This Is the Ultimate Way to Get Fit like You Did in Gym Class

Written by | Fitness, Wellness

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Phys Ed wasn’t all frustrating rope climbs and locker room towel-snapping. We look at the history of some of the sports we played then — and how they can help us burn calories now.

For most of us, the days when a whistle-wearing coach in questionably-fitted shorts hustled us into a high school gym are little more than a distant memory. And we’ve been glad to trade the rigors of calisthenics and rope climbing for regular dates with elliptical machines, free weights and yoga instructors.

But let’s not forget that gym class was also a time when we got to try a wide variety of sports that offered valuable exercise while we were too busy having fun (or trying not to embarrass ourselves) to notice. Some of these sports remain great ways to shake up a stale gym routine today. That could mean organizing a game of dodgeball at your next barbecue or checking out the wide variety of leagues (including those that are gay-specific) available in such sports as basketball, dodgeball, football, volleyball and more. So now, let’s take a look at some of our favorite Gym Class Throwbacks — and the calorie-burning reasons why you might want to get back in the game.


Looking for an all-American sport? Volleyball was created in Massachusetts in 1895 when physical education teacher William G. Morgan blended tennis and handball to come up with the game as we know it — in which teams (most often of two, six or nine players) knock the ball across a net on a beach or hard court.

THE BURN: 150-260 calories per half hour.

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You might be surprised to learn that the second most popular sport in the world (after soccer) is badminton. The game evolved in British-colonized India, a combination of the existing games of battledore and shuttlecock sometime in the mid 19th century. Badminton players can increase speed and improve reflexes, build muscle tone in the quads, glutes, calves and hamstrings as they dash around the court.

THE BURN: 450 calories per hour.

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This sport was invented back in 1891 by Dr. James Naismith — a physical education instructor who was looking for a way to keep his gym class active on a rainy day. Originally the two teams of five players tested their dexterity by tossing balls into literal baskets; it wasn’t until the early 1900s that now-familiar innovations like backboards and nets were introduced. Today, the game generates over $5 billion dollars a year for the NBA alone.

THE BURN: 160-765 calories per half hour.


In this quintessential gym class throwback, players hurl balls at their opponents with the goal of hitting and eliminating them. But its history can actually can be traced back to Africa over 200 years ago, when it was far more deadly as participants hurled rocks and other large objects instead of balls. Missionary Dr. James H. Carlisle observed tribal peoples participating in the activity and brought it back to London — also wisely switching out the rocks.

THE BURN: 150-200 calories per half hour.


Not to be confused with soccer, American football finds much of its roots in the game of rugby but can also be traced all the way back to the ancient Greek sport of Episkyros — which also featured a fair amount of ball throwing and violence.

THE BURN: 300-600 calories per half hour.


This is a variation on the historically popular bat-and-ball games that can be traced back to the 1300s and evolved into modern baseball. However, kickball trades sticks for kicks — while keeping crucial components like circling the bases to score and using the ball to tag opponents out. It was invented just before 1920 by Nicholas C. Seuss in Cincinnati, Ohio.

THE BURN: Between 350-500 calories in a half hour.


The most recently-invented entry on our list, Pickleball was created by Joel Pritchard and Bill Bell in 1965 when they started improvising and came up with a game that involves paddles or rackets used to volley a special light ball over a net — akin to an oversized game of ping pong. Its piquant name comes from the fact that one of its earliest fans, while it was being developed, was the family cocker spaniel named Pickles.

THE BURN: 250-350 calories per half hour.


Believed to have been developed in the monasteries of 12th Century France, tennis has evolved into a massively popular sport with over 17 million people playing annually in the U.S. alone. Its “Grand Slam” events — Wimbleton, the U.S. Open, the French Open and the Australian Open — are among the most prestigious in the world.

THE BURN: 250-636 calories per hour.

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One of humanity’s oldest recorded sports, cave drawings depict wrestlers engaging in throws, locks and takedowns as long as 15,000 years ago.

THE BURN: 180-300 calories per hour

If you’re looking for some other alternatives to the traditional gym, check out Fun Alternatives to Traditional Gyms and Eight Ways to Stay Fit This Winter.

If you’re a gym rat and looking for a gay gym in NYC, read our list of LGBT Friendly Gyms in Chelsea, Hell’s Kitchen & Greenwich

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Last modified: July 23, 2019