What if you were always excited about your workout program? Well, maybe excited is pushing it—but what if you were at least somewhat energized to go exercise? It’s not a fantasy. Outdoor workouts can help spark your interest in getting active.
Fall is a wonderful time to take your workout outdoors: Morning temperatures are perfect, and evening sunsets are a special treat. You may think your outdoor workout has to be walking, jogging, or biking, but this is where you can be creative and have some fun. Think of the outdoors as a huge jungle gym that you can use to strengthen your muscles.
Strength training, as you may know, increases your muscle mass. Having more muscle mass helps you burn more calories, lower blood glucose levels, be more sensitive to insulin, and prevent age-related weakness and balance problems. The truth behind common myths about strength training may help keep you motivated to make muscle:
MYTH: Machines are more effective than free weights.
Fact: Machines allow for one body part to move only in one direction, which will limit results. Free weights and using your body weight as resistance engage multiple muscles in various directions for all-around strength.
MYTH: Lifting is bad for your joints.
Fact: Resistance training is less stressful on your joints than running, and it strengthens the tendons and ligaments around the joints, stabilizing them.
MYTH: Strength training makes you bulky.
Fact: Muscle is leaner than fat. That means that if you have a higher percentage of muscle but the same body weight, you will be slimmer.
The key to a well-designed strength-training program is to get enough variety. Your muscles get bored with the same workout. Changing the exercises you do, even a little, helps create what’s known as muscle confusion, which challenges your muscles in new and good ways. You’ll also want to slowly increase the intensity of your workouts. You can intensify your workout by thinking FITT:
Frequency: Change the number of days you do your workout from twice a week to three times a week.
Intensity: Increase the weight you use from 2 pounds to 5 pounds.
Time: Increase the amount of time spent exercising from 20 minutes to 30 minutes, or increase the amount of time spent holding a pose from 30 seconds to 60 seconds.
Type: Change the type of exercise you do for a specific body part, such as trading push-ups for bench presses.\Not sure where to start? Try these no-gym-required exercises. They’ll challenge your muscles, add some much-needed variety to your fitness program, and give you a chance to enjoy the great outdoors.
Kirsten C. Ward, MS, RCEP, CDE,is an exercise physiologist, certified diabetes educator, and certified health coach. She has traveled nationally and internationally, presenting on diabetes and physical activity, and enjoys practicing what she preaches by running, hiking, and doing yoga. Find her at healthcoachboston.com.
Safety Note: Talk to your doctor before making any big changes to your exercise plan.
Push-Ups: Strengthens chest and arms A Stand in front of a sturdy bench. Start in a plank pose: on your toes with your arms extended and your hands on the back (less intense) or seat (more intense) of the bench. Scoop in your abdominal muscles and tilt your pelvis under, toward your chest, to lengthen your lower back. B Slowly bend your elbows to lower your chest (not your chin) toward the bench. Keep your elbows wide. Breathe out as you push up. Repetitions: 10–15 Sets: 1–2
Illustration by David Preiss
Squats With Ball: Strengthens hips, buttocks, thighs, and abdomen A Stand facing away from and just in front of a bench. Hold a lightweight ball between your knees to keep them aligned. Extend your arms straight out in front of you and look straight ahead. B Keeping your back straight, squat and touch your buttocks to the bench. Rise, squeezing your buttocks to lift your body. Repetitions: 10–15 Sets: 2–3 Illustration by David Preiss
One-Arm Row: Strengthens your back, shoulders, and upper arms A Place your left knee and left hand lengthwise on a bench, with your right leg extended to the ground for balance. Hold a 5- to 20-pound weight in your right hand with your arm extended straight down. B Pull up your right arm from the elbow, keeping it close to your ribs and squeezing the back of the right shoulder blade toward the center of your spine. Continue for a full set. Repetitions: 10–15 Sets: 1–2 with each arm Illustration by David Preiss
Dead Bug: Strengthens your abdomen A Lay on your back on a bench, tightening your abdominals and tilting your pelvis so that your lower back presses into the bench. Bend your knees at a 90-degree angle. B Extend one leg out to a 45-degree angle, maintaining your pelvic tilt, and then bring it back to the starting position. Repeat with the other leg. Repetitions: 10–15 Sets: 1–2 Illustration by David Preiss
Step Ups: Strengthens hips, buttocks, thighs, and abdomen A Stand in front of a sturdy bench. (No bench or bench too high? Use a set of steps; try stepping up two at a time.) B Step up with your right leg and down with your right leg for a set. Repetitions: 10–15 Sets: 2–3 with each leg Illustration by David Preiss
Side Plank With Lifted Leg: Strengthens hips, buttocks, thighs, and abdomen A Stand sideways, at an angle to a bench, with your left arm extended and your hand on the back of the bench. Support your weight with your left leg and arm. Keep your right arm on your hip. Tilt your pelvis under to engage your abdominals and be careful not to hyperextend the standing knee. B Smoothly raise your right leg out to the side to a 45-degree angle, keeping your foot pointed forward (not to the sky). Keep your knees and hips aligned (do not twist) as you raise and lower the leg for a full set. Repetitions: 10–15 Sets: 1–2 with each leg Illustration by David Preiss
Triceps Dips: Strengthens back of upper arms and shoulders A Sit at the very edge of a bench with your arms extended and your hands on the edge of the bench with fingers forward. Keep your shoulders lowered and away from your ears. Scoot your torso off the bench so your extended arms are supporting you. B Keeping your buttocks close to the bench and your spine straight, bend your elbows to almost a 90-degree angle to raise and lower your body (think about scratching your back against the front of the bench). Repetitions: 10–15 Sets: 1–2 Illustration by David Preiss
Straight Leg Forward Balance (Modified Warrior Three): Strengthens hips, buttocks, thighs, and abdomen. A Face a bench. B Keeping your abdominals engaged and your back straight, bend forward to touch the bench with your hands while lifting your left leg. Your head, torso, and left leg should be aligned, like the top of a T. Tighten your abdominals to return to the starting position, rather than pushing off the bench with your hands. Continue for a full set. Repetitions: 10–15 Sets: 1–2 with each leg Illustration by David Preiss