What comes to mind when you think of “the great outdoors?” Perhaps you envision yourself rafting through white waters, zip lining into the sunset of Costa Rica, or biking down the mountains of Moab, Utah! Or maybe you’re taken back to your first camping experience, when you chased fireflies under the moon and were up with the sun, when you ran to the lake for a swim.
As a fitness enthusiast, you’re likely familiar with the benefits of cross training including cycling, running and swimming. What you might not know is that activities such as these, along with others, may give you an advantage when performed outdoors. How so? Read on to learn why (and how!) to leave the gym for an occasional adventure in nature.
Whether you’re logging miles on the elliptical or the treadmill, over time your body begins to adapt to the resistance levels and range of motion. While it’s possible to challenge yourself with by raising the treadmill incline or increasing the resistance of the elliptical, the various running surfaces of the outdoors introduce variety that will help prevent overuse injuries and stimulate your body in new ways.
- Running on grass is low impact and builds strength. Watch out for wet surfaces, which can be slippery. Another low impact option is sand.
- Sand can give your calf muscles a great workout without risking damage to your joints. However, the softness can put your achilles tendon at risk so limit runs on the sand to shorter distances.
- Woodland trails offer ever-changing surrounds with almost perfect running surfaces. Soft peat trails are easy on the legs and usually located in scenic areas. Watch out for tree roots and muddy surfaces which can be slippery.
Due to adaptations of the body, your ability to consume oxygen outdoors increases. This already happens prior to exercise, but even more so when outdoors. Your brain increases your respiration rate, and its ability to balance CO2 levels internally improves as well. Overall you’re able to burn more calories because the body now has better gas exchange rate.
Tour a New Town
What better way to explore a new town than on foot—and in running shoes! Whether you walk, jog, bike or run, stay accountable to your fitness program when traveling by exploring the local sites. Use an app like Map My Run to log your mileage, pace and to make sure you find your way back without any unexpected detours!
Variety of Exercises
Another advantage of outdoor activity is you can escape the physical and mental monotony that may accompany routine visits to the gym. It’s invigorating for the body and mind to surround yourself in a new atmosphere and experiment with exercises that don’t require bars, benches or dumbbells. Equipment-free movements can heighten your sense of mind-body awareness and stimulate your muscles in a new way. Pair strength moves like lunges, squats, push ups, pull ups and planks with cardio moves like mountain climbers, burpees, jump squats and jump lunges for a full body workout that burns fat, builds strength and invigorates the body and mind.
Whether you want to explore the great outdoors, break out of a rut, or find an alternative workout when away from the gym…the benefits of options of exercising in nature can improve your mind AND body! Challenge yourself to an outdoor workout and take note of the changes you feel mentally and physically.
Megan’s fitness journey began when she was in high school, overweight and inactive. After joining her first gym and making changes to her lifestyle, the extra weight dropped and her commitment to health and helping others continued to grow. Megan is an AFAA Certified Personal Trainer and Fitness Instructor. She can be reached at through her email or on the following social networks:
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