This article is brought to you by Symmetry Pilates Barcelona
Barcelona has a myriad of natural workout motivators. But it also has a lot of temptations. After a stressful day of long commutes, demanding bosses and needy clients, all you really want to do in your free time is go out to eat, enjoy a bottle of good wine and not pay cover to your favourite club. We get it. However, in a place like Barcelona, physical activity can be just as much fun as those things, and exercise is undeniably better for you in the long run. From down at the beach to up in the mountains, it’s easy to keep healthy in the city.
Morning runs on the beach
By midday the beaches of Barcelona are packed with tourists, students and mojito-sellers, whereas mornings along the sand are rather peaceful. Before 11am you might have to run around a few dog walkers or fall in line behind others out for an early jog but there’s nothing to stop you from using Barcelona’s natural track to start your day off right.
Running on soft, loose sand is not as easy as the Baywatch lifeguards make it look, but don’t let that deter you. Running on sand offers many benefits. First of all, sand shifts beneath your feet with each stride creating a softer surface compared to pavement or a treadmill belt. This means your lower body is subject to less pounding and stress when you run. Big Sur Distance Project elite coach Bob Sevene says, “Running on sand requires you to generate more force and work through a fuller range of motion, from your ankles to your hip flexors and arms.” In other words, running on the beach also leads to you using more energy, building endurance and burning more calories. According to TheRunningAdvisor.com, you’ll burn 1.6 times more calories per mile run on the beach. Plus, who wouldn’t want to run with a beautiful view? Morning runs on the beach, with the waves lapping at your side and the sand shimmering in the sun, are good for you physically as well as mentally.
If you’re not used to running in the sand, take it slow. With beach running there’s possible risk of ankle sprains, Achilles injuries and aggravating your plantar fascia. Begin with a couple of light 10-15 minute runs, letting your leg muscles acclimatise to the extra work required for your new routine. And we suggest you wear shoes. You never know what debris you might tromp through, and shoes will support your feet and ankles on the new surface.
ADDED TIP: Leave your headphones at home and run to the natural soundtrack of your environment.
Physical activity doesn’t need to be complicated. Walking doesn’t require special equipment or athletic skills, yet it offers a host of health benefits from helping you manage your weight and lowering your risk of heart disease, to improving your mood and reducing pain. According to a study published in the journal PLoS Medicine, those who completed 150 minutes of brisk walking a week lived 3.4 years longer, while people who spent 450 minutes or more brisk walking per week added 4.5 years to their life expectancy. These longevity benefits were seen across gender and body mass indexes. If those statistics don’t get you moving, then consider all the places to explore in Barcelona on foot.
Since you’ve made this city your home, like any other local, do you avoid places that might be considered touristy? Don’t shy away from the main attractions of Barcelona. Make them your stomping grounds instead. There’s always a new nook of Montjuïc to discover, fresh angles to look at Parc Güell from, and the view from Tibidabo never ceases to bring a smile to people’s faces. If you have kids, play hide-and-seek in Parc del Laberint d'Horta, and if you have a visitor, don’t pass up the opportunity to walk up to the Bunkers del Carmel with a picnic and enjoy a sunny day overlooking the city.
Roller skating is not only a fun activity or a quick way to get you from point A to point B, it’s also a great way to keep healthy. For the most part, you can roller skate anywhere, allowing you unlimited access to this alternative workout regime. In Barcelona, the APB (Associació de Patinadors de Barcelona) even organises official skate rallies on Friday nights, which follow a rotating list of 10-12 different city routes of 15-20 kilometres each. The group’s president, Juan Carlos García, assures us that as long as you have an intermediate level (you need to know how to brake, turn and jump pavements), you’ll have no problems taking part in the routes. The APB holds workshops for beginners, as well. Every Sunday at 7pm in the summer and 5.30pm in the winter, the APB’s volunteers instruct new skaters on basic skills like braking, turning, descending ramps and climbing stairs.
Even if you’re just starting out on four wheels, you can still reap the rewards from roller skating. A study conducted by the University of Massachusetts concluded that skating causes less than 50 percent of the impact shock to joints compared to running. Skating involves long, smooth glides. This fluid motion is less damaging to your joints while still toning your legs and glutes as you power through each movement. Then to stay upright on your skates you have to engage your core, which strengthens your abdominal and lower back muscles and improves your balance. Next you have to match your leg and arm movements, unconsciously developing better coordination. Also, the calorie-burning benefits of roller skating add up quickly. In its article Top 10 Health Benefits of Roller Skating, Health Fitness Revolution claims that “an average-sized man who weighs around 190 pounds can expect to burn about 10 calories each minute of roller skating, while an average-sized woman weighing 163 pounds can expect to burn about 9 calories per minute.” So even if you can’t skate for more than a block without grabbing hold of the nearest tree, bench or pedestrian, it won’t take you long to work off that extra chocolate bar you snuck last night after the rest of the family was in bed.
ADDED TIP: Roller skating is a social activity. Rather than constantly meeting friends for dinner or drinks, throw out the idea of going for a group skate. It’s a good plan for a few laughs, and we all know laughter is the best medicine.
Get martial artsy
On any given day, you can walk through the city’s parks and see countless people doing yoga and Pilates. However, the most eye-catching displays of physical fitness are those people practising martial arts. Whether it’s judo, kickboxing, tae kwon do, aikido, tai chi or jujitsu only those training know for sure, but martial arts in general is a wonderful form of exercise. Training in any form increases your energy and flexibility, makes you stronger and lighter on your feet, and for some, it even renders a path to achieve spiritual growth.
The growing popularity of this form of exercise is evident on Meetup. One popular group, Martial Art Health Fighters, trains together three times a week and incorporates important knowledge about Eastern philosophy and practices into their sessions. There’s also a group called Martial Arts & Self Defense in Barcelona with over 800 ‘warriors’. Join up with them to stay safe while keeping fit.
Martial arts is a total body workout. It stimulates every muscle in the body. And for those of you overly tense about work, family, money, etc. it’s a perfect stress reliever. In martial arts you are required to kick, punch and scream. Something we all wish we could do more openly after a particularly frustrating day. Don’t worry about this fitness option focusing too much on sparring or fighting, however. Martial arts places little to no emphasis on violence, instead stressing the importance of discipline and respect.
ADDED TIP: Make it a family function. Martial arts is just as beneficial for kids as it is for adults. It gets them off their phones and away from their video games. It makes them focus, teaches them how to take hits—both literal and metaphorical—and helps them gain confidence and self-respect.
It’s a privilege to live near the well-preserved natural area of Collserola. The magnificent Serra de Collserola massif is a place for discovery and leisure, a place for meeting and conditioning. If you want to take it easy and enjoy a pleasant walk through this natural reserve right in our backyard, there are themed walks that leave from the Information Centre (Carretera de l'Esglèsia 92, 08017, Barcelona) every Saturday in spring and autumn, and alternate Saturdays in winter and summer. There’s no need to reserve a spot ahead of time, and the price is only €1,75 per person (children under seven free). Examples of possible themes are ‘the Vallvidrera marshes’, ‘on the wild boar’s trail’, and ‘pines, pine cones and pine seeds’.
If you’re looking for something a little more strenuous, there are plenty of longer trails for running, biking and hiking. The Carretera de les Aigües is much-loved by locals due to the fantastic vistas afforded all along its 10 kilometres of track. From Sant Pere Màrtir to the Carretera de la Rabassada, the viewpoint on the side of Collserola that overlooks Barcelona is perfect. The Carretera de les Aigües derives its name from the water pipes that once ran along this path. It has mostly retained its horizontal layout, but at its highest point, the trail stands 450 metres above sea level, giving you the impression you are travelling along nature’s own balcony.
According to About Travel, “50% of the population of Catalonia lives within ten kilometres of the Collserola park”, making it the largest metropolitan park in the world and denying you any excuse not to utilise this island of green to keep yourself healthy.
Climb to great heights
Rock climbing is a physically and mentally demanding sport. For starters, it combines cardio and muscle strengthening into a single workout. The upper body strength required for rock climbing is a given for pulling oneself up, while the legs and core build muscle as the body strives to find balance. Then there’s the benefit of calorie burning. Harvard Health Publications reported that a 155-pound person burns 409 calories every 30 minutes during a rock climbing ascent (the equivalent of running a nine-minute-mile or swimming the butterfly stroke) and 298 calories per half hour while rappelling. Rock climbing also increases your flexibility. A range of motion is required to reach, leap and climb to handholds and footholds usually far from a comfortable distance.
Not to mention the mental strength climbers develop. In a type of rock climbing called bouldering, the routes climbers take are called problems—rightfully named as rock climbing involves problem-solving skills to successfully complete each step of your vertical journey. And, although safety measures are usually in place whether you’re climbing indoors or outdoors, looking down and seeing people as tiny black dots can make anyone a little queasy. But once they overcome the fear of heights or falling, many climbers feel empowered. They have more confidence, and as they reach the summit of a climb, they get to partake in the euphoric feeling of being on top of the world.
You’re in luck because now that we’ve sold you on all the positive effects that rock climbing can have, you can take advantage of Barcelona’s world-class rock climbing spots.
Although many venture to Montserrat to visit the monastery perched on the 1,200-metre-high mountain, others go for the climb. Montserrat, an island of conglomerate rock needles and pinnacles rising nearly 1 kilometre above the surrounding countryside, has more than 5,000 climbing routes of all styles. Many of the routes are between 200 and 300 metres long, characterised by hanging belays, as the routes are generally steep with very few ledges. Sometimes referred to as the 100 summits mountain, Montserrat quite simply offers some of the best multi-pitch sports climbing in Spain. If you are an avid rock climber, this is your playground.
If you want to stay closer to the city centre, there’s climbing spots for you, too. La Foixarda is Montjuïc’s very own outdoor climbing wall. There are no crash pads on site, but if you feel comfortable enough you can traverse the wall on your own. Leave it up to Barcelona to offer a free outdoor climbing gym. For more details contact Climbat.
ADDED TIP: Rock climbing can be a dangerous sport. Knowledge of proper climbing techniques and usage of specialised climbing equipment is crucial for the safe completion of routes.
Get on your bike
Cycling is mainly an aerobic activity, which means that your heart, blood vessels and lungs all get a workout. As you breathe deeper, experience increased body temperature and begin to sweat, your overall fitness levels improve. Better Health Channel claims that it only takes two to four hours of cycling a week to achieve a general boost in your health, no matter what intensity level you ride at.
This being said, cycling can be as intense as you want. If you want to stay within the city centre, there are no major hills and you can take pleasure in a casual ride under the sunshine. If you want to push your bike to the extreme, take it to the mountains. One epic route outside of Barcelona heads inland from Castelldefels towards the Garraf Massif mountain range and includes the spectacular mountain pass of Rat Penat—at an elevation of 600 metres above sea level with grades of 23 percent, it’s barely wide enough for two cars to pass at the same time and sure to test your strength and stamina.
Keeping healthy by riding a bike is a no brainer. Plus, you’ll become a part of the esteemed cycling culture, which has exploded onto the streets of Barcelona. We’re sure you’ve noticed how, in the past few years, the city has embraced the 21st-century global cycling trend. And bikers have responded in droves. As stated in the article ‘Life on Two Wheels’, Barcelona, with its ever-growing cycling infrastructure of integrated bike lanes, bike parking, reduced speed limits and a city-wide bike sharing programme, is joining the ranks of cyclist havens such as Amsterdam and Copenhagen.
ADDED TIP: If you don’t own a bike, don’t let that stop you from riding to a healthier, happier lifestyle. Bicing is the cheapest form of public transportation in Barcelona, with an annual subscription price of just €47.15. Over 96,000 people, from first-time cyclists to octogenarians, are using it. Why not you?
Symmetry Pilates is a Premium Pilates studio run by a student of Michael King, one of the biggest names in Pilates who was trained under one of the first students of Joseph Pilates himself. Click here for more info.