Those of us who work in an office or any other indoor environment hate the thought of being cooped up inside during the precious moments we have away from work. Most of us can’t wait to sit out on the porch, walk around the neighborhood or just be out in the yard. But what about going to the gym? It’s hard to get the benefits of going to the gym without spending some time inside. Is it possible to get a great all-around workout outside the gym?
The answer: Yes! There are lots of ways you can turn your favorite outdoor activities into challenging workouts. All it takes is a little planning. As an avid hiker, my favorite way to exercise is on the trail, so I’ve mastered the art of turning my hike into a complete workout.
If you’re not already into hiking, you might be wondering what’s so great about it. On its own, hiking offers a myriad of health benefits, both mental and physical. Among other things, it reduces stress, releases endorphins, and improves cognition and problem-solving.
When you turn your hike into a workout, you get all of those benefits plus the added benefits of cardio and strength training. Best of all, you get to do it in the great outdoors.
Before you jump in your car and head for the trail, you’ll want to do a bit of planning. While fun, hiking as a workout can also present some safety risks you won’t encounter at the local gym. If you usually work out at the gym, you’re probably used to being surrounded by people and resources. On a hike, though, you’ll have to bring most of what you need. A hiking workout takes a little more preparation, but it’s worth the effort.
Water – Running out of water while hiking can be dangerous. Make sure you pack enough to last through your entire hike. Water is extremely heavy, though, so don’t overdo it.
Protective gear – Having the right gear for your hike will make your workout proceed much more smoothly. Depending on the climate, be sure to have sunscreen, bug repellent, long sleeves and long pants, a hat, and sturdy hiking boots.
Elements of the Workout
As with your gym workout, you’ll want to plan your hiking workout to be as effective as possible in the time you have available.
Begin with a light warm-up to ease your body into the activity. Then, add a few dynamic stretches, such as lunges or high knee exercises, to get your blood pumping. Static stretching to elongate muscles and improve flexibility should be done after the workout when your muscles are already warmed up.
Cardiovascular exercise is a natural part of hiking. To get the true benefits from it, you’ll want to keep the pace consistent and your heart rate elevated.
You can also add a strength-training component to your hike to create a complete and balanced workout. Since you won’t be bringing along dumbbells from the gym, you’ll have to get a little creative.
Try bodyweight exercises. Any movement using your body’s weight as resistance against gravity will help improve your fitness. Some common examples of bodyweight exercises are squats, planks, lunges, push-ups and burpees.
Use the trail. Plenty of things in nature make great substitutes for gym equipment. You can use small or medium rocks as free weights, while large rocks are perfect for wall-sits. Sturdy fallen logs are great for box jumps and toe taps.
Once you add strength training to your hikes, you’ll find yourself constantly on the lookout for new opportunities to add different elements to your hike. It’s a great way to keep the workouts interesting and avoid boredom.
As with any workout, the cool down is an essential aspect you don’t want to skip. A proper cool down period will help your heart rate and breathing gradually return to normal. After your workout is also the best time to do static stretches to increase flexibility. Be sure to continue drinking water throughout the cool down and after your workout to replace fluids.
Tracking Your Progress
One satisfying element of gym workouts is that all the elements of your workout can be tracked easily. If you’re running the treadmill, you can quickly tell how far you’ve gone, your pace, time spent and calories burned.
If tracking your progress helps your motivation, there are many smartphone applications that will record the same data for your hike. An app such as MapMyHike will record all the details about your hike so that you can monitor your progress as you improve and increase the intensity of your outdoor workouts.
Note: If you’re going to bring your smartphone out on the trail, you’ll want to protect it from all potential hazards. Invest in a durable case to keep your phone safe from hazards along the trail and consider using a proxy software service to protect your private information in case your phone is lost along the trail, it happens.
Safety is another issue you’ll need to take into account when planning your hike as an outdoor workout. Depending on the trail you choose, you could be hiking alone for most of your trip. So, if you get injured or lost, there may not be anyone around to help you. Be sure to take a map of the area you’ll be hiking and a compass. If you’re hiking alone, let someone know where you’re going and when to expect you back.
It’s easy to transform a hike into a great workout. Plus, you get all the benefits of being outdoors and surrounded by nature. If you’re still not sure, try incorporating these ideas into a short hike or even a walk around your neighborhood. You might be surprised at how much you enjoy the experience.
What’s your favorite way to exercise outdoors? Share it with us in the comments below.