Outdoor exercise has become more and more popular over the past few years for many reasons.  The emergence of outdoor exercise classes and personal training has seen many people shift their focus away from the gym to the great outdoors.  So in the debate on Outdoor Fitness Vs The Gym, who comes out on top?

The truth is that each has their pros and cons.

The gym will have a mixture of cardio vascular and resistance equipment along with free weights and other bits and pieces so that you can pretty much do whatever you need to train effectively and functionally.  There is also often staff on hand to help with training programs and advice if needed.  But it may be limited in terms of space, crowding, price and availability of equipment to use at any one time.  Often in cities and towns across the country, gyms on the high street will be brimming with people between 6am and 10am and 5pm and 10pm as people train before or after work.  Some people love this routine and others find it a stressful grind that adds to the stress of a hectic day. 

The outdoors and local parks provide many natural obstacles, challenges and tools to make exercise effective and functional.  There will be slopes, hills, benches, trees and other things to use to spice up a training session.  Local authorities have also been installing outdoor exercise equipment in parks for people to use like they would in a gym.  The most obvious advantage to the outdoors is the space.  You may be the only person within 1 mile of another so you can relax and train without the fear of losing the treadmill or machine you were waiting for.

Every environment is different in your local park which means your training is only limited by your imagination.  Hopefully by the end of this article you will feel inspired to explore the possibilities available to you! 

The added bonus of being outside is the fresh air which will help you shrug off the bind of city commuting and sweaty, peak time gym sessions that can become monotonous.  Training in a basement gym, with no natural light or air is not that good for you.  Your body needs sunlight for vitamin D to boost immunity so getting sunlight during training sessions will really perk you up. 

Another fundamental advantage to outdoor exercise is the cost.  Depending on whether or not you want to buy special equipment and clothing it is FREE!  No gym can boast the same price tag.

The only cons of outdoor fitness training are the weather, the temperature and the risk of stepping in something the neighbor’s dog left for you.  But if you prepare well then you should be fine. 

In my opinion, there are two pieces of essential kit that would enable anyone to make the most of an outdoor workout:

  • A resistance tube- easy to find in most sport shops or online.  Typically they will have varying strength levels allowing you to choose a weight that suits you.
  • A mat- rolled up easily for storage and able to provide you with a dry, soft and durable base to lie on outdoors.

1.  Push up: A great upper body exercise that will also strengthen the core muscles.  Start lying down on your chest with your hands in line with chest and shoulders.  Keep your back straight and your core muscles engaged and push up to extend your arms.  Hold and return to the start slowly and repeat.  To make the exercise easier, put your knees on the floor.

2. Squat:  A complete lower body exercise to target the glutes and thighs, but also the core muscles. With shoulder width feet, keep your chest up and body tall.  Sit back bending the hips and knees to lower your bum to the floor.  Push up through the heel and outside of the foot to standing position and repeat.  To add more resistance use the band by standing on it and holding each end up on your shoulders.

3.  Lunge: Another lower body winner that focusses on the thigh and glute area while also helping balance and coordination. Step forward loading the front leg and bend both knees to 90degrees and push back up extending the front leg and repeat slowly.  You should be feeling the resistance through the front thigh and buttock.  Do the same number of repetitions on the other leg. Progress by alternating legs.

4. Row with band:  An exercise designed to strengthen the upper back and arms works well when mirrored with push ups.  Either seated or standing, loop the band around a tree or post.  With each end of the band in your hands keep your chest up and shoulders back and pull the band towards your body.  Hold and return to the start before repeating.  Be careful that the band is secure and the object it is not sharp or loose.

5. Step up to bench: To add to the lower body repertoire, step ups will work the entire lower body and improve balance and coordination.  Find a park bench or high step and simply step up onto it and back down.  Keep your body tall with your shoulders back and down.  Try to focus the step phase being forced through the heel of the leg and don’t push up with the foot that is on the floor.  Only the lead leg.

6.  Push Press with band:   A total body exercise that will start with the lower body and finish with the upper body.  Brilliant for power training. Get into the same position as you were from the squat and have the band positioned under your feet and up to your shoulders.  Squat as you did before and then explode upwards extending the arms at the final point.  Make sure you control this on the way down and repeat.

7.  Hill Sprint:   A simple way to add resistance to your running and develop speed and power out of the blocks.  Working to your maximum will put your heart rate through the roof. Find a hill…. Run up it as fast as you can to the top.  Make sure you are running on your toes and your arms are working in time with your legs.  Jog back down to the start and repeat as many times as you can handle.

8. Burpee: A brilliant exercise that will build all over strength, power and cardio vascular stamina if done effectively.  Start standing, crouch down hands to the ground, kick legs back so that you are prone to the floor, drive the knees back in to the chest and jump up reaching for the sky.  Land and repeat.  Be careful not to let your back sag or drop to the floor. Progress by including a push up in the prone phase.

9. Plank:  A total body strength and stabilisation exercise that will target your core muscles and stabilise your spine. Lie on your stomach prone to the floor and place your elbows under your shoulders.  Engage the core muscles and extend your body so that you are on your toes and elbows only.  Keep your back as straight as possible and hold for up to 30 seconds.  Progress by lifting a leg and holding it.

10. Tricep dip:  Designed to target the upper body and in particular the arms and shoulders.  If done correctly it can really enhance your upper body performance across the board. Find a park bench or step and place your hand palm away from you, on the edge of the bench under your shoulders.  Edge your bum off the bench and lower your body to the floor with your arms bending at the elbow and shoulder.  Extend and repeat.  Keep your chest up and back straight but remember this is an upper body exercise so the legs are merely there to anchor you.  Progress by extending your legs.

Each one of these exercises is easily progressed or regressed depending on your ability, plus they are all highly functional and will increase performance in everyday life.  The key is to start gently and build up!  But remember to look around you at the natural landscape and environment you are in and see what you can use to enhance your exercise and build on your fitness.

Coming back to the argument of Outdoor Fitness Vs The Gym I want to make it clear that neither is best.  They each have benefits and draw backs and the bottom line is that if you can’t train anywhere but in a gym then great.  You are still making the effort to exercise and stay healthy so keep it up.  However, if you get the chance then get out in the wild and try a session outside.