Introduction: Take Your Workouts Into the Wild

Disclaimer: I am not a certified personal trainer, coach, or fitness expert of any kind. Please train carefully.

Let's talk about your workouts

Fitness is nothing more than the conscious movement of your body with the goal of improving its ability to move. Whether the goal is to move faster, or with more strength, or to rehabilitate an injury, all workouts involve repeating natural motions with or without resistance.

Most workouts take place in a gym or fitness center with like-minded individuals and dedicated equipment to help you achieve your goals. While a gym is not without its purposes and merits, they require careful budgeting of your time, money, and energy to attend. But most frustrating of all, they are BORING! The same location, the same equipment, the same smells. The majority of your willpower is spent just forcing yourself to step foot in that place.

Remember when you were a kid? Going outside, climbing trees, running around like your hair was on fire, sing the earth as your playground? That required no willpower, and it still doesn't. So why not take the best parts of getting fit, and the best parts of being a kid, and get wild with your workouts?

Step 1: The Fundamental Movements

Because of the nearly unlimited potential of an outdoor workout, you'll find more freedom to explore and improvise new exercises and play with your surroundings. I find that having a foundation of fitness movements allows me to have a consistent workout while allowing for creativity and fun. I'm able to focus more on the wild and playful aspects of nature instead of making sure I check all the boxes that make up a good workout. I don't need a detailed plan if I know these movements and have a little creativity with my surroundings. That's the fun part!

There are five fundamental movements that your workouts should be based upon. These were published by elite strength and throwing coach Dan John. I'll include examples of both weighted and calisthenics exercises.

  • Push - Upper body pushing/pressing (pushups, dips, handstand pushups, overhead press, bench press)
  • Pull - Upper body pulling/rowing (pull-ups, lat pulldown, upright row, inverted row)
  • Hinge - Hip-bending (deadlift, good mornings, hamstring extension)
  • Carry - Loaded carrying (farmer walks, buddy carries, sandbag walks)
  • Squat - Knee+Hip bending (back squat, front squat, box jump, lunge)

There are other important movements, namely core, lunge, sprint, throw, and cardio. However, I feel that those movements are to be used as a supplement to the fundamentals above. And the benefits of the fundamentals can overlap into these supplemental movements.

Step 2: Structure the Moves

Now you'll want a method to implement all of these movements. There are many schools of thought on how one should structure a workout and what goals each structure can achieve. I encourage you to do your own research and come to your own conclusions, but here is a VERY condensed summary of what I've learned on my fitness journey. Try them out, play with different combinations, and eliminate whatever doesn't work for you!

  • Interval - The classic (Combined sets and reps for a total of 25-30 reps, moderate rest)
  • Superset - Builds strength (Combine 2 exercises, alternate their sets with minimal rest)
  • Tabata - Burns fat (Timed sets for as many reps as possible, equivalent timed rest)
  • Hypertrophy - Builds muscle (Low repetitions - 3 seconds against gravity, 6 seconds with gravity, high rest)
  • Ladder - Builds endurance (Reps: 1,2,3,4,5,4,3,2,1 with minimal rest)

Mixing and matching movements with methods allows for almost unlimited combinations, meaning your workouts will never get stale. There are many many variations of these methods, and many I didn't cover. This is just a baseline to help you structure your workouts for the outdoors.

Step 3: Take Your Gym With You

Now let's talk equipment: Escaping the gym does relieve you of the specialized machines and equipment designed to incrementally help you improve your workouts. But that doesn't mean you can't add resistance to your workout with all the heavy things nature provides you. Large rocks and downed trees or branches are the obvious choices here, and they pose unique challenges to exercise that activate neglected muscles used for stability.

But a key source of resistance is your own body weight! In my opinion, using your own body weight in unique ways to move against gravity can require more strength, focus, and stability than any exercise with a set of dumbbells. I find that doing calisthenics outdoors provides a connection with nature that I haven't found anywhere else. You can solve physical problems, express yourself through movement, literally turn the world into your playground!

To assist with a body weight workout, you may choose to use a suspension trainer. A suspension trainer is a compact strap system that allows you to adjust the angle of your movement from an anchor point to increase or decrease the resistance created by your weight. I recommend a dual-anchor system to allow you more adjustability and range of motion. I have another Instructable that describes how to build your own! You may also choose to purchase a high-quality system like the monkii bars.

Step 4: Put It All Together

Now you have your movements, your method, and your source of resistance figured out...Time to go take it outside!

Here is an example of a workout that employs just one combination of these principles.

  • Push - Interval
    • Knee Tuck pushups - 3 sets of 10 reps, 1:00 rest between sets
      • Adjust suspension straps to low setting, hook feet into straps. Perform pushup followed by knee tuck
  • Pull/Squat - Superset
    • Pullup + Body Squat - 3 Sets of 8 pullups and 10 Body Squats, 30 seconds rest.
      • Strict Form
  • Carry/Hinge - Ladder
    • Boulder Carry - 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1 Steps, Deadlift boulder drop/pickup each stop

Remember, by no means should you feel obligated to write out your plan or go into the wild thinking you have to follow a set of steps, or that you have to consider your time outside a workout at all! Just get your body moving, breathe in the fresh air, feel the grass and sun, create a physical challenge, have loads of fun, be safe, and you'll be just fine.

There are plenty of other physical activities I haven't covered that are enhanced by the outdoors, such as running, climbing, hiking, and yoga, just to name a few. This summer, take what you love and move it outside, you'll be glad you did. Thanks for reading!

Outdoor Fitness Challenge

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Outdoor Fitness Challenge