Things are constantly changing around us. I remember growing up as a kid being outside most of the time because WE HAD to be outside to find fun things to do. We would make up random games that involved jumping, running, and throwing things, and this was an everyday occurrence after school and on the weekends. As time passed, things started to change though. The older I got, the more time I started spending inside; especially for my workouts! There are a few things that I have noticed that are missing when the majority of our exercising time is spent indoors.
Our bodies, as human beings, have evolved and adapted based on the stresses that surround us. Way before the invention of cars, the only way to travel was by walking or running. THAT WAS IT. There were no stretches of nicely paved roads or sidewalks. It was bumpy, uneven stretches of land that were littered with rocks and holes. If that wasn’t bad enough, all this was happening…while we were barefoot. BAREFOOT! Can you imagine heading to work one day and having to walk around barefoot because you forgot your shoes? That’s only eight hours. Imagine eight years of that.
The only way for our bodies to survive this consistently randomized stress was to continually improve itself by strengthening muscles, bones, tendons, etc. to help prepare for whatever could be coming next. So the more we look to smooth out our exercise conditions, the more functional strength we end up losing in the long run. This is why even the most physically fit athletes, in the gym, can take a random nature hike and be sore for days, in places that they never even knew existed. Because smaller muscle fibers that are more rarely used are being required to help with balance and coordination as they walk (or run for the super heroes out there).
Less Sunlight Absorption
When we spend eight hours of the day indoors at work, drive home in a car for another hour, and then walk straight into a gym to work out, we lose out on the opportunity to get some sun each time. We all need to spend some time in the sun each day. There are different vitamins and minerals in our bodies that require sunlight to help us absorb them (Vitamin D is the most well-known). That being said, we have to be safe when it comes to UV rays. Some factors to remember when it comes to exposure are:
- Your skin type – Fairer skin needs less time in the sun (as low as a few minutes), while darker skin will need more exposure time to benefit completely (up to a couple hours each week)
- Your location – The intensity of UV rays in a place like New York will be drastically different than a place like Arizona.
- Protection – If you’re going to be spending a prolonged time in the sun, using sunscreen is always a good precautionary action step; regardless of your skin type.
Of course I understand that we can’t always just wander out into the sun at work or school (we’re trying to make moves here!). However, if you have a free weekend or days off where you usually spend that time inside at a gym, you’re missing a great opportunity to improve your health.
Periodic Lack of Motivation
For a lot of us, it’s hard enough to get motivated to work out three or four days a week, especially after a long day at work or school. That being the case, going to the same gym, seeing the same people, and the same equipment can start to work against us when it comes to exercising. Unfortunately, this is built into the standard operations of most indoor gyms. Changing up the exercises that we do sporadically can help to remedy this problem for a time, but after a while the same feelings tend to come back with a vengeance. Dealing with these feelings on a regular basis (with no relief) is usually one of the contributing factors to falling off the wagon for exercise regimens. The simple fact is that it’s hard to make things happen when you have no motivation to take the necessary actions.
This is why venturing out occasionally into nature can be SUPER beneficial to not only enhancing your workouts, but your overall health.
How you ask? Well…
You have more control of the setting
Ok, so enough of this depressing, boo-hoo, soggy talk! There are so many great advantages to adding in some outdoor workout sessions (I’ll try to control myself and limit it to just a few of them). Right off the bat, if you’re someone with a family (especially kids), then pay attention to this next part. Exercising outside gives you almost total control of your workout space. Let’s say you decide to take a trip to a nearby park with the family to get a nice little workout in. There’s a nice big field, basketball court, and playground at this place, but there are a ton of people at the playground area. The beauty of this set up is that you can now head over to that open field and have your run of the thing. Literally. You can create your own personal exercise space, no waiting for equipment, as well as getting the benefits from the sun while you work. On top of that, you now have the options of bringing your own equipment to the party if you’d rather throw the football around or something similar to that.
I’ve personally had times where I would head to the park on a sunny day, and do an entire back workout using a set of monkey bars, a sturdy tree branch, and my gym bag. That’s it! Like I stated above concerning hiking, I was sore in unfamiliar places after that workout because my body was working differently to compensate for things like the thickness of the tree branch, the awkward build of my bag while I was holding it, and walking across sand that was constantly moving to get to each “station”.
Constant New Stimulation
When you exercise in nature, the backdrop and scenery around you solely depends on where you feel like going that day. If you decide to drive to the beach (if you have a beach near you) then you could be doing some squats and push-ups while staring at a pretty blue ocean. If you decide you’re feeling more rustic, then you might try taking a hike on a trail through the forest. Being stimulated won’t only come from what you are seeing around you in each place. The smells, the sounds, the FEEL will be completely different. A lot of times we forget that we have five senses that need to be stimulated. Having said that, I don’t think it would be a good idea to use that tasting sense while you’re out there, so maybe rest that one until the food after. Getting outside can work to add new life to the pursuit of your health and fitness goals and sometimes, that’s all we really need to push to the top of that mountain and start really feeling great about what we are doing.
Reach your fitness goals faster
Because of things that come with the territory in nature, like wind for example, people exercising will have different resistance factors affecting their bodies as they work out. Take for instance, a woman running a mile outside. Based on research found by The New York Times, “…studies comparing the exertion of running on a treadmill and the exertion of running outside, treadmill runners expended less energy to cover the same distance as those striding across the ground outside, primarily because indoor exercisers face no wind resistance or changes in terrain, no matter how subtle.” If you struggle sometimes to get in the workouts you need on a regular basis, then wouldn’t you feel better knowing that you were about to get your money’s worth and then some in your next workout? The return on your investment when it comes to exercising increases when you move to outdoor activities. This is important because it’s one thing if you love working out and exercising already, but you can start cutting the time it takes you to gain strength, improve endurance, and lose weight by stepping outside for some of your exercising days. It is really that simple.
Now the question is…”What do I do when I get out there?!?!” Take a look at a few exercises you can use on your own or with the family (you can even include Lassie in these).
Make sure to really warm up before you start any type of exercise. This will get more blood circulating throughout those muscle groups and their joints to help prevent injury. You can:
- Do a light jog
- Hip circles
- Arm circles (big and small)
You want to generate a small sweat by the end of this warm up.
This is one of THE BEST exercises that can be done to improve your cardiovascular endurance and build strength in your legs and core at the same time. Start off modestly with this exercise though. You don’t have to go from zero to Olympics with this. Listen to your body and what qualifies as a sprint for you. You want to have a stretch of at least 40 yards in front of you (work up to using the full 40 if needed). Upon completing the sprint, walk back to the starting point after each set. Take between 30 – 90 seconds to recover before you go again.
5 sets / 30 – 90 seconds rest / 1 sprint per set
This is a fundamental building block for building strength in the back. It also brings in the core so that your abs will constantly be working to stabilize you throughout the movement. All you will need for this exercise are some monkey bars, a pull bar, or (if you’re channeling your inner Tarzan like me) a nice strong branch. The key to this movement is going through the full range of motion. All the way down and pulling up until your chin is either level or above the bar/branch. The raising and lowering portions should be at a controlled speed.
I do understand that this exercise is a bit of a tough one, so if you can’t quite do a full pull up yet, here are some variations to help build up your strength.
- Flexed Holds – Hold yourself at the top of the pull up movement for as long as you can.
- Assisted Pullups – If you are working out with a friend or family member, bend your knees so that your feet are pointing behind you and have them hold your ankles to help you as you pull yourself up.
3 sets / 30 – 90 seconds rest / 6 – 10 pull ups (or 10 – 30 second holds)
This is another fundamental movement to improve strength, balance, and burn some calories. Everyone can benefit from being able to do proper pushups; ie Arnold Schwarzenegger, the checkout clerk at Wal-Mart, absolutely everyone. This exercise will help to not only strengthen muscles in your chest and arms; it will also help to strengthen supporting muscles like your shoulders and a deeper portion of your abs that are used for stability (Transverse Abdominis). The same as above, the biggest thing to remember with this exercise (or any exercise) is to go through the full range of motion safely. At the bottom of the movement, your chest should be one to two inches from touching the ground. At the top of the movement, you want to do your best to maintain as much of a straight line, in your body, as possible. Here are some additional variations if needed:
- Knee Pushups – Instead of placing your feet on the ground, your knees will act as the anchor for the pushup. This will help to eliminate some of the weight you are moving throughout the exercise. Move your knees closer or farther from your chest to make the movement easier or more difficult.
- Incline Pushups – Instead of being flat on the ground, place your hands on a surface that is raised above your feet. The steepness of the incline will determine how much easier (or harder) the exercise will be.
3 sets / 30 – 90 seconds rest / 10 – 20 pushups per set
There you have it! The exercises above were just a fraction of the possibilities that are available during your outdoor session. I just want to emphasize that both indoor and outdoor settings have their strengths and weaknesses. The aim for all of us should be incorporating both into our lifestyles. A two pronged attack will always beat the pants off a singular effort. If you keep your body guessing by switching up the activities, settings, and exercises, it will almost guarantee that you streamline your journey to Resultsland...and let me tell you…it has a pretty nice view.