In spite of having completed one of the more comprehensive Personal Trainer courses on offer that included training in outdoor environments (thanks, YMCAfit!), there were a number of new things I learned through experience in my first few months of starting training people outdoors. I’d like to share these with you as they are useful to anyone who wants to get fit or workout outside more often, especially if you don’t have access to a conventional gym.
1. Don’t neglect your back!
Think bodyweight workout with minimal equipment: a lot of the exercises involve ‘pushing’ actions and ‘pulling’ exercises can easily be overlooked. This is especially true if you don’t have access to pull-up or monkey-bars in your park or you’re not confident about using them. All workouts should aim to balance the body, front and back, side-to-side so focusing on exercises like press-ups without working your back too can lead to an imbalance and poor posture. If you are desk-bound for much of the day it is common to have weakness in the upper back and shoulders you need to put in extra effort to keep this area strong.
- Solution 1: try bodyweight rows using a hand-rail, fence or other object that can hold your bodyweight. Begin almost standing with a slight lean and progress towards horizontal (then single-arm if you’re ready!).
- Solution 2: invest in a resistance band to practise scores of variations of pulldowns and rows by looping it around your feet or an immovable object. These bands are an inexpensive piece of kit and they come in various resistances and formats.
- Solution 3: don’t be afraid of the pull-up bars! Work towards your first chin-up starting by getting comfortable hanging from the bars, then practise shoulder shrugs before having a go at chin-up negatives or using a little assistance from the ground if your feet reach it to move up and down.
2. Playgrounds aren’t just for kids!
Did you know that there are ‘outdoor gyms’ in a number of the local parks, and some of these are in or near the swings and slides? I’m not talking about the fancy gym-machine style equipment (although there are lots of these about now and they’re useful for beginners and/or doing lots of reps to mix in some cardio with muscular endurance), but simpler static equipment like pull-up bars, parallel bars and low beams to name a few. There’s a crowdsourced map of where you can find this equipment at calisthenics-parks.com. You can add a lot of variety and challenge to a calisthenic workout with these and their increasing popularity means you’ll often find like-minded people training there who might be able to give you some ideas or inspiration.
3. Everybody loves boxing padwork!
I was new to boxing before taking my course, but I was amazed by how much I enjoyed perfecting my jabs, crosses, hooks, uppercuts and knee strikes and stringing together different combinations. It turns out I’m not alone – several of my clients were itching to get their boxing mitts back on after having practised different types of boxing fitness before and everyone I have introduced to it has really enjoyed it. If I take requests for session content the answer always seems to include ‘padwork’! As well as being great fun, it’s a brilliant way to mix up the cardiovascular part of a workout and is great for developing functional fitness skills like reaction times and coordination
4. Be prepared whatever the weather
Wet, cold weather doesn’t mean you can’t train outdoors – it just means a bit of planning. Aerobic and high-intensity workouts in cold weather are fine as long as you warm up gradually, this will allow your muscles to perform at their best and avoid injury. Cold weather can mean it is too cold to do a full set of developmental stretches after a workout – if possible do maintenance stretches (hold for about 10 seconds) and if developmental stretches are appropriate, do these once indoors again. If it’s raining (or icy) avoid plyometrics (explosive, jumping exercises) or anything at an angle where you need your feet to grip the ground as it’s likely you’ll slip (the bodyweight rows mentioned above are a prime example).
Everyone is different in their ability to regulate body temperature working out in the heat and short-term factors like having consumed alcohol the previous day or stress mean that a temperature that is ok for one person is too much for the next. Dehydration impairs performance and can have risky side effects such as dizziness. I started carrying spare bottles of water for clients in case they forget to bring theirs to the session and adapted the workout on very hot days to avoid overheating. Sometimes heat will mean it’s not safe for the session to go ahead – plan for training very early or late in the day to avoid the highest temperatures.
5. There’s nothing like finishing off your stretches while watching the clouds go by
Allowing the body to relax as much as possible really helps muscles to release into longer stretches after a workout which is why lying stretches for hamstrings, glutes and so forth are really effective – but I’m sure doing these while gazing at the clouds or watching tree branches dance in the breeze makes them even more effective. It’s understood that being in (or just looking at) a woodland environment is confluent with a decrease in the physiological markers of stress, so gazing at those trees should help with recovery and adaptation following your workout, helping you to become fitter sooner.
There are lots of other things I’ve learned, too many to list here but here are a few more which might raise the corner of your lips (or an eyebrow):
- What looks like a piece of fitness equipment to you and I looks like a toy to children or dogs
- Even the slightest hint of a breeze will send a swiss ball rolling away across the park
- It is hard to cycle safely when your rack is loaded with dumbbells
Stay tuned for the next post where you’ll be able to hear directly from one of my clients what it was like training with me.