Our health and well-being depends on exercise, nutrition and daily activities. It is imperative that we workout in an age where we are no longer required to move much. Gyms are incredibly useful, but may be considered more risky due to the coronavirus pandemic. This article explains how you can get fit outside without equipment. We will also discuss the best outdoor exercises and how you can perform them.
Get Fit Outside in 3 Steps
As a certified personal trainer, I’m a huge fan of heavy lifting, but I also enjoy exercising outdoors without equipment. In fact, I’ve created videos to help share outdoor workout ideas in the past. Working out outside of the gym can be much more fun and enjoyable. You can easily get in shape outside by making the world your gym, but you must plan ahead.
How do you get fit outside?
Choose Your Goal(s)
Stating your goal(s) is the first step in an exercise program. This may seem self-explanatory, but many people skip this step, or choose less specific goals. People are currently sweating their way through workouts in gyms across the country. Many of these people desire to lose weight or add some muscle, providing one or the other as their primary goal. However, such goals are unspecific, and it is difficult to measure their success.
We need to choose realistic goals that can be tracked and measured. You should know how long it will take to reach your goal, and how to determine success. If you want to lose weight, determine how much weight you want to lose and how long it should take. Specify how you will measure results and how often you will do so. The same strategy can be used for building muscle and many other goals. Those who track results are the most successful at achieving their goals.
Program Your Workouts
Every workout you complete should lead you one step closer to your goal(s). This is another step many people skip at the gym. It may appear like everyone knows what they are doing in the gym, but this is not the case. Some people stick to a piece of cardio equipment, others try to hit every weight machine, and some people use a monkey-see-monkey-do strategy. Most people do not have personalized fitness programs. It’s really hard to accomplish goals while doing random stuff at the gym.
Doing something is better than doing nothing, but it also needs to be specific to your goal(s). Athletes perform exercises to improve their skills. Bodybuilders perform exercises to increase muscle growth. A woman who wants to lose baby-weight after the birth of a child may perform a blend of cardiovascular and resistance training to burn calories while maintaining lean muscle mass. This is known as programing, and the methods will differ greatly from person to person.
Can you do a workout designed for someone else? Sure, but you may not get the results you expect. Take workout videos, for example. They are great at getting people moving and burning calories, but they are not personalized. Furthermore, you many not know why you are doing certain exercises, or if you are doing them correctly. Workout videos are fun, inexpensive and you can do them at home. However, they are limited in terms of goal tracking, form checking, and progress measurement.
It will be fun to get fit outside because there are many exercises and activities from which to choose. Program your workouts based on your goals, and form a plan to measure success. Some people like to do this on their own, and others would rather it be done for them. If you are among the latter, you can hire a professional to create your program and work with you each step of the way. Once your plan is in place, you simply need to find places to sweat outside and accomplish your goals.
Finding places to exercise outside of the gym will be easy for some. Others may find it to be the most difficult step depending upon limitations in their area. Outdoor public areas, such as parks, are a very popular choice. In fact, many cities have parks with miles of hiking trails and/or exercise stations.
We’ve visited all of the parks with trails in San Antonio, which make great places to walk, bike, or run. Many of these parks have stations for exercise. You don’t need them, but they are a nice feature for resistance training.
If you do not live near any parks you many need to use more imagination. Playgrounds, parking lots, sidewalks, open fields and yards are alternative places to exercise outside. Areas with benches, railings, stairs and other objects can also be very useful. Just be sure the property is yours or open to the public so that you do not get hit with a trespassing charge.
Last, but not least, don’t rule out places with rock walls, water, hills, sports fields, and courts. Such places encourage climbing, swimming, rowing, jumping, running and competitive sports. Some of these activities could play a beneficial part in your exercise program. In order to get fit outside, you may want to weigh many of the options.
Hours, Fees and Events
Once you have narrowed down locations in your area, look up the hours of operation (if applicable). It might also be helpful to know if the area is well-shaded and has drinking water. Find out if there are any fees for admission, or a calendar of events. If you run into a large and unexpected crowd, you may be forced to choose an alternative location.
Best Outdoor Exercises Without a Gym or Equipment
The following exercises were chosen with the average person in mind. They are not designed to help you reach very specific goals. If you want to know how to build your chest outside, get a big butt, or get six-pack abs, you will need a more specific program. This list of the best exercises without equipment is not a workout prescription. The exercises will challenge your body and may provide significant improvements to your appearance, mood and health.
Pro Tip – Please check with your doctor before beginning any exercise program, especially if you have concerns or special conditions.
1. Lifting Stuff Up (Deadlifting)
Deadlifting is one of the best exercises you can do in the gym. No other exercise requires you to utilize as many muscles, under as much load, as the deadlift. It is a staple in every strength building program. Lifting a heavy object from the floor is incredibly challenging and beneficial for the body. It’s a total body exercise that will make you tired fast.
Why deadlifts are one of the best exercises
Everyone should be able to crouch down and lift something up off the ground. It activates more muscles than most exercises, and is great for increasing muscle mass, bone density and strength (if done with proper form and intensity).
There’s only one problem; most people can (or should) deadlift their own bodyweight and then some, which is really hard to replicate outside the gym. Performing hip hinges simply will not due for most people, in terms of strength benefits. Can we use deadlifts to get fit outside? Yes, but this will be more challenging than the following exercises on the list.
Lift stuff up. That’s what it means to deadlift. The challenge will be finding objects to lift, but they are out there. What can you lift outside? Boulders, lumber, blocks, tires, or bags of sand could serve this purpose. Lift them up, set them down. How many times can you do it? Lift them up, carry them ten paces, set them down. Repeat and take a break, or make it a circuit with other exercises.
You can perform the deadlift with a partner. People are heavy. Have your partner lie down, facing up with their knees bent. Bend down, place one hand under the knees and have your partner grab your other arm with both hands. Exhale as you use your legs to stand straight up. Lower your partner down to the ground maintaining the same form. How many reps can you do?
Swimming is one of the best exercises you can do without equipment because the water acts as resistance. It’s another total body exercise that will leave you breathless in no time. It takes a powerful person to be a swimmer. Have you ever tried swimming a few simple laps in a public pool? It’s hard work! Which is probably why you see most people floating in the water instead.
Despite being one one of the best exercises, swimming has a major limitation as well; you need a semi-deep source of water. This could be a pool, river, lake, or ocean. However, if you don’t live near any water, swimming will not be possible. Don’t you need to learn to swim first? Yes, but we also need to learn most “basic” forms of exercise as well. Getting in shape outside may be easier if there is water nearby, and you know how to swim.
Why swimming is one of the best exercises
Swimming is one exercise you cannot replicate in the gym. You will tire quickly as you primarily work your quads, core, pecs, lats and triceps. Of course, you can also use the resistance of the water to fatigue other muscles in unorthodox ways.
You can increase the challenge by swimming against a current. If you thought laps in a pool were hard, wait until you try this one. It’s sort of like running on a treadmill when you can barely stay ahead of the mat speed. You don’t see too many people doing that at the gym. Start out slowly and choose a safe current to conquer. You wouldn’t want to swim against the rapids at Niagara Falls State Park.
Swimming also reduces stress on the joints. In fact, it’s the least stressful exercise on the joints, in this list. For those with joint pain, that is an important and appealing benefit. If impact and weight-bearing activities consistently kill your joints, you may want to incorporate swimming into your program. It’s a great way to get fit outside without equipment, if you have access to water.
Climbing is one of the best outdoor exercises because it is functional, challenging and unique. Consider it a total body exercise if you are using your hands to climb something. Climbing cannot be replicated in the gym, unless that gym has its own rock climbing wall, and some do. This exercise is like performing a step-up, calf raise, plank, and pull-up in the same movement. You also get a vertical push-up at the top of the wall or cliff.
Climbing is fun, but what types of objects can be climbed? Rock walls are the most obvious. However, you can also climb stairs, tables, hills, mountains, fences, buildings, and a lot of other things. You will work more muscles when using your hands, but this isn’t necessary. Climbing a steep hill will be moderately strenuous for your lower body and cardiovascular system. Climbing mountains will be even more challenging, and is one of our favorite things to do in Big Bend. Unfortunately, it’s an all-day drive to reach the closest mountains in our area.
How fast can you climb?
How many hills or objects are in your area that you can climb? Increase the challenge by attempting to climb something as quickly as possible. Last year, I decided to climb Enchanted Rock as fast as possible. This dome in Texas Hill Country is like climbing 40 stories of steep granite. You can read about that experience after finishing this article. I did not reach the top as fast as I expected, but I did climb it quickly enough to pass the stair-climb test.
The stair-climb test is an easy way to measure your health and life expectancy according to Healthline (and recent studies). The test sounds simple; attempt to climb four flights of stairs in under one minute. This seems very similar to the timed step-up test I’ve used in personal training programs to assess cardiovascular risk via heart rate recovery. If you cannot complete the test, you should speak with your doctor, and increase your activity level.
Why climbing is one of the best exercises
Climbing challenges your larger muscle groups in unique ways, and can be done in many places to help you get fit outside. In terms of stair-climbing, it can be used to assess health risks, and improve your cardiovascular and muscular endurance.
Sprinting is the king of cardiovascular exercise. Humans have been sprinting for thousands of years. Although, we no longer sprint for those reasons of old. These days, we sprint for exercise, enjoyment, or sport. Sure there are stationary exercises which can elevate heart rate, but they get you nowhere fast.
What kind of exercise is more beneficial than a quick sprint?
Burpees? HA! Fall down to the floor, push up, stand up, jump as high as you can, and then do it again. It doesn’t sound very functional to me, especially considering most people are bouncing off the floor after a few reps. Ouch. It may make you tired and burn a few calories, but it still has the dumbest name.
Please, call them 8-counts, and perform them with purpose. You military guys know what I’m talking about, and you probably don’t look like someone who is trying to do “the worm” and shoot a basket at the same time. Focusing on function and body position during a count is much more beneficial than speeding through without purpose.
If your main concern is speed, stick with sprints. A cheetah can reach a speed of 60mph in only three seconds. Which is more impressive; a cheetah running faster than 60mph, or a cheetah performing 30 burpees? Don’t answer that. Cheetahs don’t need to do burpees because they are off doing cheetah things and staying in shape. We used to do cheetah things. Now we must get fit outside by doing specific exercises.
Why sprinting is one of the best exercises
Sprinting can be done almost anywhere flat land is present. Sprints require maximum effort, but take very little time to complete. They improve strength and lean muscle mass in the trunk and lower body. You can also expect to build more mitochondria, and burn more fat during other activities.
5. Hiking (with dogs)
Hiking is very similar to walking; the difference being slightly more challenging terrain or distances. Hiking is typically done on nature trails and it has many advantages for those seeking outdoor adventures. We hike consistently in our area and find it to be the most enjoyable form of exercise. It’s relatively easy, requires no skills, and you can bring your dogs to pet-friendly parks. In fact, our dog has hiked hundreds of miles and she is only three-years-old!
The benefits of hiking are similar to those you may gain doing other forms of exercise. No, you won’t get those six-pack abs you’ve been dreaming about, but many people hike for other reasons besides the health benefits. They do so to feed their sense of adventure, spend time in nature, and improve their mood. Hiking simply makes some people happy. After adopting our dog, Abbey, we quickly bonded on the hiking trails and found something we love to do together.
Depending on where you live, hiking trails may be difficult to find. Here in Texas, we have (at least) 89 state parks and even more city parks. There is no shortage of places to hike with our dog. Certain areas may not have very many state parks. Nebraska (8), Wyoming (12), Alabama (17), and North Dakota (18), are the states which have the fewest state parks. Other states, such as Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Maine, Montana, and South Dakota have more parks, but some of the population will find them difficult to reach.
Why hiking is one of the best exercises
Chances are, you live somewhere near a park, natural area, recreation area, natural habitat, or preserve. Find some public areas near you where you can get outdoors and go on an adventure. Why? Hiking is a great way to de-stress, work your basic senses, improve your health and learn about the places you visit. You can do it all in one day with ease, but don’t forget your four-legged friend. Dogs need exercise too, and love to let their senses go wild.
If you don’t live in an area where you can get fit outside and have some fun, I’d quickly consider a change of scenery. Our longest hike in 2020, was 15-miles along the San Antonio Riverwalk!
6. Bonus Exercise (for function): Get Up as Many Ways as Possible
Everyone needs to get up off the ground at some point in their life. This should not be one of the most challenging things you do in a day. Why not make a game out of this exercise in order to see how many different ways you can get up off the ground? It’s a blend of resistance training and creative thinking.
Here’s how it works; lie down on the floor, set a timer for one minute and stand up in any way you like. Go back down to the floor and choose another way to get up. You can choose any starting position you like, such as face-down, face-up, side-lying, half-kneeling, low-plank, etc. There are so many different ways you can get up from these, and other positions. Try not to come up with them before starting the timer.
How many different ways did you get up in 60 seconds? Did you learn anything interesting during the exercise? When I did this exercise for the first time, I was surprised by my ability to stand up with one leg from a supine (face-up) position. However, I wouldn’t recommend that one if you are concerned about your knees.
It’s fun, functional, and far more impressive than those “burpees” you’ve been doing. Get fit outside by getting up. You could use this exercise as part of a warmup, but I prefer to use it as a finisher.
7. Bonus Circuit (for fun): Get Fit Outside Like an Animal
We name a lot of exercises after animals. This makes some exercises easy to remember, but it also means we’re uncreative with names. How many exercises do you know which are named after animals? This exercise has a purpose and it’s not because I like to laugh at people while they perform goofy animal exercises. I may have laughed at a few of the names, but they’re still not as bad as “burpee”.
Can you get fit outside while exercising like an animal?
Here’s how it works; choose two animals (or exercises with animal names) and perform the movements one-at-a-time. Most of these exercises are dynamic, as opposed to stationary. This means you will be moving forward in an attempt to reach a distance of at least 50 feet. The stationary exercises can be done as many times as possible, or for 60 seconds, whichever comes first.
After completing the first two animal exercises, choose two different animals, and then two more after that. The entire circuit will take anywhere from 3 – 6 minutes, depending upon which six animals you choose. Some will be easy, and others more difficult. Can you come up with any animal-like exercises yourself? If not, here is a list (ordered by difficulty) to get you started:
- Bird dog (four-point position)
- Scorpions (prone)
- Gorilla walk
- Bear crawl
- Chameleon walk
- Monkey shuffle
- Donkey kicks
- Dolphin Push-up
- Duck walk
- Frog jumps
- Crab walk
- Alligator drag
- Dragon walk
This list contains only a handful of exercises named after animals. There are probably thousands of them to find or create. Let us know if you are interested in learning about more animal exercises, to help you get fit outside. Meanwhile, we will work on linking to examples of these exercises so you can see how to do them. Most animal exercises are perfect to use during a dynamic warmup. However, some can be very challenging, requiring a great deal of energy.
I’ve been a personal trainer for nearly a decade, certified by ACE, NASM and WITS. Helping people reach their fitness goals and potentially live longer is a true honor. I have over 1,000 hours of coaching experience with seniors, youth athletes and individuals with disabilities.
I can help you feel better, and live longer. Even though I share workouts on this site, you are solely responsible for trying exercises, or places discussed here. Let’s move better, live longer and wander more often.