Experts reveal six better-body benefits of taking your workout outside
If you haven’t taken advantage of warmer temperatures yet and moved your workout outside, you're missing out on some major body benefits! Taking your workout to the great outdoors not only boosts your results, it relieves more stress and increases energy levels. In a 2007 study, English researchers found that people who exercise outdoors are less stressed after their routine, while those who stayed inside felt more stressed! And we're just getting started. Read on for six more reasons to skip the gym and sculpt your body al fresco.
“Natural terrain changes, even if slightly, every few yards, which means you will be constantly engaging all of the muscles in your legs to keep you moving through rough patches and changes in steepness,” says Michele Olson, Ph.D., professor of exercise science at Auburn University Montgomery and creator of the Perfect Legs, Glutes & Abs DVD. “This ‘randomness’ surprises your leg muscles, and it is that very ‘shock’ or ‘surprise’ that is most effective in improving muscle fitness.”
“Not only is it more beneficial because of the stability demands to keep the boat upright, but there is a much better story behind it—it's an adventure!” says Rick Richey, a celebrity trainer and owner of R2 Fitness in New York City.
“Unlike the flat, constructed surface of an exercise studio, the turf of the grassy outdoors is often more malleable, so your heels and toes may sink down,” Olson says. “Or, the sides of your ankles may not have extra firm support so your muscles, and their communication with your brain, is ramped way up to better stabilize you." Sounds like a smart way to improve that tree pose!
“I have been a personal trainer for over 10 years, and my favorite exercise is swinging on the Swing-A-Rings. It's fun and makes me sore in my lats, abs, and arms, and it’s way more fun to talk about than pullups!" Richey says. "I cannot wait to tell people about the rings and invite them to play. I don't have nearly as much fervor about lat pulls,” he says.
Don’t have swing rings near you? Try ‘swinging’ on the monkey bars instead.
Photo credit: Shutterstock
“Exercise machines are calibrated and maintained to give you the same, consistent workout each time you head to the gym, but your body needs planned inconsistency too!” Olson says. “Creating an outdoor circuit where you use a park bench for pushups and stepups and the sandbox for lunges and jumps gets you breathing fresh air and using the machines of nature.”
Olson recommends creating a circuit near a park bench and a sandbox with a pair of dumbbells, a mat, and a jump rope. Alternate moves like a dumbbell shoulder press with a cardio burst using the jump rope, then do a set of crunches on the mat, triceps dips and stepups on the bench, and a cardio burst sprinting through the sand.
“Going from a cardio move to a strength move will increase your calorie burn—it's pretty hard to stack up three or four cardio machines between three or four weight machines in the gym—that's where an outdoor circuit is both effective and doable,” Olson says.
The elliptical is one of the most popular machines in the gym, but when it comes to building coordination or improving core strength during your cardio, it's not doing you any favors.
“Cardio machines like the elliptical trainer are a solid way to improve aerobic fitness, but they provide you with handrails and footpads, which take away the effort of your body's core muscles like your lower back, abdominals, and shoulder girdle,” Olson says. “Heading outdoors on rollerblades is not only a great, low-impact option for cardio, those key core muscles have to fire over your legs to keep you upright and counterbalanced as you turn curves and maneuver around other natural obstacles in your pathway such as kids on bikes or grass that has popped through the cracks in the sidewalk.”
Plus, its way more fun to do a cardio workout that actually takes you places!