As the nation slowly moves out of lockdown, it’s completely normal to feel apprehensive about visiting your local gym to shed the post-quarantine pounds. Remember that you always have nature’s gym to work out in, with the lessened risk, there are also a number of benefits to exercising in the great outdoors. Let’s get back to basics, with some natural alternatives to the gym.
Head for the Hills
This might come as a surprise, but there’s a reason there’s an exercise named after mountain climbers. Ditch the StairMaster, cancel that gym class, and head for the hills. Traditionally done out on the trail (but we’ll make an exception for you urban explorers), hiking has a number of benefits for both body and mind.
Any type of hiking is great for cardio, but with a number of small changes you can create a more challenging workout. Before beginning any type of exercise, it’s important to know your limits. If you’re a beginner, start on small hikes over flat terrain. Finding this too easy? Add an incline to your route, research suggests that an incline between 5-10% can equal a 30-40% increase in calories burnt. Better yet, add extra weight to your rucksack to increase the calorie burn even more.
Not only does hiking burn calories, it also helps to build muscles in your core, lower back and legs, as well as improving your balance. On top of all this, hiking does wonders for your mental health. Research on the topic has shown that it helps to reduce symptoms of stress and anxiety. Latest government guidance (in the UK) dictates that you can exercise outdoors with groups up to six people from different households, so why not make your hike a little more sociable?
Pick up the Pace
Much like hiking, running and trail running is good for the cardiovascular system, as well as building leg muscles and improving bone density. Studies have proven that trail running is even better for strengthening your legs, ankles and hips than simple road running. Much like hiking, trail running improves your balance as you tackle uneven terrain – speaking of uneven terrain, did I mention it can burn 60-90 calories more (per hour!) than flat terrain?
Trail running gives you more than the average treadmill would, running downhill on the trails builds both definition and increases strength in your quads, this is equally true when comparing it to road running. Not forgetting the ligaments, tendons and smaller muscles that also strengthen as you train, something that treadmill running typically neglects. No treadmills free at the gym? That could hurt your workout plan, in the outdoors you’ll be competing against the elements, not other people. Weather and wind resistance make your body work harder to achieve the distance, so go ahead, take on the challenge.
HIIT Me Up
While HIIT sessions don’t last long, they are one of the most versatile ways to train, and can be just as challenging as a longer workout. The main premise of HIIT is to perform an exercise for a short duration (around 30 seconds to one minute), before taking a short break. Repeat this pattern with various exercises to train cardio, strength or endurance. HIIT workouts should last between 30 and 60 minutes, including warm ups and cool downs. One real advantage of HIIT is that it can be done anywhere, with little or no equipment at all. There are a plethora of online blogs or videos you can follow from home if you’re hesitant to HIIT the gym.
HIIT has risen in popularity in the last five years, with benefits both physical and practical. Studies have shown that HIIT burned between 25 and 30% more calories than other forms of exercise, bearing in mind HIIT should be performed with maximum effort. In addition to an overall increase in fat loss and muscle gain, HIIT raises your metabolic rate and this continues for hours after you’ve completed working out.
Just Keep Swimming...
Though pools are set to reopen on the 25th July, they aren’t the only place to go for a swim. Open water swimming has a number of benefits that outweigh its indoor counterpart. Although that may not sound too appealing, once you’ve got over the initial shock, it actually comes with some positives!
Cold water stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, or put simply, the bit that helps repair your body. It also helps you to encourage relaxation in support of a better night’s sleep. As with most exercise, it’s good for heart health, though swimming in the cold, takes this one stroke further. The cooler temperatures ensure blood rushes to our organs, giving your heart a tougher workout and improving circulation, in turn reducing blood pressure. As with all exercise, check with your GP if you have underlying health conditions, especially those which could be affected by extreme temperatures.
You’ve heard of the runner’s high? What about the swimmer’s shock? Ok, hands up, I just made that up. But, the addictive endorphin rush you gain from working out is enhanced from the initial shock of cold water. The cold also releases dopamine and serotonin, commonly referred to as the happy hormones, who wouldn’t want that? Speaking of hormones, studies have shown that regularly taking the plunge produces more testosterone and oestrogen, improving fertility.
Pedal to the Metal (or the Mountain)
Switch up the spin class, and step off the stationary bike. You can’t beat the rush as you head down hills on two wheels, or the burn as you drive your legs up another incline. There are some further positives that may change your view on outdoor cycling, and I’m not just talking about the scenery.
Not only does outdoor cycling increase calorie burn over indoor bikes, it also improves your balance as you physically have to keep the bike upright. Recognised as more of a full body workout, outdoor biking strengthens your core, hips and quads. Benefits both practically and psychologically include running errands, practicing mindfulness and getting a good excuse to explore somewhere new.
If you’re struggling to find time to cycle recreationally, it’s also something you can work into your everyday routine. Taking to two wheels over public transport reduces your exposure to COVID, and depending on your location, you’re able to rent and return bikes across cities.