the time has come to take a completely subjective matter like forms of exercise, eliminate all variables such as access to facilities or pre-existing health conditions, and: rank them!


Boring, bad for your bones and likely to give you a heart attack if you do it loads and then suddenly stop – this is the lowest tier of exercise. I know everyone likes it because it’s easy to listen to playlists during and there’s apps to record your mileage in impressive little patterns to show off on Instagram, but it doesn’t even tackle the whole body. Running is something you do when you’re late or under attack. Think bigger.


Here we have: fencing, archery, curling, bobsleigh, trampolining and all those other esoteric aspects of the Olympics you watch and think, how the fuck does anyone get into this as a career. There’s not enough time to go deep on each one, but I assume that if you do any of these things in the UK you’re at least two of the following: really rich, really weird or really dedicated.


I personally consider this to be a mode of transport rather than a sport or fitness endeavour, but it can absolutely be both. However, exercise bikes are the devil’s workout.


Tennis, badminton, ping-pong, cricket and squash – or, what I would call “caravan holiday activities” – have a special place in my heart because they remind me of being dumped at a leisure centre in secondary school and allowed free reign of the equipment. They’re also on the fun side of cardio, good for strength and you can grunt a lot and no one will look at you with alarm.


Unfortunately pretty much all the hand and foot sports – football, rugby, basketball and the like* – are the ‘smoking’ of exercise. The surrounding culture may be toxic and high risk, but it looks really cool.

*Except American football, which is easily the lamest sport on earth.


Playing Counter-Strike doesn’t do a massive amount for your physical wellbeing in and of itself, but being “in shape” is a performance enhancer that helps with reaction times and shit like that, which is why most e-athletes also tend to be gym bros. As a result, E-Sports requires assorted exercise not as central focus, but as a built-in facet of a lifestyle dedicated to sitting on your arse. Very relatable! Mid-tier material.

Man and woman planking in gym


How ‘good’ yoga is depends entirely on where you’re doing the class and who is teaching it. Someone authentically bringing their spirituality to the practise or else avoiding that aspect entirely and leading power yoga in a gym, fine – love it. White woman in harem pants saying “Namaste, ladies” on a rooftop in Peckham, not so much.


This covers all categories of the X Games except BMXing, which is for people who wear jorts. There is a sliding scale of coolness at play here (which goes: skateboarding > surfboarding > snowboarding, and additionally skating on ice is cooler than street skating but neither of those are covered by the X Games anyway so I digress) but overall these are fun to do, fun to watch and full of camaraderie. A top tier Xercise, aha.


Both of these are cooler than all the cool sports combined because a) everybody wishes they could do them and b) the outfits are amazing. As the endurance of Bring It On will attest, there is no versatile or more eternal aesthetic on earth than a cheerleading outfit.


A controversial entry among people who are either wary of germs, don’t like the fact that you have to splat around barefoot or aren’t strong swimmers, but as far as exercise goes it’s another all-rounder. Cardio, strength, endurance. If you go to a local leisure centre then it could cost as little as nothing, with overheads stretching to a refundable pound coin for the locker and 25p for a packet of space raiders from the vending machine to eat on the way home.


Niche and for poshos but – on account of the source material and physical discipline – has a well-acknowledged streak of darkness that I think is interesting even though I can’t even balance on one leg for more than five seconds.


You simply will not find a more supportive or enjoyable work-out atmosphere anywhere than in a regional Zumba class, where four generations of women led by an instructor called Sue will sweat through basic choreography to 30 different remixes of “Despacito”.


When it comes to getting your heart and lungs going, nothing gets the job done like a good old fashioned Walk. This is another virtuous exercise because technically all you have to do is step outside the front door and you’re off, but a true Walk doesn’t even require the ability to walk at all. As long as you’re getting fresh air – ideally from the mountains or seaside, to really bash you about – and a restorative time amid nature, the job is done.

1. SEX

Let’s be honest, even if you’re not getting a massive amount of cardio in nothing will strengthen your core and glutes quite like a shag. Sex and exercise go hand in hand, because after a while they simply improve one another. Go for longer and your stamina will improve, if your stamina improves you can focus on the strength needed to fuck someone against a wall, fuck someone against a wall and you will get stronger. You see what I mean?

Obviously try not to view every sexual encounter as a work-out, otherwise the eroticism will vanish and you’ll end up treating your partner like a mountain bike with nipples, but it is a truth universally acknowledged that if you’re fucking someone regularly and live a fairly healthy lifestyle otherwise, you don’t have to do anything else. Just my two cents!


working out