Nowadays, most everyone is guilty of staying indoors too much, myself included. Between work and family chores, there is just too much to do. If this sounds like your life, where you’re forced to decide between a trip to the park or your evening workout, you should try combining them into extremely effective outdoor workouts.
There are endless ways to combine outdoor time with a good honest workout. And in addition to the physical conditioning you get from the exercise, you’ll also benefit from the sunshine and exposure to nature. (Bonus points if you also workout with others!) Vitamin D is an essential hormone for your body, as it’s involved in a multitude of metabolic processes. This time of year, you should be able to get all of the vitamin D you need for the day after about 20 minutes or so of midday sun exposure.
Additionally, just being out in a park and experiencing nature can provide a variety of mental health benefits. Studies have shown that people can feel better within just five minutes of being out in a natural area—experiencing stress relief and a better mood after simply relaxing by a quiet pond or a meadow of wild flowers.
So, when you aren’t busy lounging on the grass, soaking up the sun, what kinds of outdoor workouts can you do? If you’ve been blessed with living in a city that has fabulous parks, chances are, you have one that has some kind of adult playground or exercise stations. There is one near my home that I like to visit on a regular basis. It has monkey bars, pull up bars, parallel bars and a bunch of other great stuff to play with.
I like these kinds of set ups because they’re more interesting than doing some reps on a weight machine. The body weight movements you can do on these playgroundlike implements are also highly functional. You’ll build some excellent grip strength on the monkey bars, and the pull-up and dip combo are great for your upper body.
If you have similar equipment like this near where you live, this is a good routine to try. Take a brisk three to five minute run around the park to warm up and then circle back to the exercise station. Start with the most difficult station first, like the monkey bars, and work your way through the rest. If your arms are really tired after the pull-ups, do a set of air squats to give them a break before moving on to something like dips or push-ups.
To get a little more “wild” with your outdoor workouts, an excellent alternative to the exercise station is its close cousin, the fitness trail. Instead of having all of the different exercises in one area, different stations will be spread out along a track or wooded trail. These are excellent as they easily combine trail running and mixed modality strength exercises. As a bonus, the workout programming is already taken care of. All you have to do is run along the course and do each exercise you come upon.
The best example of a fitness trail I’ve ever tried out was the Lodge Fitness Trail at Amicalola Falls State Park in Georgia. There is a great variety of workout stations, like monkey bars, logs for shoulder press, and even a log to practice vaulting over. If you find a good fitness trail in your area that’s in the woods, be mindful of your step while running the course. It’s easy to get tripped up by some roots if you’re exhausted from an interval strength workout. A sudden fall when exhausted and not paying attention has a way of putting a damper on your outdoor workouts.
If you don’t have parks or fitness trails like these where you live that’s no reason to get discouraged. There are still plenty of things you can do to get a workout outdoors. One of my favorite routines combines alternating intervals of running and push-ups. The push-ups will work the muscles in your chest, shoulders and arms, while the running will hit your core and lower body. You get a full body workout.
When doing metabolic conditioning, I always like to mix running with body weight movements. This gives you a really hard workout in a short period of time, which is great if your time is limited.
The programming here is five rounds of running 400 meters (or 2 minutes of running), then 20 push-ups. So, do your run, then drop down and bang out the push-ups, and repeat the whole thing, for a total of five rounds. The goal is to complete the entire workout as quickly as possible. If you have a track to workout at, you can use it to easily gauge the distance for the running portions. You can also try using apps like Charity Miles, Map My Run or Runkeeper to measure the distance of a section of road by your home. Otherwise, simply use a stopwatch to time your runs for two minutes.
Depending on your capabilities, you might want to scale down the difficulty. You can easily scale the running by adjusting your pace. For the push-ups, just decrease the set size to 10, or do them on your knees if needed. You’ll know after the second round whether or not you’ll be able to keep up with the push-ups. Be honest with yourself, but don’t let up on the intensity if you have some gas left in the tank.
An excellent workout that can only be done outdoors is hill sprints. Sprinting up a hill is great for building powerful legs, and it’s guaranteed to wear you out like no other workout can. The hill doesn’t have to be incredibly steep, like the Incline at Manitou Springs, Colorado. A gradual upward inclination spread over 100-200 meters will be fine.
Remember to walk down slowly after each uphill sprint to recover. Once you get back to the bottom, turn around and run right back up. The goal is to run as fast as you can move your legs—imagine you’re being chased by a mugger, or better yet, a bear—but stay safe and be mindful of how you feel, especially on hot days. For beginners, two or three sprints might be all that you have in you—more experienced runners may be able to crank out five or six.