10 Unexpected Forms of Resistance Training

10 Unexpected Forms of Resistance Training

Getty/Sabrina Bracher

A personal trainer helps shake up your resistance training routine with these 10 unexpected forms of exercise.

At some point or another, you may have tried resistance training to improve your strength and wellness—or have even practiced resistance training without knowing it.

Resistance training is simply the practice of cultivating physical strength by resisting stimuli—and science has shown that any stimuli can help bring about this adaptation.

In 2014, a team of scientists made an interesting assertion: “We propose that for the general public the use of external load may not be the best way to define [resistance training]. The volume (dose) of resistance training is described by the load lifted, the number of repetitions, and the number of sets of repetitions. There are numerous other variables … In our view, these variables largely are redundant in achieving a phenotype of improved strength and even more so in gaining favorable health benefits.”

In short: It doesn’t matter what numbers you might see on a dumbbell. This study supports keeping it simple, saying, “Multi-joint exercises affect multiple muscle groups, so if a sufficient workload is required, a relatively simple protocol with select exercises may provide a sufficient stimulus.”

Let’s explore some non-gym activities that meet those requirements of being relatively simple enough to promote optimal adherence while still providing enough stimulation for your body to continue to gain strength and adapt.


Knitting was noted by The New York Times to impart a number of health benefits, which also carry over to other disciplines like crochet, embroidery, and sewing. Any time you’re performing a movement against something that gives resistance—like thread, fabric, or yarn—you are reinforcing your body’s strength. Think about those times when you have to muscle through a knot or undo a complicated stitch; that’s fine-tuned resistance acting on the tips of your fingers as you work. To develop and maintain this strength, try slipping a light rubber band around your fingers while you work. Having something pressing against your hands’ ability to extend will recruit the extensor muscles of that region, which often get underused since gripping and contracting our fingers often leads to overuse of the opposite muscle group, the flexors.


Woodworking requires use of not only the small muscles used in tasks like needlework, but also larger muscles and strong joints to make sure that your wrists, elbows, and shoulders are comfortable. For those needs, definitely consider the value of maintaining the health of your rotator cuff and everything attached to it, like the shoulders, neck, arms, and back. Find a few stretches like Cat-Cow that you can incorporate into your practice that address these areas as much as possible. For added prehabilitation, perform them even when you don’t feel pain or discomfort.


There is a special something about the act of working with plants, and the exertion involved is no small feat. Hoeing, tilling, weeding, pruning—anyone who identifies as a gardening enthusiast or micro-farmer will agree that it works up a serious sweat. For this activity, you’ll want to take care of your core in particular. Chances are, you may have had the unfortunate experience of tweaking your back or throwing your back out while gardening. The good news is that your back has many, many muscles that can kick in and help you out in a time of need. All you need to do is make sure that they’re healthy with solid strength-based movements that can assist all your gardening endeavors. Doing a series of planks is a great start. See if you can work your way from holding for 15-30 seconds at a time, all the way to a full minute.

Making Art

Every sketch is a study in stamina and hand, wrist, elbow, and shoulder strength. And let’s not forget about the value of core to keep your spine happy. So what do we do about it? The recommendations outlined above for other hobbies that include handiwork and core work are relevant here. With drawing, painting, and other forms of art, you have a lot more freedom to choose how you place your body in relation to the medium, and you can build a more holistic strength and prehabilitation routine within that. Have you ever tried doing a gentle, low-key Cobra while on the floor with your sketchbook? Trying out different poses while maintaining the flow of your art can add to the experience as a whole.

Playing Music

Whether it’s a tiny piccolo or a massive upright bass, there’s no question that playing an instrument takes some level of strength. By engaging with the resistance of keys or strings and holding the instrument in place while playing, you’re giving yourself a challenge. Music is an interesting discipline because so much of classical training is based on staying as light as possible for efficacy of movement, which sometimes has the opposite effect of encouraging overuse syndrome in professional musicians because their playing style is not backed with muscular strength training.

Therefore, to address overuse syndrome, you can think about your body as just as much of an instrument as your flute or guitar, and visualize how well you can play yourself in tune with it. Visualization has been studied to be a powerful technique that can go miles for developing practices both in and outside of the gym—and a little core training on the side never hurts, either! Try a gentle exercise like seated twists, with the goal of progressing to holding a weight slightly heavier than your familiar instrument; that will reduce the strain of playing once your nervous system has become acquainted with a more strenuous load.


One of the biggest strength challenges in visual arts has got to be the act of sculpting. Consider how many different heavy, unwieldy materials there are to work with: metals like iron, steel, brass, bronze, and pewter, along with stones and mineral blocks like granite and marble, all of which require you to exert yourself against the resistance of the earthy material. And then there’s the whole world of clay and ceramics and the acts of operating tools like a potter’s wheel and kiln. The good news is that actions with light impact—like hammering into a sculpture—deliver strength benefits comparable to weightlifting. To maintain the health of your hardworking joints so that they can last through these repetitive impacts from sculpting movements, try a gentle yoga flow.

Cooking and Baking

Chopping, cutting, carrying groceries and cooking equipment—it sounds as strenuous as gardening all over again, doesn’t it? For sure, cooking on a personal or professional level can be a serious workout. Lifting pots and pans and cookie sheets is its own form of resistance training. As mentioned above, it’s important to take special care of your physical health when doing any type of resistance training—and what you’re cooking in the kitchen can help refuel! Make sure to include healthy proteins and recovery-boosting nutrients like vitamin C with every meal. (And make sure that you do in fact eat full meals; snacking can’t always account for how much physical effort it takes to put together a brilliant plate.)


After you’ve performed resistance training by cooking up a three-course meal, then comes the additional exercise of mopping floors, scrubbing dishes, washing used tablecloths—and we haven’t even looked at the messes in the rest of the house! A clean home can create feelings of a clean mind, body, and spirit. This might be a good time to listen to music that lowers stress levels or helps to clear unwanted or negative energy while you work. Music enhances neuromuscular activity in documented case studies in sports science; if we replace the idea of sports with the physical act of cleaning, then adding your favorite music to your scrubbing and mopping will make the workflow more effective.


If drawing and playing an instrument fall into the category of strength exercise outside of a gym, then writing must be included in our list as well. Although lighter and less strenuous than some of the examples above, you still have to apply resistance and pressure to whichever medium you’re working with, making writing a form of mild resistance training. Even if you don’t write on a tablet or type on a computer, you can still absolutely count it as a workout because storytelling requires serious stamina. Studying breathwork can be additionally useful to help you stay focused and relaxed while engaging in your writing practice. Breathing helps facilitate memory and may ultimately help with the narrative process.


In order to acquire the skills listed above, we must first learn them from someone else. Teaching another individual all these physical practices requires the ability to be fit enough to communicate them with clear directions and replicable demonstrations.

Not only are all the above suggestions helpful for teachers of all kinds— stretching, mobility, weight training, breathing, and restorative breathwork—but you might also consider taking a little time for yourself after class, as well. When was the last time you enjoyed the self-healing benefits of meditation?

Supplement resistance training with these 10 unexpected forms of cardio.

10 Unexpected Forms of Resistance Training

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