The Most Popular Ways to Get Fit in D.C.

That warm, slightly sweaty feeling you’re getting from being in Washington, D.C., during the summer? It’s not just the humidity. According to the American College of Sports Medicine’s 2018 American Fitness Index, D.C. ranks as America’s third fittest metropolis thanks to the capital city’s combination of ample parkland, high levels of exercise and healthy eating habits. (Arlington, Virginia—the District’s neighbor across the Potomac—actually tops the list as the fittest in the country according to the same index.)

Washingtonians are workout fanatics due in large part to the area’s extensive network of trails, the country’s third largest bike share system and—no surprise in a town where two waterways meet—ample opportunities to get paddling on the Potomac and Anacostia rivers.

“I think people are often surprised by how much nature you can see in D.C. on the water,” says local arts activist Philippa Hughes, an avid stand-up paddleboarder (SUP). “Upriver on the Potomac, it’s beautiful. You see beavers and tons of turtles, and sometimes a big fish will swim under you and it’s like, ‘ahhh!’”

Philippa Hughes

Hughes brings her own paddle board to the water, biking it down from her condominium on hip 14th Street NW. But local outfit Boating in DC offers SUP rentals and frequent guided tours that take in the monuments and city from six locations, including The Wharf in the southwest quadrant and Key Bridge Boathouse in Georgetown. Kayak rentals and trips, plus boating lessons and sailboat rentals are also available.

For running and life coach Mary Ann McKibben Dana, the area’s miles of paved trails and dozens of parks make her want to lace up her sneakers. “You can go out on a trail almost anytime in the evening or morning and there will be people—it’s energizing,” she says. “You’ll see folks walking, biking, even roller-blading. There’s a real sense of community.”

McKibben aims her Brooks or Nikes toward the Mount Vernon Trail along the Potomac River near Old Town Alexandria in Virginia and likes running with pals around the National Mall. “We’ll meet at Iwo Jima in Arlington, cross the Key Bridge near Georgetown and then go past all the monuments and the U.S. Capitol,” she says. “It’s a good 10 miles, and you’re running through history!”

Mary Ann McKibben Dana

Other top spots for running or walking include Rock Creek Park, a green ribbon in Northwest Washington with 8.5 miles of pavement and views of the Kennedy Center and Oak Hill Cemetery in Georgetown, and the 20-mile-long Anacostia Riverwalk Trail, which passes by Nationals Park and the water in Southeast. And for stair runners, the “Exorcist Steps” in Georgetown and the lower part of Meridian Hill Park in Northwest offer cardio challenges. The latter offers a workout among historic, tiered fountains and statues of historic figures including Dante and Joan of Arc.

No surprise, the same network of trails and great, urban outdoor spaces also means D.C. caters to two-wheeled workouts. Take the Capital Bikeshare, which rates among the country’s busiest, biggest public bicycle networks. Cyclists scan their credit cards to unlock one of 4,500 bikes docked at 500-plus stations across the metro area. You’ll spot people zooming around on the clown nose-red vehicles in dedicated lanes (15th Street NW into downtown, M Street into Georgetown, Pennsylvania Avenue to the U.S. Capitol) as well as in Rock Creek Park and other green spaces.

Stefanie Karp

“Biking around the city, I love catching the Anacostia River Trail,” says strategic planner Stefanie Karp. “It’s a great way to go from the Mall to The Wharf and the Navy Yard along the river. I keep coming across new treasures along the way.”

Take It Indoors

When the weather is less than cooperative, fitness junkies don’t need to settle for a standard workout inside. Plenty of boutique gyms—sweatboxes that focus on only one or two forms of exercise—have been popping up around Washington faster than an Ironman runner doing sprints. These are just a few spots that have locals pumped:

305 Fitness. The Miami import brings hearth-throbbing cardio/dance workouts to a nightclub-like space near Adams Morgan, complete with a DJ and a light show. 1328 Florida Ave. NW, 202.885.9606

DC Row. In a new studio in The Wharf neighborhood, wannabe rowers glide along on water machines that simulate the feel of cutting through the Potomac. Classes combine cardio with strength-training exercises like crunches and modified pushups. 790 Main Ave. SW, 202.683.4055

Flow Yoga Center. Two Logan Circle locations of this center with a cultish following offer yoga masters plenty of options for fitting oms and vinyasas into busy schedules. 1450 P St. NW & 1508 14th St. NW, 202.462.3569

Solidcore. This intense Pilates/boot camp combo founded in D.C. counts former first lady Michelle Obama and current first daughter Ivanka Trump as fans. Several locations,


Jennifer Barger
About the author


Jennifer Barger is a Washington, D.C.-based travel and design writer who spe...