It’s not just fun to ponder a bucket list, hone it and then eventually — hopefully — check things off of it. The process also forces you to focus on what you want to do with the time you have on earth, making it more likely you’ll actually climb that mountain, jump out of that airplane or swim with the dolphins. Why not prioritize your exercise goals in the same way by creating a fitness bucket list? We’ve put together a collection of physical feats that are incredibly tough yet totally doable with training and practice. See how many you can check off your list.
1. Conquer the Pull-Up
This challenging upper-body exercise involves pulling yourself up while hanging from a stationary bar. (Often confused with chin-ups, your palms face away from you in pull-ups, whereas in chin-ups you grasp the bar with palms facing toward you.) Pull-ups primarily work the muscles of the back and biceps. “They are an amazing exercise for total-body strength,” says Lisa Kinder, star of the 10-Minute Solution: High Intensity Interval Training DVD. “Pull-ups are one of the most effective ways to increase size and strengthen your back muscles and core.” Start by focusing on the grip first, says Kinder. Using a pull-up bar, work on holding the hang for as long as you can, then work on squeezing your shoulder blades together. Use a bungee or assisted pull-up machine (common in most gyms) to help get you to your goal. Women should strive for four to eight repetitions and men for six to 12.
2. Finish a 10K
Striving to run a marathon may be overwhelming, especially for new runners. But a 10K (6.2 miles) seems universally doable. They’re very popular with beginner runners, especially those who have done a 5K race but don’t feel they’re quite ready to take on the half-marathon, says Lisa Kinder. “There’s nothing like having the goal of competing in a race to focus the mind. It gives you a target. And doing three running/training sessions a week is enough to help you get fit.” At a minimum, Kinder recommends running three times a week to prepare for a 10K. Do two 30-minute runs on Tuesday and Thursday and a long run on the weekend. When possible, add an additional 20-minute easy run to your schedule to increase total time.
3. Hold a Forearm Plank for Three Minutes
One of the best exercises for increasing core strength, a perfect plank means you’re not hiking up your hips or allowing them to sag. Holding it for 30 to 60 seconds is challenging enough for most people, so three minutes ups the ante considerably. “Holding a stationary plank involves stability of the whole body. When we have sufficient stability we are less likely to be injured, can move more efficiently and are likely stronger overall,” says Jacque Crockford, exercise physiologist and education specialist at the American Council on Exercise (ACE). If you’re totally new to a forearm plank, work up to it by holding a plank on the elbows and knees for 10 to 15 seconds. Rest and repeat for two to three sets. Add seconds each time you perform a plank, and once you are able to hold a plank on the knees for 30 seconds, lift the knees and hold the plank on the elbows and feet for 20 seconds. Repeat for two to three sets and continue to add more time during your workout.
4. Do 20 Perfect Push-Ups
Push-ups require upper-body strength and full-body stability, making them a great fitness component. “When performing a push-up correctly (with a straight line from head to heels, elbows bending to 90 degrees) you engage the major upper-body muscle groups like the pectorals and deltoids,” says Jacque Crockford, exercise physiologist and education specialist at the American Council on Exercise (ACE). “You’re also engaging your trunk and leg musculature to maintain proper body position.” Those are the same muscles we use in everyday life for toting groceries or carrying children. Work up to your goal by doing two to three sets of eight to 12 reps every two to three days as part of your strength-training routine. “If you’re not able to do one full push-up yet, start by doing push-ups on the wall, against a low bench or with the knees on the ground,” says Crockford. “Then progress to five full-body push-ups at a time.”
5. Master an Olympic Lift
Popularized by CrossFit, Olympic lifts include complex, full-body exercises designed to increase power and strength and are often used to train for sports. The clean and jerk, for example, is a composite of power, strength, speed, coordination and stabilization of nearly every joint, says Irv Rubenstein, Ph.D., founder of S.T.E.P.S., a science-based fitness facility in Nashville, Tennessee. “For athletes, the clean and jerk is a fundamental power-training exercise demanding vertical power production of the lower extremities and upper body, with substantial core (abs, hips, low back) strength and stability requirements, to transfer energy from the ground up.” Though it’s similar to lifting an object from the ground or a slight elevation and putting it overhead onto a shelf, you may want to consult a strength coach for proper instruction.
6. Do a Long-Distance Bike Tour
Combine a travel bucket list item with a fitness one and plan a bike trip through a beautiful area like Napa Valley. A fitness endeavor combined with wine includes both work and play, which isn’t a bad thing. “Fine wine and food is always a pleasant reward for those so inclined to consume it,” says Rubenstein. “Plus, a bike tour — even interspersed by visits to local wineries and vineyards — is an aerobic event, made more challenging by taking the gentle slopes faster or simply going longer distances throughout the day.” Be sure to buy a good bike and get it fitted to your body properly. Don’t skimp on the appropriate cycling equipment, and learn basic skills to repair your bike should you get a flat or mess up the chain, says Rubenstein.
7. Complete a Strenuous Hike
Hiking down the Grand Canyon, for instance, requires physical strength as well as mental toughness, making it a good bucket list item, says Rubenstein. Plus, it will be a truly memorable experience. “You’re not only going to see some amazing vistas and natural formations, but you’re going to have to be physically very strong — heart and legs and core. And, yes, you carry your own water and backpack,” he says. “It’s a total-body event with amazing rewards along the way.” Train for it by doing basic cardio, such as walking on hills, running and stair climbing, preferably on real stairs. The elliptical machine also works, as does squats, lunges and step-ups using weights in your hand or on your body (like a weighted vest, which develops the legs). “Vary the height of the stairs,” suggests Rubenstein, and focus on core work.
8. Balance on One Leg With Eyes Closed for 15 Seconds
Balance keeps you stable as you age, so setting a goal to keep your balance makes it less likely you’ll have problems later in life. “Balancing on one leg correlates with fewer falls,” says Rubenstein. If you’ve never done balance training, start slowly. Rubenstein recommends facing the doorjamb with both hands out in front of you on each side of the jamb. Practice balancing on both feet with your eyes closed before gradually progressing to doing so without holding on. When you are comfortable with that, practice balancing with eyes open on one foot until you can keep your hips level and not wobble. Maintain balance without touching the jamb. Then try it with your eyes closed on one leg, but keep the hands close to the jamb.
9. Master an Advanced Yoga Pose
An advanced yoga pose like crow (bakasana) isn’t all about upper-body strength; it requires balance and core strength along with hip flexibility, says Jennifer Galardi, certified yoga instructor and star of Flowetry DVD, which incorporates yoga with dance moves. “Down dog, plank and chataranga are all excellent preps for crow pose.” Start in down dog, lift the heels and begin to walk the feet toward the hands. Your shoulders may be behind your wrists a bit here, but continue to pull up through your core into a pike-type position. Bend your knees in a deep squat and walk the feet closer to the wrists. Continue to press the hands into the earth, keeping your shoulders drawn away from the ears. Slowly begin to bend your elbows, moving them into the body and back as you come down into a squat position. Then pull in your core as you shift your weight over your hands, sending your hips up and potentially placing one thigh on the upper back of one arm that is creating a “shelf” for the leg. Put the toes down and try the other leg, keeping the opposite foot on the floor. You can play with alternating legs to gain strength, eventually lifting both legs onto the arms.
10. Perform a Handstand
Another yoga move, handstands require a great deal of core and back strength to execute properly, says Galardi. “Crow can be an excellent pose to prep for a handstand.” You can also do a handstand “walking up the wall.” With a wall behind you, come into down dog position. Begin to walk your hands back as you walk your feet up the wall until your body is at a 90-degree angle. Pull your navel up and back, and avoid “dumping” into the shoulders. Hold here for up to one minute. Eventually press one leg off the wall straight into the air as you flex the foot and press the heel of the lifted leg to the ceiling. Switch legs. This is a good way to start, however, “I would not perform this pose without the guidance of a qualified teacher because there is too much room for error, misalignment and possible injury,” says Galardi.