Get Outdoors and Boost Your Workout

Here’s an article I wrote for Ultra-Fit magazine a wee while ago. It’s seems like the right time of year to pop it on my blog, so enjoy:

“THE  DAYS are lengthening, the sun is shining, and you’re stuck in the gym.  So why not take your workout outdoors?

Getting outdoors can add variety to your workout. Instead of sticking to a prescribed gym-based cardio and weights programme, surprise your body with a completely different workout, outdoors. Many people make the mistake of adhering to only 10 to 20 resistance / weights exercises. If you think about the multitude of muscles there are in the body, over time doing the same exercises in the same order no longer poses a challenge for the body, so you will probably see a plateau affect. Kick this plateau up the rear by adding a variety of bodyweight exercises to your routine. By undertaking a wide variety of bodyweight strength variations (that is, exercises using the weight of your body as resistance, rather than a metal weight), you can take your workout anywhere and get an overall effective workout.  Remember to do a high number of good quality reps.

Tracy running in Pilrig park

Add this to the various factors that make outdoor exercises more challenging; for instance, if there is a wind blowing or uneven surfaces (including on grass or sand) it means supportive muscles are also engaged. I’m not for one minute suggesting abandoning your gym weights programme, but by varying workouts, you will challenge the body and also the brain (coordination). Cardio machines are fine for winter, but when the sun is shining, catch some Vitamin D and run or bike somewhere green. Exercising in green space (i.e. parks) has also been proven to boost mood. During the warmer months there are also a variety of races and events to enter.  The trick is to enter enough, but not too many races, to give you goals to continually work towards.

I own a small fitness studio in Scotland and over the winter months many of my clients focus on strength using free weights in the nice warm and bright studio. As soon as the weather and light levels improve, half of our PT sessions are outdoors. We head to the local park at the end of the street for interval training, balance and coordination strength exercises, skipping rope, TRX and outdoor circuits using resistance tubes and cardio stations. Not only does it add variety, and therefore maintain interest, but the strength gained over winter is transformed to something truly explosive in a sunny park. Plyometric (jumping and spring-loading muscles) exercises are good to do on grass as the dirt absorbs impact better than a concrete floor. Due to the general dampness and chilliness of the ground in Scotland, I prefer to do abdominal exercises indoors.  For example, half an hour outdoors doing measured cardio and strength exercises, then head back to the studio to focus on core strength and cool down and stretch on the mats.

In the last decade we have seen some wonderful technology evolve that helps make any workout measureable. An essential piece of kit is a Heart Rate Monitor (HRM) to assist with pacing and progression. Combine a HRM with using the free Endomondo GPS app on a smartphone, and you can measure time / speed / distance / calories burnt / heart rate in an outdoor environment. You can use the Endomondo app for pretty much any exercise where you are moving (it works best using the GPS tracking,  if you’re jogging on the spot it gets confused). So get off the exercise bike and onto a road bike where you will use balance and explosive muscular strength to get up hills that not even the ‘hill function’ on the static bike can duplicate. There’s no way of replicating the exhilaration of bolting down a massive hill on a bike, with a breeze in your face and the sun on your back.

Too often we stick to our favourite type of exercise and abandon our least favourite.  Instead of asking yourself whether you like the exercise, consider the end result. If it’s an exercise you despise because you’re rubbish at it, chances are that it’s exactly the exercise you should be practising.

Here’s an example of an outdoor workout, designed to keep the heart rate elevated and nail some strength at the same time:

– Put on your HRM and pack a small backpack with water and your favourite portable equipment (rubber resistance tubes, TRX, skipping rope etc).
– 7- 10 minute jog warm up, to the park and find your favourite scenic spot.
–  3 – 5 minutes skipping rope (with skipping variations, on one leg etc), tarmac is best for skipping.
– Jog around park to next scenic stop, and do 3 sets of 20 squats and lunges. Try different squat variations.
– Jog to a park bench, for 3 sets of 20 tricep dips and press ups onto the bench.
– 3 X 50 metre sprint intervals on the grass (to get HR back up). If it’s a clean park, kick off your shoes for some barefoot running.
– Using a tree stump or low wall for 3 X 10 single legged squats on each leg – to help practise balance.
– Find a fence or suitable pole for a few resistance tube exercises, rowing with a resistance tube threaded through a fence or around a pole targets often-ignored back muscles.
– Jog back to indoor space to finish session on the mats with deep abdominal engagement and a good stretch.

A wonderful thing about an outdoor workout is that you can do it when you’re on summer holidays. Instead of using a hotel gym, get outdoors and see the scenery as you workout. Early morning sessions are energising and perfect in hot climates. If you’re near a beach,  jog with bare feet one way on the soft sand, then back the other way knee-deep in the sea – it’s an enjoyable way to strengthen the knees and ankles. So what are you waiting for, get out there any enjoy it!”

Tracy Griffen is an Edinburgh-based Personal Trainer and Author, more info at follow her on Twitter @tracygriffen or Facebook / griffenfitness

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