8 ways to exercise on the Central Coast (without going to the gym)

A hiker heads up the trail near Lizzie Street in San Luis Obispo. Hiking is a great cardiovascular workout and gets you out in nature.
A hiker heads up the trail near Lizzie Street in San Luis Obispo. Hiking is a great cardiovascular workout and gets you out in nature.

I’ve had a rocky relationship with dumbbells.

I’ll work out with weights for months — sometimes years. Then, suddenly, the thrill is gone.

I begin looking around, thinking maybe I’d be happier with some other activity. I pledge that I’ll return to the dumbbells, but — I just need a little space.

It’s not personal, dumbbells, but, frankly, at times you weigh me down.

Luckily, we live on the Central Coast, which offers many workout alternatives that aren’t so ... heavy. Here, Tribune staff members share some of their favorite healthy activities that burn calories without the clanging iron.


In my 15 years of pursuing “The Stoke,” I’ve seen countless good surfers with dome-shaped beer bellies. So clearly surfing doesn’t afford everyone a chiseled, Laird Hamilton physique. On the other hand, it’s well known that surfing is a great cardiac exercise that works your back, core, shoulder, leg and arm muscles.

And it’s a sport that offers longevity. On a calm summer day, it’s not surprising to see gray-haired, wrinkled surfers riding open-faced waves with the same enthusiasm they had surfing decades before.

But mostly the experience of wave riding leads to healthy brains. A friend of mine says the mental benefits of a single good stoke can sustain him for 10 days, and I get that: Sitting among dolphins and traveling along rolling water provides a natural high that lasts well beyond the surf session. So If you’re stressed about work, worried about family, or troubled by the absurdities of life, two or three great waves can be exactly what the psychiatrist ordered.

Patrick S. Pemberton


Running is one of those sports that when you mention that you do it regularly, some people look at you sideways and ask, “Why?!?” It’s a sport that sometimes boasts as a motto on T-shirts: “My sport is your sport’s punishment.” Maybe that’s why there’s such a strong camaraderie among runners.

There have definitely been times when I’ve cursed running, when I didn’t want to lace up my shoes and head out the door. But I’m always glad that I did.

For me, someone who is not a quick runner, it’s not about speed — though it is about challenging myself to get faster and beat my own times, and the sense of accomplishment I gained after I finished my first half marathon in 2009 and my first (and only) marathon in 2011.

I run to explore trails and towns from a different perspective. I run in search of those moments when the exertion feels effortless: strong, steady and just gliding along.

Cynthia Lambert


After years of flailing around in swimming pools — doing some weird combo of breast stroke and dog paddle — I decided roughly a year ago that I was going to learn proper swimming technique. To persuade myself I meant business, I finagled two friends into teaming up with me for the SLO Triathlon. I would swim, Sally would cycle and Toni would run.

I knew I was going to need help — I had never advanced beyond advanced beginner — so I signed up for training, bought a cap, a pair of goggles and after trying on 52 bathing suits managed to find one that a) fit and b) wasn’t hideous.

Lessons consisted not so much of learning to swim, but of unlearning Bad Habits developed over a long lifetime. Thanks to my patient trainers, I was able to finish the half-mile swim at the triathlon without resorting to dog paddling.

As for my Bad Habits, I still have some. But that’s OK. I’ve got — what? — seven months until the next SLO Triathlon.

Stephanie Finucane


I’ve been an avid hiker for pretty much my entire adult life but particularly in the nearly 19 years I’ve lived in San Luis Obispo. The city currently has 52 miles of trails running through its 3,700 acres of surrounding open space.

There are three main reasons I enjoy it so much.

First, it’s very healthy. A brisk-paced hike raises your heart rate to the recommended moderately intense level and keeps it there for several hours. That’s perfect for burning calories and increasing heart health.

Second, it keeps me in touch with nature. The city’s trail system takes me through every local ecosystem including chaparral and oak woodland. Hiking is also a perfect way to see the spring wildflowers.

Third, it’s a good way to spend a couple of relaxing hours with friends and get caught up. Unlike running, hiking typically does not leave you out of breath so you can easily carry on a conversation.

David Sneed


Often what you’ll hear after a dance class or dance social event is that you can’t help but smile.

It’s a pleasantly distracting way to stay active, keep the feet moving, break a sweat, and lift your mood.

A wide range of dancing options exists here in San Luis Obispo County — salsa, swing, blues, tango, ballroom, and more.

I’ve danced primarily Latin forms of dance the past six or seven years, including salsa, bachata, merengue, cha cha, and cumbia at the many fantastic dancing options here in town.

Some gyms and venues around the Central Coast offer zumba, which is an aerobic version of various dance influences.

Sometimes I recall the story lines from classic novels from the 1800s, Jane Austen or Tolstoy, and how important dancing was to the way of life at the time. It was a cherished way to socialize, look one’s best, connect with others, and practice a form of art. This great tradition hasn’t changed for hundreds of years.

Nick Wilson


Unlike Pat, who likes to marinate himself in saltwater while acting as bait for sharks, I’m not a big fan of solo sports, especially those that require you to careen through space in a quest for some imaginary zen state while standing with your feet parallel on any kind of board.

My favorite activity is a weekly game of pickup basketball, where I can run back and forth with some sort of purpose other than getting from here to there.

In between that cross-court treadmill work, I’m pretty good at not making layups and very good at jumping for rebounds without actually leaving the ground.

Our current game began sometime around 1999 after a few members of the company softball team decided that standing in right field waiting for a fly ball for 65 minutes might not provide quite enough exertion to qualify as bona fide exercising.

More than 15 years later, we’re still at it.

If you’ve ever found yourself driving past the blue court in San Luis Obispo on a Sunday morning and swore you just saw the prettiest three-pointer ever to kiss the bottom of the net, you probably did, from reporter Nick Wilson, who’s a pretty nifty hoopster when he’s not salsa dancing.

It’s a beautiful thing.

Joe Tarica


Joe is right. Softball, at least the way it was played by a bunch of past-their-prime guys at El Chorro park this fall, isn’t the best way to stay fit. Prince Fielder and Bartolo Colon, pro ballplayers, look more like out-of-shape plumbers than athletes.

The amount of exercise also depends on your position. I played right field, and a scarecrow with a glove could have taken my spot most of the time. But softball does offer some exercise if you can avoid striking out and are willing to sprint the bases on contact.

Sprinting has been shown to burn fat and increase muscle mass quicker than long-distance running. Sprinting targets the butt, hips, hamstrings, quads, calves and abs. Not to mention that swinging a bat works the chest, triceps, shoulders and upper back. But before you take the field, make sure to warm up properly. I’ve seen many a good man go down with a tweaked muscle or two after going straight from the car to the batter’s box.

So if you’re looking to test your hand-eye coordination and run a couple sprints, softball is for you. But in reality, the best part is just having a catch with your buddies.

Travis Gibson


A few months ago a ping-pong table appeared in our lunch room, and what started out as friendly versions of patty cake with a ball and paddles has quickly escalated to something closer in intensity to the U.S. Open, complete with grunts, screams and a surprising amount cursing from some of my co-workers.

When I think back to my time as a kid playing this game, also known as table tennis, I don’t remember sweating a drop, but with our skills advancing into the realm of full power forehands and lunging chops, if I play beyond a three-game match, I start looking for a towel. It really has been a great little way to get exercise a few times throughout the week.

To up my game in my attempt to keep up with the ever-increasing skills of my co-workers, I’ve found great resources on YouTube to help me learn some serves and improve my returns. It’s been a surprising amount of fun. Even when I lose, I end up with a big smile on my face.

Joe Johnston