Outdoor training, or ‘Green Exercise’, has many benefits, including physical benefits, mental benefits, and cost efficiency. Depending on where you and your clients live, training outside can either be a joy, or a unique and fun challenge to “beat” Mother Nature when the temperature drops. No matter what the weather is, training outside is a wonderful way to get your stoke on and enjoy the outdoors.
- Understand what research indicates as the benefits of exercising outside.
- Design an outdoor training program using only “natural” exercise equipment.
- Develop an outdoor training program that combines all components of fitness and using natural geography to enhance strength, power, and endurance.
Effect of Outdoor Physical Activity on Mood and Self-Esteem
Barton and Pretty (2010) conducted a meta-analysis (analysis of data from many studies to determine overall trends) to find the best dose of outdoor exercise needed to improve self-esteem and mood. The outdoor activities included: cycling, sailing, gardening, walking in the city and in the country/forest, fishing, horse riding, volunteer farming, and water side activities with young offenders.
Dose responses for intensity and duration showed large benefits from short workouts. The greatest changes came from 5 minutes of activity, suggesting the benefits happen immediately with outdoor exercise. The changes were lower for 10-60 minutes and half-day activity, but rise again for an entire days’ activity. The greatest change in self-esteem was for low intensity activity and then declined with higher intensity. Improvements in mood were higher for low intensity activity, then declined for moderate, and increased for higher intensity activity.
Every location improved self-esteem and mood; however, the presence of water increased the effects. Both men and women had similar improvements in self-esteem after training outside, and men improved their mood.
Analysis of age for self-esteem showed the youngest subjects had the greatest change. The benefits diminished with increased age. For mood, the youngest and oldest subjects had the least amount of change. The subjects who had self-declared mental health problems had one of the greatest self-esteem improvements. The authors suggest that this study confirms that being physically active outside can provide benefits to mood and self-esteem.
Other Benefits of Outdoor Exercise
Kerr, et al., (2012) investigated the differences in self-rated health and active time of three physical activity settings: indoor only, outdoor only, and both indoor and outdoor in subjects who were 66 years and older. The researchers found that total minutes in moderate to vigorous physical activity were greater in those who were physically active at least once a week outdoors compared with those who were physically active indoors only.
Graham (2017) indicates the low cost, or no cost, of training outside is a huge benefit. Considering the barrier to exercise for some is that joining a gym or hiring a trainer is too expensive, exercising outside comes with no cost or a very low cost. Local green spaces, forest preserves, urban hiking trails, playing fields, and back yards all offer the opportunity to train outside. In some cases, trainers may have to pay a small fee to get a permit to hold classes in a city park, therefore reducing their overhead costs. In this case, the trainer will have to have portable equipment, such as BOSU balance trainers, Lebert Equalizer bars, bungee cords, med balls, and cones.
Graham (2017) also indicates that lack of time is another obstacle to regular exercise. Driving to a gym can be time consuming. But driving or walking to a park close to where a client lives can ease the burden of travel time. For trainers who are excited to train clients outdoors or to conduct boot camps or yoga classes, there can be a benefit to attract local clients if the classes are held close to where they live. Or the benefit can be that travel time is less and/or parking is easier.
Summary – Ideas for Outdoor Training
It can be easy to use Mother Nature’s natural exercise equipment. Of course, it depends where you live and what is easy access to you and your clients. In many cities, there are parks in which a variety of exercises can be performed. These exercises can be done with a 1-on-1 personal training client or with a small group of clients.
Intervals and Circuits
- Perform your favorite interval training protocol in grass by doing Jump Squats, Burpees, Sprints, Bear Crawls, Med Ball Chops, Med Ball Slams, or “Fast Feet” on a BOSU as a circuit.
- Perform sprints on stairs.
- Perform sprints on hills.
Body Weight Training
- Pull-ups on a tree branch.
- Dead Lifts with a rock.
- Push-ups with feet uphill and hands downhill.
- Front Plank with feet uphill and elbows downhill.
- Squats, side planks, partner drills, etc.
- Fartlek Training ideas on a hiking trail or grassy area:
- A line of clients (5 – 10 people) start by walking, and the last person in line sprints to the front of the line. When he/she arrives at the front, the next person who’s last in line sprints to the front, etc.
- Run on the flats, walk the hills or stairs.
- Throw a stuffed duck and chase your dog while she chases the duck.
- Play Turtle Tag
- Perform fitness relays with clients:
- Run 20 yards (cone to cone), perform 5 push-ups, run back.
- Run 20 yards, perform “Fast Feet” on a BOSU, run back.
- Run 20 yards, perform 5 squat jumps, run back.
- Use your imagination to think of more fitness relays.
- Squat Jumps: 10 – 15 reps
- Tuck Jumps: 10 – 15 reps
- Lunge Jumps: 10 – 15 reps
- Forward Bounding: 10 – 15 reps
Barton, J. and Pretty J. (2010) What is the best dose of nature and green exercise for improving mental health? A multi-study analysis. Environmental Science and Technology. 44(10):3947-3955.
Kerr, J., et al. (2012) Outdoor physical activity and self rated health in older adults living in two regions of the U.S. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, 9:89.
Graham, K. (2017) Get Out! 5 Benefits of Outdoor Exercise, https://www.acefitness.org/education-and-resources/lifestyle/blog/6360/get-out-5-benefits-of-outdoor-exercise , Retrieved August 24, 2019.