It is the end of a long workday, but you need to go to the gym and workout because you are dedicated to your health and fitness goals. However, the idea of going to a stuffy, fluorescent-lit space filled with treadmills humming, crowded with people, and Miley Cyrus music playing just isn’t motivating you to leave work and get after it. It’s time for some outdoor workouts!
And WHY should it? Honestly, who really wants to endure that after being stuck inside at work all day? Take your workout outdoors next time! Beyond continuing to pursue your health and fitness goals there are some hidden benefits to outdoor workouts you might not have considered.
Here are five advantages to outdoor workouts to get you excited and ready for the wild beyond the cubicle (or wherever it is you spend your days).
My studio is a seamless indoor/outdoor space, no heat, no air. Essentially, I am outdoors every day. One of the things I constantly preach is the benefits of spending time outdoors in all types of weather. Today the heat index is a soaring 109F, yet myself and all my students trained without hesitation or complaint. Not because we get some tough guy patch at the end of the day for working out in extreme heat, but simply because we have become acclimatized and the conditions are not nearly the external strain that they may be for others.
That is exactly the reason why I like outdoor workouts in terms of increasing adaptability. The more time you spent outdoors exerting yourself, challenging yourself the easier variables such as weather become to handle. This is also beneficial for our fight or flight responses as your body will not freak out each time you go out in the heat or the cold. Note from the author- drink lots of water and dress accordingly, especially in the cold, layers are your friend. Beat the heat or master the cold by taking your workouts outdoors.
Variability is adaptability’s close cousin. Another overwhelming and quite possibly the biggest advantage of outdoor workouts is variability. I like that I never really know what to expect while practicing or training outdoors. A “familiar” trail can have all sorts of new obstacles after a big storm. An afternoon of playing in a single tree of grove can provide endless paths and routes to practice. I can exhaust all my options then return a few days later and a dozen more routes are available that I just could not visualize the previous outing.
A rock, a plain ordinary stone, can spark the imagination and challenge even the strongest of bodies with a little ingenuity and guff. Different surfaces require different approaches to traversing or climbing them, rough bark, smooth bark, hard rock, loose rock etc. Sometimes a simple walkabout through the woods can turn into the most badass of outdoor workouts when inspiration hits.
If you notice I have used words like ‘visualize,’ ‘inspiration,’ ‘imagination,’ and ‘ingenuity’ that is because there is so much variability that the outdoors offer that as a practitioner your practice and training will be uniquely yours and individualized. In each of my online programs I write I always mandate two flex days, these are days in which I tell the student to use the skills we have been developing and their own imagination and drive to go out into the woods, a trail, a park, a playground and explore movement and play on their own to develop their own craft. This truly is the best advantage of outdoor workouts, it is the endless variability and variety that allows you to explore and create your own beautiful practice.
I have thought long and hard, and I believe I have narrowed essential life skills down to just two; swimming and situational awareness. Everyone needs to know how to swim and everyone needs to develop situational awareness. No amount of diet, exercise, antioxidants, or fish oils will save you from drowning if you don’t know how to swim and likewise it won’t help you if you step out in front of a bus not paying attention.
Let’s define situational awareness as a constant state of alert and mindfulness of potential and inherent dangerous in our immediate and surrounding environment. Outdoor workouts are excellent at developing this life skill. When training outdoors you have to PAY ATTENTION, there are lots of dangers for injury or in some cases death (I sound like an amusement park waiver). The obvious risks are trips and falls, but also animal attacks depending on where you are. It isn’t common but if you see a bear maybe be smart about it. Also, you are more likely to survive a bear attack if you see the bear and avoid it all together than if you weren’t paying attention and never saw it coming (situational awareness 101).
That was an extreme example but I made my point. Much, more common especially in my area is snakes. When I am out and about I am constantly scanning high and low for danger, stepping on a venomous snake makes for a bad day. We do have some fairly nasty snakes here, but I know my Australian readers will chuckle, “Hey mate everything on this damn rock is deadly!” Touché Aussies, you guys need to pay extra attention and maybe bring a buddy.
The situational awareness developed from my time in the outdoors has translated to my everyday existence as I constantly scan and pay attention to my surrounding processing everything from footing to suspicious looking people that may threaten me or my family. Take your workout outdoors and take note that the world is not the safe place we have made it to be and in turn you will develop a powerful life skill.
Trees aren’t straight, the Earth is not flat and neither are you. You are not made of concrete and rubber matting, you are a carbon-based organism and nothing about you is geometrically perfect, so why continuously train in an environment that is? I love the challenges that outdoor workouts provide especially in the areas of strength and balance. Since the ground is neither flat nor smooth even walking outdoors is more challenging than inside.
Real quick, humor me once more, let’s reference my thesis statement; you are back at that swanky cubicle you have been at for the last 8.5 hours and you are looking at your fitness app and it says “Push/Pull” day followed by 20 minute walk. Pretty straightforward, I don’t hate it but are you going to do that walk on a treadmill after a long day inside or find a handsome trail through the woods for you post work amble?
I know it seems crazy but encouraging people to go outside is what I do. Anyway, back advantage number 4, all the funky angles, surfaces, textures, etc make for a super dynamic practice and a fun challenge too. The more twisty and gnarly something is the more fun it is!
As for strength it is hard to mimic the awkwardness of a big heavy unbalanced rock in a gym. Barbell strength is still strength, I have seen some very impressive barbell strength that has knocked my socks off, but even the strongest conventional lifters have struggled with the awkwardness of a big log or rock. It doesn’t mean they are weak or incomplete; it is just a different application of strength. I am nothing special on conventional barbell lifts, but I can usually find a way to move most odd objects outdoors (within reason), mainly because I prefer training in this modality. If you are looking for a challenge find a big F-ing rock and lift and carry that puppy!
Ah, fresh air, sunshine, and exercise: the three wise men of mood enhancement. You don’t have to go all primal with your outdoor workouts to reap the rewards. Grab a set of kettlebells, a sandbag, some rings, a steel club, or just head to a pull up bar for some old fashion calisthenics; the only requirement for outdoor workouts is that you do them…outdoors!
Here is a sentence that I have never heard, “Coach Mark, all this fresh air and sunshine has me in a really foul mood.” I have never heard that because it is a natural mood elevator just spending time outside and getting some sun. Furthermore, this is probably the easiest advantage of outdoor workouts to capitalize on because it is a byproduct of being outside.
If it isn’t sunny well that’s great too, my favorite, running and hiking weather is about 45F and a heavy mist. Just being outdoors for a few minutes can elevate your mood and decrease stress. This is one of my main teaching points at corporate workshops.
In just a few sentences you will be done with this article, I want you to first “Like” and “Share” it, then put your phone or computer away and walk outside and take a few deep breaths. Isf you are getting ready to do your workout for the day then begin, if you aren’t getting to it until later then enjoy those few deep breaths and have your outdoor workout later.
We live in a beautiful world, outdoor workouts are a great way to explore and experience this magnificent planet we live on, enjoy life my friends.