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Exercising in Nature: How to Make the Great Outdoors your Gym

by Carl Smith - Start Fitness(more info)

listed in exercise and fitness, originally published in issue 282 - November 2022

 

We all know that being outside can bring us mental and physical benefits, but did you know that taking your workouts and active sessions outdoors can add to their impact? Here, Carl Smith, Head Buyer at the active wear retailer Start Fitness, takes you through some ideas.

 

Outdoors Exercising

 

Being outside brings so many benefits for our mental and physical health. It can improve your mood and self-esteem, make you feel more relaxed and even help you meet new people (Mind). Being outside also allows you to take in more natural light, which is key for getting enough vitamin D, which contributes to the health of bones, teeth, and muscles (NHS). It’s recommended by the NHS in fact that everyone in the UK consider taking a vitamin D supplement during the autumn and winter months. But during the summer months, it’s a great time to get outside and get your dose of vitamin D through the sun.

With all these positives to be gained from being outside, it’s no wonder that exercising outside is growing in popularity, with searches for the term ‘outdoor fitness’ increasing 126% year on year (SEO Monitor). There are lots of ways that you can join in and take your exercise regime outside to capitalize on these benefits, and here we’ll detail some ideas so that you can get started. From discovering new places to work out in your local area, to deciding what new sports to try and incorporating the outdoors into your exercise regimen, we’ve got some information to help you dive into this new way to work out.

Try Incorporating an Outdoor Sport

One of the easiest ways to move your exercise time outside is to include an outdoor sport in your regime for the week. This is also an opportunity to pick up a sport that could turn into your favourite hobby. Cycling is a great way to enjoy the outdoors and see some of the beautiful scenery around the UK, and is also a great workout for your whole body. Other options that provide a great workout are outdoor swimming, which you can do with friends or in a club, and tennis, which is a perfect summer sport.

You might also want to see if there are any clubs or teams in your area to get involved in. As well as wild swimming clubs, you might find that there are sports teams for things like football, rounders, cricket and hockey, which could be a great addition to your fitness timetable, as well as allowing you to meet some like-minded people.

With so many options available for outdoor sports in the summer, this is a great way to make your workout time more interesting and get yourself into the sunshine and fresh air. If you prefer to exercise solo, then running is a brilliant workout for your body and a wonderful way incorporate some cardio into your week as well as taking in the scenery.

Make Nature a Part of your Workout

As well as getting outside to play some sport, you can involve the outdoors in your workout sessions to make them more interesting, bring some variation to your regimen and reap the benefits of being in the outdoors. There are lots of ways that you can use nature to make your workouts more challenging too. For instance, utilizing the natural inclines around you by arranging circuit training on hills, or trying out varying distances for running using routes that involve hills will challenge your muscles in a new way. Though you can replicate this feeling by setting a treadmill to an incline, it’s often more satisfying to test yourself against the natural environment.

Another way to utilize the increased space that you have to work with when exercising outside is to do some bodyweight exercises, yoga and stretches to build up your strength and flexibility. Many parks will also run these sessions during the summer as clubs, so you have the option of going solo or making it a group activity.

You can even turn the surrounding environment into an improvised gym by incorporating features such as benches into your workouts. Take exercises like benches, planks, step ups or bench press ups, and modify them to incorporate the surrounding environment into them. Step-ups are a particularly good option, as they can be performed using a bench or an outside set of steps.

Get Kitted Out for your Session

It’s always important to have workout gear to allow you to exercise comfortably and to perform at your best, but when you’re getting outside for your exercise, there are a few additional considerations. Even when the weather is sunny, in Britain you’ll always run the risk that it could change, so don’t forget to bring a light raincoat with you  – ideally, go for a breathable, showerproof running jacket that will easily be stashed inside a small backpack in case you need it.

Then, there’s the bag itself. If you’re playing team sports or taking part in an outdoor workout or yoga session, you’ll need a lightweight cross-body back or bum bag that has enough room for your essentials, such as any small pieces of fitness equipment (like weights or yoga blocks) that you need, water, a headband, a small absorbent towel, and a healthy snack for afterwards. Having a water bottle with you is extremely important, and if you know you’ll be exercising in the heat, then including some rehydration tablets in your water bottle before you head out will allow you perform better in your session.

Your clothes should also be comfortable, breathable, and appropriate for the weather. Go for light fabrics that are made specifically for exercising in, and choose things that will offer you the movement and breathable qualities that you need. Having light, cooling clothing will allow you to put the most into your workout without overheating, and will overall make your experience more comfortable. You’ll also want to look up the terrain you’ll be exercising on in advance (or stick to areas you're already familiar with) so that you can choose the right footwear. You may need sturdier shoes with thicker soles and more grip than the type of trainers you would wear for a gym session.

Stay Safe and Secure

While it’s easy to get carried away with finding new sports and workout ideas to try in the summer months, you shouldn’t forget the need to stay secure and safe throughout. Always stash any valuables in a secure, zippable bag or pocket, and avoid taking any unnecessary valuables, and place your phone in a purpose-built phone holder or armband.

Putting your phone away can help you focus on your workout, but it’s important to have it there to use in case you need help, so always have your phone with you and pack it away safely when you want to avoid distractions. Consider leaving your credit cards and cash at home, especially if you can pay for what you need on your phone, to prevent them getting lost or stolen.

If you’re going out alone for a solo session, inform your family, friends or housemates where you are going and what time you intend to be home again, so that they can look out for you. Then, choose times when it will be still light, and avoid places that are too secluded. All these small measures will mean that you can have a much safer, and therefore more enjoyable experience exercising in the great outdoors.

Find Spaces made for Working Out

The spaces that you have available to exercise in outside will vary depending on where you live, but if you have a park nearby then it might contain some workout equipment designed to get active outside. While these areas are not as advanced and customisable as what you’ll find in your usual gym, they can be a vital part of a fun outdoor exercise session. If you want to check whether there are any parks in your area that have gym equipment, you can usually find this information on your local council’s website.

The gym equipment on offer usually includes some non-electrified treadmills and cross-trainers, as well as pull-up bars and weights machines. You won't be able to adjust the weight or resistance like you could in a gym, but this equipment can still offer a bit of extra variation to your fitness routine.

If you usually stick to running rather than going to the gym or lifting, then these equipment areas can actually be a good easy introduction to this type of exercise, as they are made to be approachable for everyone. They are also available for everyone to use without committing to a gym membership, so it’s well worth having a go if this is something that is new to you. Added to this, you might live near a skate park or outdoor tennis court that you’ve never thought about using. Finding out what spaces are available in your area can be a good way to decide what new sport or activity to try, and making your workouts local can help with staying motivated to keep up with your timetable every week.

Taking your exercise sessions outside during the summer months can allow you to reap both the benefits of being outside and those of working out, as well as being a fun change in your routine that can keep your interested in your fitness goals. So, use these tips and ideas to get started and enjoy your time the summer weather.

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About Carl Smith - Start Fitness

Carl Smith is Head Buyer at Start Fitness, one of the largest running and cycling retailers in the UK. Start Fitness stocks over 200 of the world’s biggest brands at the best prices for their consumers. He may be contacted via https://startfitness.co.uk/

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