In this blog I’m going to provide you with my three favourite outdoor workouts. But before I do, a quick word on why you should get outside more consistently—rain, sun or snow.
Ever since moving to the farm from the city, I’ve rekindled my enthusiasm for being outside, something that had died when my running career came to an end. I like to do as much as possible outside—cooking over a fire, extra yard work, and now, exercise.
You see, most of us now sit an average about 6.5 hours per day. So, even though driving to the gym or going down to the basement to ride the recumbent bike and watch Youtube is better than nothing, if that’s your main routine, you’re leave much mental and physical opportunity on the table.
The gym attempts to make exercise comfortable. Which, if I may be blunt, misses the fucking point. Exercise isn’t meant to be comfortable, and we’re not only designed for, but thrive on, the discomfort of exercise.
According to University of Southern California anthropologist David Raichlan, we are no different physically than our almost-superhuman athletic ancestors except that we now live with the scary reality that we are the least fit humans of all time.
Even if you’re not hunting for your food, or competing for Olympic gold, that statement is terrifying, and corroborates our astonishing rates of obesity, mental health challenges, and other morbidities.
Getting outside, being in motion, this is simple stuff that has worked for our species since the beginning of time. Our bodies were made to move. And when it comes to exercise, not only do the natural elements provide the spice but myriad other benefits as well.
- First, exercising outside, without being plugged into a podcast or music, connects us more deeply to nature and provides meditative and restorative benefits!
- Suffering in the elements (i.e., running in the rain or snow or even heat), increases our appreciation for the otherwise taken-for-granted comforts of the modern world…like heating in the winter and air conditioning in summer.
- According to Raichlen, exercising outside, where you’re having to navigate, make decisions about when to stop, how to pace, when to turn… all add a cognitive challenge to the activity, which keeps our mind healthy as well.
- Studies out of the University of Michigan discovered that running on natural, uneven ground forces people to burn an average of 28% more energy per step compared to running on smooth surfaces like treadmills and pavement. Thanks in part to needing to engage critical stabilizing muscles.
- Finally, studies like those of Icelandic scientist Dr. Kari Stefansson, show that those who can withstand high levels of discomfort, achieved in part through outdoor exercise, thrive and experience extended longevity.
So, without further ado, here are my favourite outdoor workouts.
The Escape Run
Although not Parkour (too much risk of injury), you can think of The Escape Run like a chase scene from your favourite Jason Bourne or James Bond movie. The Escape Run includes dynamic body-weight exercises that utilize structures in the environment (such as monkey bars in parks, bridges and benches). This includes running intervals of 3-10 minutes mixed with 1 minute intervals of pull-ups, push-ups, crunches, step-ups, squats, and burpees.
Recently, I ran 13 miles and added 250 push-ups and 100 pull-ups using monkey bars parks and bridges along the route.
I’ll alternate this medium-long workout with short runs of 40-60 minutes where I’ll do something like this:
- 10 min. run
- 25 burpees, 25 crunches, 2 min. plank hold
- 10 min. run
- 25-50 push-ups, 10-20 pull-ups, 25-50 squats or step-ups, 2 min. plank hold
- Repeat 2-6 sets
This can be done all year long and literally anywhere in the world!
The Spartan Hike
Take this exact formula into the mountains, replace most of the running with hiking, add a weighted bag, and you’ve got The Spartan Hike.
For this workout, I also carry a stretchy resistance band of some kind to add back rows and shoulder presses to the regimen above.
A Spartan Hike can look like this:
- 8-12-mile-out-and-back hike (elevation gain 2000-5000 ft.)
- Intervals of 10-15 mins. (as you’re hiking much longer)
- 10 mins. hiking
- 25 shoulder presses
- 25 back rows (using a tree to wrap the band around)
- 10 mins.
- 15 push-ups (with the added weight of the pack)
- 15-30 bi-cep curls (with band)
- 10-25 squats with pack weight (if hike has limited elevation gain)
Note: Unless the hike is undulating throughout, I usually only do the interval exercises on the way up the mountain and treat the way down as a cool down.
Yes, you can do it on a snowshoe hike as well.
More Crazy Motivations For Outdoor Fitness
If you’re working out at home, break up your sets by running laps around the block.
Walk home from the office (or during your lunch break), and hit a few parks for pull-ups along the way. Take a few detours to find some stairs to run up and down a few times
Ask friends who live on farms if they need help with the chores. Chopping wood is great exercise!
Not that it’s outside, but if you’re at the airport with an extended layover, before you sit down to enjoy a beer and pulled pork sandwich, walk the entirety of the airport as many times as you can. Make it more challenging by carrying your duffle or backpack (i.e., farmers’ carry workout), and take the stairs when you can.
Again, for travellers, ask the concierge where there’s an outdoor fitness park near the hotel. Go there instead of the hotel gym. It’ll help you see more of the city, get fresh air and break a sweat.
Look for bad-weather days. Is it going to be super hot or cold, rainy or snowy? Choose to do your workout outside during days when the weather creates an element of toughness. Don’t do anything that’ll kill ya…but something challenging. Think: Sprints in freshly fallen snow.
A day a beach? Sand makes everything harder. So, take your workout there. Take off those shoes and add challenges to your ankles and core stabilizing muscles to your “muscles of the day” workout.
So, get outside, break a sweat, work that mind, body and soul, and have fun. If you’re interested in taking this to the next level, check out my recent blog on Working Out as a Practice to Redefine your Edge.
Thanks for reading.