Taking the Gym Outside

It’s the winter we never thought we would see – gyms and fitness centers are closed due to COVID-19. Now that we are told it’s only safe to exercise outside, our winter weather makes outdoor workouts more challenging than they were last spring.

To assist my clients in retaining the gains they have made in strength and functional ability, I have reimagined exercise programming so it can take place outside instead of inside at my fitness center. Hopefully these tips can benefit you, too.

First, bundle up. You must dress in layers. Especially if you have neuropathy in your hands or feet, make sure you have warm gloves and socks, maybe even hand-warmers. You will warm up as you start exercising so make sure to have lighter-weight clothing underneath. 

Second, hydrate. Even though it’s colder now, don’t neglect drinking enough water. 

Third, check with your doctor if you have a heart condition or other medical issues to be sure it’s safe for you to exercise in the cold. 

Fourth, give yourself a long warm-up and cool-down to allow yourself to acclimate to the outdoor temperature and re-bundle-up once your workout is finished so you don’t get chilled. 

Finally, wear a mask if you are going to be anywhere you might encounter other people.

Walking is the easiest exercise to do outside. You will need sturdy athletic shoes (arch support if you need it; waterproof is a bonus) and a raincoat or umbrella if it’s one of our infamous rainy days. For the sake of your joints, walk on a school track or a trail if you have one available. If not, asphalt is softer than concrete. 

Challenge yourself with some hills if possible; it’s an easy way to interval train. If you don’t have any inclines nearby, you can still increase and decrease your walking pace to create intervals or walk to the beat of your favorite music. 

The goal is to move fast enough to increase your heart and respiratory rate, but not to exhaust yourself. You should be able to speak in short sentences while walking, but not have long conversations or be gasping for breath. 

I like to rate the exercise intensity on a scale of 1-10 (a subjective measure that can vary day-to-day). Your goal is to be working at a perceived exertion level of 7 to 8 (excluding warm-up and cool-down), which will be roughly 70-80 percent of your maximum heart rate.

Strength training can also be taken outside. Keep it simple by finding a park, school yard or parking lot you can use. Body weight exercises and those using a stretchy band with handles will give you the most versatility in an outdoor setting, plus the bands are lightweight and easy to carry. 

You can even incorporate the strength training exercises into breaks in your walking/cardio routine. 

Here are a few exercises that can be done outside, reps are 10-15 unless otherwise noted.

Band rows (attach the band at waist height around a pole, post or small tree) for upper back strength. 

Band bicep curls (stand on the band with both feet)

Band lateral shoulder raise (stand on the band with one foot)

Pushups (use a wall or a bench to incline your body more than a standard pushup) 

Tricep dips off a bench 

Plank (place forearms on a bench to incline your body if needed), hold as long as you can.

Side plank (like a plank, but focusing on obliques/waistline muscles, use a bench to incline if needed), hold as long as you can, then do the other side.

Bodyweight squats (plan on doing higher reps than usual and keep your focus on the working muscles, make sure you squeeze rather than bounce)

Walking lunges (forward or backward) focus on good form and balance as well as squeezing working muscles. Continue to muscle fatigue. Modify or skip this one if it hurts your knees.

Wall sit (invisible chair), hold for time 

Heel-toe walk (forward or backward) for balance, take your time and walk on a line or sidewalk crack, 2-3 times

Repeat the strength exercises for multiple circuits as time and ability allows. 

Despite the chilly/rainy weather, exercising outside has surprising mental and physical benefits. Don’t forget to give yourself a pat on the back once you’ve finished your workout. Happy exercising!

Lori Vance

Body Image Fitness, LLC.


Taking the Gym Outside

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