The mornings are getting brighter and the evenings are still bright after you finish work – so why spend those precious golden hours in the gym? It’s time to head outside.
After what seems like an interminable winter, the mornings are finally getting brighter and the evenings longer – and the clocks haven’t even gone back yet. Given that most of us spend all day working in offices and the like, now’s the perfect time to make the most of spring and take our workouts outside.
Coronavirus aside, gyms can be germ havens; a study by Fit Rated gathered bacterial samples from 27 different pieces of equipment in three branches of different chain gyms. It found that free weights had 362 times more bacteria than a toilet seat, while treadmills had 74 times more bacteria than a water faucet. Outside, however, you breathe in phytoncides – airborne chemicals produced by plants – and these are believed to help increase our levels of white blood cells. Research has found that forest bathing and breathing in those chemicals can, therefore, boost our immune system. The majority of us don’t get enough vitamin D during the colder months so being exposed to the sun for short periods of time now will help your body to better metabolise calcium and phosphate (needed to keep bones and muscles healthy).
Then of course, there’s the mental health aspect of being in nature. The gym might be a real stress saver for many of us but exercising outside can increase that sweet relief even more. One 2010 study found that “green exercise” boosted self-esteem and mood for nearly every one of the 1252 participants regardless of how short the workout was – particularly if it was done close to water. The greatest increase in self-esteem was seen in younger participants while mood boosting was most pronounced in middle-aged people. The group who showed the greatest improvements overall were those living with poor mental health.
“Getting outside is a great way to boost both your mental and physical health,” says Adrienne Herbert, master trainer at FIIT.
“Exercising outside in the morning in daylight works in sync with your body’s natural circadian rhythm, this can help the quality of your sleep and help to support a healthy immune system too. Spring is the perfect time to get outside.
“Use your environment to mix up your workout. You could use a local park, use a bench to do tricep dips or inverted push-ups. Find a hill for some sprints intervals or use a flight of stairs to do step-ups.”
But after months of gym work and classes, how do you transition to the great outdoors?
1. Run, cycle or walk to work
There’s nothing like taking the tube to suck the joy out of the working day – especially given the current coronavirus situation. We promise that once you start experiencing commuter life above ground, you’ll never go back. Not only do you avoid being crushed underneath sweaty armpits on the Central Line, but you’ll get a good dose of vitamin D to start the day. It will also give you a window to mentally prepare before you reach the office and process the day before you get back home.
Cities like London, for example, have plenty of quiet cycle routes, parks and canal towpaths that offer safer and greener courses. Use apps like Strava and Citymapper for planning your journey away from main roads. And if you don’t have showers at your office or you live too far away, why not try running or walking home (or part of the way)? You may even find that you’re saving time by turning your commute into your workout.
Get yourself a sturdy backpack like this one from Sweaty Betty (£90) and keep a jacket and spare pair of shoes at the office to keep the extra weight down.
2. Join the military
Get army fit with bootcamp and PT sessions led by British Military Fitness. Their signature classes involve strength, speed, power and cardiovascular fitness – so you know that you’re going to get maximum impact and results. These park-based workouts aren’t just for the hardcore; they’re tailored for all abilities and levels of fitness. You can get your first class free and they’re held in parks up and down the country.
Don’t like group activities? BMF also offers a personal training option for either one-to-one or small group training. Check out your nearest BMF class here. Prices start from £40 a month.
3. Get playing
When you’re at school, exercise is all about games – something we move away from as we get older. But as the weather improves, why not go back to playing outdoors? Rabble is a collective dedicated to helping us ‘stop exercising and start playing’, by transforming HIIT workouts into immersive, adrenaline-fuelled games. They play everything from dodgeball to frisbee, guaranteeing to make fitness so much fun, you forget that you’re working out. Over the course of the hour, you work on speed, endurance, coordination, agility and strength, and it often ends in a drink at the pub. Absolutely ideal. Prices vary, starting from £39 a month. Find a game near you here.
4. Set up your own circuit
Aside from a yoga mat to protect your kit from getting a bit soggy, you don’t really need any equipment to create a decent outdoor circuit – nature provides it all.
Adrienne tells us: “For me, I would make sure that the workout has a combination of both cardio and strength exercises. I would alternate between pulse raisers like skipping or jogging and bodyweight strength exercises like squats, lunges and push-ups. This is a really effective way to train so you can get a great workout in just 30 minutes.”
Download a Tabata app and set it to 50 seconds work, 10 seconds rest and give the following a go after first having a good stretch:
- High knees on the spot
- Walking lunges
- Sumo squats
- Tuck jumps
- Plank and side planks
- Skipping (if you have a rope)
If you’re in a park, interval runs between trees can be a brutal finisher to any circuit. Look for a pair of trees about 200 metres apart and try sprinting from one to the other before gently jogging back (which counts as your active recovery). Aim for ten reps before taking a two-minute break and going again.
5. Join a run club
Swap your treadmill class for a weekly run club and see the same – or bigger – gains. We’ve all gone crazy for those HIIT-and-run classes but most running clubs offer a range of different sessions that challenge every part of your run practice. You might find yourself sprinting on a track on Mondays, settling into a technical run on a Wednesday (hello, hill sprints!) and strapping up for a long run at the weekend.
You don’t have to have experience to join; most running clubs have different tiers for different speeds so don’t let the idea of being slow put you off. You can find your nearest club here.
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Miranda Larbi is a freelance fitness and wellness journalist, and qualified personal trainer. When she’s not finding new vegan places to eat, she can be found training for the next marathon or cycling across London on an old Dutchie.