Soak up the sun (just don't forget the SPF!) with these great outdoor exercises that make outdoor workouts seem like playtime.

By Jessica Smith and Betsy Stephens
Updated September 19, 2019
Guido Mieth/Getty Images

To get fast results, take your sweat sesh al fresco. A study from California Pacific Orthopedic and Sports Medicine found that outdoor exercisers lost an average of 7.43 pounds and 6.17 percent of body fat in eight weeks.

That's because outdoor workouts challenge your muscles with inclines, declines, and obstacles, explains Tina Vindum, founder of Outdoor Action Fitness in Marin County, California. You'll also improve your mood and boost self-esteem by performing outdoor exercises, according to research from the University of Essex in England. (Related Everything You Need to Know About Burning Fat and Building Muscle)

Rev up your usual routine by doing this 30-minute outdoor workout circuit, developed by Vindum. Try it in your backyard or at a local park—you'll burn about 250 calories with these outdoor exercises while firming up all over. Then be sure to keep reading for 10 more unique outdoor workout ideas to keep things fresh and fun.

First, check out two fun outdoor workouts to ger you started.

Total-Body Outdoor Workout Circuit

How it works: Before you get started with the nine-move outdoor workout, warm up with at least five minutes of power walking or light jogging. Perform each move for the prescribed time or number of reps. Then wipe off your sweat and consider one of the other outdoor exercise ideas below.

1. Side Leap

Targets inner thighs, quads, calves, glutes

  • Stand on a flat surface with your feet together.
  • Bend your knees and hop as far as you can to your right, landing on the ball of your right foot.
  • Without returning left foot to the ground, bend your right knee and hop as far as you can to the left. (Related: Cool Off During Your Outdoor Workout With This Pool Routine)

Do 20 hops per side.

2. Park-Bench Dip

Targets triceps, shoulders, core

  • Sit on a bench and place your hands on either side of your hips.
  • Slide your butt forward, supporting yourself with your hands.
  • Bend elbows, bringing upper arms almost parallel to ground, then return to starting position.
  • Keep lower back close to the bench throughout the exercise. (Check out why triceps dips are so ridiculously effective.)

Do 15 reps.

3. Park-Bench Push-Up

Targets chest, biceps, triceps, shoulders, core

  • Stand facing a park bench and place your hands on the seat; walk your feet out behind you until your legs are fully extended.
  • Bend your arms and lower chest toward bench, then push up.
  • Complete 12 reps.
  • Turn around and place your hands on the ground and your feet on the bench; walk your hands forward until they're aligned under shoulders, legs extended.
  • Lower chest toward ground, then push up. Complete 8 reps.

Work up to 20 reps of each.

4. Tightrope Walk

Targets calves, quads, core

  • Find a curb or fallen tree with a smooth surface that is at least 6 feet long.
  • Raise arms out to sides and walk across the "tightrope" until you reach the end (or go at least 6 feet).
  • Turn on the balls of your feet; walk in the opposite direction. (Related: Just How Good Is Your Balance?)
  • Continue for 3 minutes.

5. Side Shuffle

Targets glutes, inner and outer thighs, quads

  • Stand with feet hip-distance apart, elbows bent, with fists near ribs.
  • Take three giant steps to your right, sliding your left foot to meet the right.
  • Bend your knees and jump up, turning to face the opposite direction.
  • Repeat, shuffling to your left.

Continue alternating sides for 1 minute.

6. Side Step

Targets core, obliques, glutes, upper back, shoulders

  • Stand with right side facing a step, log, or flat rock.
  • Hold your arms out to your sides at shoulder height and bend elbows 90 degrees, palms facing forward.
  • Step up with your right foot, contracting abs while bringing left knee and right elbow together in front of you. (Emphasize bringing your knee up rather than your elbow down.) Return to starting position.

Do 12 reps per side.

7. Step-Up

Targets quads, hamstrings, glutes

  • Using a step, fallen log, or flat rock, step up with your left foot and lift your right leg directly behind you.
  • Step down and repeat on opposite side.
  • Next, step up on left foot, raising right leg diagonally behind you; switch sides and repeat.
  • Step up on left foot, kicking right foot out to side; switch legs and repeat.

Do the kick cycle (back, diagonal, side) 26 times.

8. Hanging Crunch

Targets abs

  • Take hold of a sturdy, low tree branch, monkey bars, or other elevated handhold, palms facing forward.
  • Keeping arms fully extended, exhale as you bend your knees and bring them slowly toward your abs.
  • Inhale as you slowly release. (Discover 6 reasons to ditch the treadmill and turn your run into an outdoor workout.)

Do 12 reps (or as many as you can).

9. Slalom Jump

Targets glutes, hamstrings, quads

  • Place four to six small rocks in a zigzag pattern, about 1 1/2 feet between each rock.
  • Keeping your feet together, hop to the outside of each rock.
  • Turn around when you reach the end and repeat.

Officially drenched in sweat from that outdoor workout? The next time you head outside, try this reps-based workout.

Outdoor Cardio Meltdown

Who needs the treadmill? Grab a mat (or towel) and a timer and torch fat with this 10-15-20 Cardio Meltdown outdoor workout created by Lindsay Ferrer, a personal trainer in New York City.

  • 10 Long Jumps: Do a long jump the length of your mat or towel, and then shuffle backwards to your start position.
  • 10 Push-ups: Kneeling or full, depending on your fitness level. (This outdoor workout move will prepare you for our 30-day push-up challenge!)
  • 15 Sumo Squats: Stand up with your feet wider than your hips and your toes slightly turned out as you sit back into a squat.
  • 15 Burpees: Start with a jump, and then squat down, place your hands on your mat, and jump out into a plank position. Jump feet back towards your hands, pop up into standing position, and finish with a clap at the top. (Related: How to Do a Burpee the Right Way)
  • 20 Bicycle Crunches: Lie on your back and bend both knees into your chest, hands clasped behind your head. Find a focal point to the left and right of your body. Look at those two focal points as you twist and crunch to each side, reaching your right elbow to your left knee, and vice versa.
  • 20 Mountain Climbers: Start in a plank position and alternate driving your knees into chest, keeping your hips flat and parallel to the ground.

For a bonus challenge, time yourself performing the full meltdown, and try to beat your best time with your next outdoor workout, says Ferrer.

Bonus Outdoor Workout Ideas

Yes, you can skip the gym and get an effective total-body workout. We asked top fitness pros to share some of their favorite outdoor exercises (typical answers like cycling and rollerblading were not accepted). Start planning your nice weather fitness bucket list here.

Stand-Up Paddleboard

Stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) is an amazing outdoor exercise that tones your whole body without feeling like you're exercising (because it's fun, but it's not so easy). Standing on an oversized longboard, you use a paddle to navigate across flat, calm waters. But don't be fooled by how serene this outdoor workout looks. SUP requires the use of your entire body, with a major emphasis on core stability and control. Former pro surfer Jodi Nelson describes this outdoor workout as "hiking on water," making it a great choice for anyone who wants to add some water to their workout routine without having to swim in it. (Related: Are Stand-Up Paddleboard Races the New Half Marathon?)

HIIT the Court

Have a basketball or volleyball court nearby? Make it your personal gym with this super-effective high-intensity interval training (HIIT) outdoor workout plan from celebrity fitness trainer Andrea Metcalf. (Related: This Influencer Shares How Playing a Sport When She Was Younger Made Her More Confident)

"This workout burns major calories and is what I did when I was training to climb Mount Kilimanjaro because it increases [maximal aerobic capacity]," says Metcalf.

How it works: Use the outline of a basketball court (or a similarly sized court) to perform the three fat-burning drills below.

  • Sprints (5): Sprint from one end of the court to the other, running forward and then jogging back backward. Repeat 5 times total.
  • Lateral hops (30): Jump over and then back along the full court line, facing forward the whole time. Do 30 hops total (1 to 2 lengths of the court),
  • Side shuffles (6): Do side shuffles the full distance of the court and back. Repeat 6 times total.

The entire outdoor workout should take about 15 minutes.

Fitness Scavenger Hunt

"Going for a fitness scavenger hunt is a great way to get outside and mix up your fitness routine," says Tanner Martty, a certified personal trainer at LEAF Lifestyle in Santa Monica, California.

How it works: First, map out your route (it could be a path you typically use for jogging or walking), and then list five to 10 bodyweight exercises (push-ups, burpees, squat jumps, etc). Next to each move, write down a landmark you'll see along your path (park bench, red light, dog on a leash, or even a black convertible).

To start your scavenger hunt, head out on your route and every time you see one of your outdoor workout landmarks, do 10 reps of the corresponding move. For example, if you listed "park bench" next to push-ups, hit the bench for a set of 10 incline or decline push-ups every time you see one. It's a fun way to mix up your routine and add an element of play (and still keep plenty of sweat) to your typical route. (You’ll need both for all those push-ups, but what’s the real difference between muscular strength and endurance?)

"In addition to being a great outdoor workout, this will also keep your mind in the present moment, which is something that a stressful schedule can prevent us from doing," says Martty. "If you're actively looking for your scavenger hunt items, you can't be worried about the presentation you have to give the next day at the office." (Related: How Every Runner Can Benefit From Mindfulness)

Play Ball

Who needs a gym full of equipment when you can get a total-body strength and cardio workout just by using a variety of balls during an outdoor workout? Gather up a variety—basketballs, soccer balls, Swiss balls, whatever you've got—and design drills using them as weights, cones, and/or to create instability, says Laura Williams, a certified personal trainer in the UK.

How it works: Set two balls next to each other on the ground, and then place a third ball about 10 feet away. Starting on the side with two balls, pick one up and run, slide, or even dribble it between your feet to the other side. Once you get there, switch balls, leaving the one you had and picking up the one that was already there. Continue moving the balls back and forth until you've moved each ball 10 times to complete the outdoor workout.

CrossFit On-the-Road

Transform CrossFit into an outdoor workout with either of these workouts of the day (WODs) that use very little equipment, suggests Jason Benade, a CrossFit coach in Elk Grove, California. (Related: How to Avoid CrossFit Injuries)

Workout 1 (5 Rounds)

  • 5 Push-ups
  • 10 Sit-ups
  • 15 Squats

Workout 2 (5 Rounds)

  • 10 Burpees
  • 20 Bench jumps
  • 30 Push-ups
  • 40 Squats
  • 50 Lunges

Want more? Check out another no-equipment WOD you can do anywhere.

Sailing or Rowing Classes

"Sailing and rowing courses are affordable and an awesome change of pace, says Andia Winslow, a professional athlete, certified fitness professional, and ambassador for the Women's Sports Foundation. Sailing is a total-body outdoor workout that helps build upper-body muscular endurance, agility, coordination, and flexibility and can burn around 200 calories, Winslow says.

And rowing? Forget the machines at the gym and get out on the water! This low-impact cardio outdoor workout challenges your legs, abs, and back in a major way and can have torch up to 800 calories per hour, Winslow says. (Related: 30 Ways to Burn 100+ Calories Without Even Trying)

Trapeze

Take your outdoor exercises to new heights and channel your inner circus star. Try a private trapeze lesson (solo, with a pal, or with your significant other—do you!) or enroll in a class to experience this total-body, endorphin-inducing outdoor workout that can have you burn up to 500 calories an hour, Winslow says. Plus, controlling your body while hanging off a bar in midair is also one serious core workout.

Trail Running

Want to burn more calories during your outdoor workout without having to run longer? Try trail running. Thanks to the textured, uneven terrain, your body has to work harder with every step, making trail running a more intense and effective outdoor workout than pounding flat pavement.

"Runners must be wholly engaged as they find footings, achieve balance, and adjust to incline changes," Winslow says. "Both your aerobic and anaerobic energy systems are being used during your run, as some trail positions require bursts of energy, unlike the steady-state fitness level of pavement or the treadmill." (Related: Interval Running Workouts That Will Make You Even Faster)

Volunteering

The number of calories burned shouldn't always be the focus of your workout. You can get active outside and give back to your community at the same time. (Or book a fitness-meets-volunteering vacation.)

"Walking dogs for a local shelter or cleaning up a nearby park in the neighborhood are all great calorie burners and a nice way to give back," says Jaime Sutton, a certified personal trainer and the owner of J'aime Fitness, LLC in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. To find great opportunities in your area, take a look at Volunteer Match.

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