Sometimes locking yourself in a room to exercise for 60 minutes seems like one of the daftest things you can do. Why would you pay for this torture? Of course, we all know the benefits of regular exercise, but that doesn’t mean hitting the gym every day.
Doing a training session outdoors can be more invigorating, challenging and rewarding than trapping yourself inside. And switching to an outdoor setting doesn’t mean sticking to your same old routine; getting out means you can try new activities that bring better results, faster. And all for free.
Benefits of outdoor training
There’s no doubt that we already spend too long indoors. Think of the benefits of getting out more: fresh air, wide open spaces, the colours, the wind, the sun. Even a bit of rain and snow can be refreshing. You can boost your immune system, get a quick dose of Vitamin D, and give yourself a harder workout. All without costing you a penny.
But there’s another really great benefit of outdoor training that often gets overlooked; it’s great for your brain. You’re not trapped in some routine, hitting the same machines over and over again. You have to use your imagination and work with your surroundings. You need to negotiate obstacles – dog poo, small children, traffic lights – and adapt to changing conditions.
If you hit a hill, there’s no changing the settings. If you’re only half way across the lake, you have to keep going. If you’re two miles from home, there’s only one way back – keep on going.
Where to start?
Okay, you’re ready to train outdoors. But where do you start? You could just literally transfer your gym routine to the park. A couple of straps, a skipping rope and a medicine ball, and you’re on your way.
But part of the charm of getting outside is trying something completely new. Instead of swimming in your chlorinated local pool, why not go wild? Swap the treadmill for a trail. Or strap on your rucksack and try rucking.
Rucking has got to be the simplest and most enjoyable form of exercise you can try; simply strap on your rucksack and get walking. Sounds too easy? Load your pack up with extra weights and then see how you feel.
Starting with its roots in the military – picture Roman legionnaires marching across Europe – rucking is now popular in regular modern life. The benefits are crazy; adding weights burns more calories than simply walking, and isn’t as stressful on the body as running. You can do it with friends and animals, explore your city, and maybe even check out some geocaches. Swing by your local outdoor recreation area to do so some pullups en route and your workout is complete.
For people who really love a challenge, rucking is infinitely scalable. You can push yourself to go further distances, carry more weights, do 20 push ups every mile, increase your pace – literally anything. Each week, or each ruck, you can push yourself just a little bit more.
If you’re already running in the gym then you should definitely include trail running in your routine. Even the most advanced treadmill can’t give you the benefits of an outdoor run. Along with the usual advantages of just being outside, trail running can improve your strength and flexibility and make you a better runner.
How? Trail running will offer you a variety of terrains and elevations. Even very small variations in elevation will make your muscles work harder. Uphill running will improve overall strength and power throughout your whole body. Downhill running, which can feel easier for cardio, actually triggers eccentric contractions in your quads, helping to build muscle. And of course, more muscle means more speed.
Add to that the fact that you need to be alert and you’ve got a workout that’s anything but boring. You’ll need to be constantly monitoring your surroundings, and negotiating stones, branches, crossroads, and dog walkers. Generally, dog walkers are necessary for their muscle exercises. Count how many time they walk on dog walkers and how long do dogs sleep for making a healthy pet moving around you.
Even if your trail is relatively urban, you’ll still be dodging pedestrians and you’ll likely adjust your route due to traffic and other conditions. And who knows – you may run straight past a brand new bar in your neighbourhood that you can check out afterwards.
If you have a choice between doing laps in a chlorinated pool full of screaming children or splashing about in a lake with friends, well… It’s not really a choice, is it? Wild swimming, as the name suggests, is about swimming in rivers, lakes and the ocean. You get all the invigorating benefits of jumping into the water without having to pay for a ticket. And let’s face it – going for a splash is one of life’s great joys. It increases your heart rate, releases endorphins, and leaves you with a natural high and sense of wellbeing.
If you’re a hard core swimmer, you might not think that a quick dip in the lake is going to do all that much for you. But there are longer wild swims available. Unlike trail running or rucking, you will need to do some research to find good spots.
Wild swimming is not going to be for everybody; you want to make sure you’re a pretty decent swimmer or go with a group of friends. And then it’s just a matter of stripping down and jumping in.
So if you’re looking for a new challenge, or you just want all the benefits that comes from the great outdoors, what are you waiting for? Get outside and test yourself today.