The Most Inspiring Fitness Documentaries On Netflix
These 10 fitness docs will convince you to take on a new physical challenge.
The Doc to Bring Out the Fight In You: Through My Father's Eyes
Through My Father's Eyes tells the story of Ronda Rousey, a former Olympian and the first-ever female UFC champion. Rousey's fight began at her birth when she was born with the umbilical cord wrapped around her neck, causing a childhood neurological speech disorder which made it impossible for her to form sentences. Fast forward to her becoming a two-time judo Olympian by the age of 21, and then mixed martial arts legend known around the world. (BTW, you need to see how Rousey trains for a big fight.) Rousey's story of survival to stardom, matched with the intense fight footage will make you believe anything is possible. (Related: Read in Ronda Rousey's own words about what it *really* means to be perfect.)
The Doc to Inspire You to Eat Your Veggies: The Game Changers
Maybe Popeye was on to something with all that spinach — and the team behind The Game Changers would agree. Created by bodybuilder Arnold Schwarzenegger, martial artist Jackie Chan, tennis champion Novak Djokovic, and other powerhouses in the world of sports, The Game Changers explores the benefits and healing properties of adopting a plant-based diet. (See: Plant-Based Diet Benefits Everyone Should Know.)
The doc follows James Wilks, an elite Special Forces trainer and winner of The Ultimate Fighter, on a quest to understand why some top tier athletes swear by a plant-based diet. He talks to bodybuilders, NFL players, Olympic sprinters, and even Formula One racers all over the world who claim they're in the best shape of their lives after going plant-based. Whether or not you're ready to fully embrace this lifestyle change, this documentary will definitely have you replacing some of your brownies with broccoli.
The Doc About the Power of Exercise on Mental Health: Resurface
Resurface is an incredible Netflix original about veterans who are learning how to surf in an effort to manage their PTSD. Watch a vet—who lost both his legs and one arm to a detonated IED—catch his first wave, and try not to be inspired.
Operation Surf, the California-based program showcased in the film, helps wounded and injured veterans use the sea as their therapeutic escape from their traumas. No injury is too big an obstacle to avoid the surf—even a man who'd been through six different explosions and who lost most of his hearing and his vision keeps returning to the ocean. (See: How Fitness Helped This Woman Cope with Going Blind and Deaf)
"The traumas live in their bodies," said Van Curaza, the founder of Operation Surf, in the documentary. "In order to get healing, you must involve the body in the treatment." You've been warned: it's a tearjerker, but next time you have a rough day, think of these veterans who used sport as their rehabilitation and follow their lead. (Related: 13 Mental Health Benefits of Exercise)
The Doc to Remind You an Injury Does Not Define You: Unstoppable
You've probably heard her story: When Bethany Hamilton was 13 years old, she was attacked by a shark while surfing. She lost her left arm in the attack but not her passion for surfing — just a month later, she was back on the board. After a year, she was back to competing... and winning! She ultimately became one of the most famous pro surfers in the world, and in 2017, was inducted into the Surfer’s Hall of Fame.
Unstoppable shows Hamilton still getting after it, chasing some of the ocean's biggest waves, as well as riding a new one: motherhood. Hamilton's life story is a great reminder that if you get knocked down, you get back up again. (And when you find yourself wanting to catch your own gnarly wave, here is a surf inspired workout to get a taste.)
The Doc That Lets You Inside the Ring: Fightworld
This Netflix original documentary series puts all types of fighting into the ring, from muay thai in Thailand to hand-to-hand combat in Israel. In Fightworld, Captain America actor Frank Grillo uses his passion for boxing to explore fight culture around the world and its role in different communities. In Mexico, a woman explains how boxing training keeps her sober. In Senegal, learn about the traditional wrestling style that's one most popular sports in the country. Watch how fighting empowers people of all genders, cultures, classes, and ethnicities around the world—then consider how boxing may change your life too.
The Doc to Remind You Fitness Is a Freedom: Limitless
Limitless tells the story of eight women from India who are passionate about running. But what makes their stories unique is that, in their country, families can be unsupportive of women running because of societal pressures. Women who choose to run can be seen as selfish because it takes away time from their home. Also, it can be dangerous for women to run along the roads in India due to busy traffic. These eight women all have their own motivations for looking past these obstacles, but what they have in common is how empowered they feel when they run. This documentary will have you looking past your own roadblocks as well. (If you've always felt intimidated by running, here's some advice on how to start running for beginners.)
The Doc About How Fitness Can Save You from Yourself: I Am Maris
I Am Maris is the story of Maris Degener who, as a teenager, struggled with anxiety, depression, and a life-threatening eating disorder. She was hospitalized and tried therapy — but continued to struggle until she found solace in a local yoga studio. Once she was on the mat, Degener started to find peace with her body and mind. Not only did she get stronger, she also met other people who were also using yoga to heal themselves from various ailments. (Related: How Running Helped Me Conquer My Eating Disorder)
This documentary is a story about how the simple act of trying a new activity can help reshape your outlook on yourself and your life. (It's worth noting, however, that using exercise to heal after struggling with an eating disorder is not a solution for everyone.)
The Doc That'll Send You On a Solo Fitness Trek: Pedal the World
In Pedal the World, Felix Starck decides to spend a year traveling by bike over 11,000 miles to 22 countries. Starting in his home country of Germany, he rides south across Europe all the way to Turkey, then hops aboard a few planes to continue biking in Southeast Asia, New Zealand, and the United States.
During this documentary, you get to play Starck's copilot as he pedals to some of the world's most famous landmarks and meets people from every corner of the globe. Equally as important: You'll see what it's like to experience the true loneliness of doing a yearlong solo trek. (And it has nothing to do with the current loneliness epidemic.) You'll come away with some serious wisdom; sometimes it's during these moments of solitude that you learn things about yourself that you never knew. Not quite ready to bike solo around the world? Here are some of the best fitness retreats for women traveling solo.)
The Docuseries That Sends Stereotypes Tumbling: Cheer
Cheer is a docuseries (that means there are multiple episodes) full of ups and downs, literally. It follows the cheerleading team from Navarro College — a small junior college in Corsicana, Texas, with one of the best cheer programs in the country — as they prepare for the National Championships. They have three months to pull off a perfect (and potentially dangerous) two-and-a-half-minute routine.
With a now-legendary coach, Monica Aldama, Navarro has been adorned with 14 National Championship trophies — how hard can it be for them to cinch the top spot again? This is where Cheer pulls back the curtain on the insanely demanding and intense world of cheerleading. Each cheerleader must be a total machine: training to jump, flip, and toss higher than they did the year before. The sky is the limit, but the stakes are just as high and one misstep during a stunt could result in a career-ending injury. Underneath all that glitter and behind those pompoms are some of the bravest and most talented athletes you've ever seen. (Cheerleaders themselves have been waiting for TV to give this glimpse into their sport.) This docuseries will have you on the edge of your seat, screaming along with the team. It's truly an inspiring story about a group of incredible people who seem to defy all odds — while also defying gravity.
The Doc That Isn't Just About Rock Climbing: The Dawn Wall
This documentary tells the story of Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson, the first-ever climbers to free-climb (using just their hands, feet, and safety ropes) up the Dawn Wall, a 3,000-foot rock face of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park. But, somehow, that's only one of the unbelievable parts of Caldwell's life. Long before conquering one of the longest and most difficult climbs in the world, Caldwell was climbing in the country of Kyrgyzstan when he and his crew got captured by a rebel army for six days. Then, in an accident at home, he lost his index finger — which, of course, is of vital importance in rock climbing. Watch The Dawn Wall to see how he and Jorgeson managed to scale this rock face despite all the challenges and to catch a little climbing fever yourself. (More incentive: Rock climbing has a lot of a ton of benefits.)