Training Outside as an Alternative to the Gym

training outdoorsSummer is a great time to workout, but for many gym enthusiasts it becomes a burden, especially when they can see the beautiful weather outside and they are stuck inside doing reps on a weight rack. Now, there’s nothing bad about that at all; I still go to the gym during seasons of good weather because otherwise I’d lose some of the muscle gains made (unless you have access to an outdoor gym, in which case that’s excellent).

All of that being said, I like to change up my whole routine every now and then, to introduce new and exciting ares of neural adaptation and get fit in different areas. If you are usually a cheapskate with cardio, the summer is probably the time you should maximize the opportunity to get some fresh air and feel the sun on your back as you run, cycle, swim…whatever.

So, for me, it comes down to a couple gym sessions a week, perhaps 4 runs of 5km to 10km per week, a cycle or two and some swimming if I can fit it in. What I’m most excited about, however, is some quick fire strength and conditioning outside.

Isometrics, Plyometrics and Everything In Between

isometricIf you are afraid you can’t get anything done in a park or the yard or wherever outside because you don’t have heavy weights at your disposal, then don’t worry. There is a lot you can do for your fitness, your physique, and your mind, if you embrace the outdoor way.

There are two training disciplines/techniques mentioned in the sub-title above: Isometrics and Plyometrics. Now – I say ‘and everything in between’ because I view these two methods as being on the opposite end of the spectrum from each other, while keeping in the same category of ‘strength and conditioning’.

Isometric Training is where the target muscle (group) is engaged/contracted, yet there is no movement from the limb or muscle in question. For want of a better term, it is Static Strength Conditioning. By way of example, the plank is a classic isometric exercise. Simply lie straight, propped up on the flats of your forearms. Staying like that gets tough after a while what with gravity doing its best to beat your resolve. Training in this way is excellent for the core muscles and can really help with stabilization and general strength.

You also utilize isometrics during most dynamic lifting exercises. When you squat, for example, your abs, back, shoulders and almost everything but the moving muscles are engaged isometrically. Similarly when you perform a bicep curl, your forearm is working isometrically. However, this is about doing isometrics without heavy weights and it’s entirely possible to reap some serious rewards using only your bodyweight, or something immoveable (like a tree) against which you can brace – as if trying to push the object – and employ a virtually limitless effort curve.

Plyometric training, on the other hand, is the use of explosive power. The easiest example of plyometric training is jumping, but there are some subtleties to this that warrant further explanation.

Push up outdoorsTrue plyometric training involves dropping down from a safe height to the ground, thereby forcing the person’s muscles to go into eccentric contraction (i.e. absorbing the ‘shock’) but then turning that into a concentric contraction (jumping) within the shortest time possible. This type of training is excellent for power, speed and muscle reaction improvements.

After the advent of ‘true plyometrics’ nearly every explosive movement has been described as plyometric. As this is now common parlance, there’s no point contradicting it. Exercises such as squat jumps, box jumps, burpees and plyometric push-ups (where you push off the ground from force of push-up – some people clap their hands in between) are now considered plyometrics. I will say that these are all extremely useful indeed for building your fast power, but the original depth jump, where you drop from a box and quickly jump back up is probably the most effective.

The Benefit

After a season of hard work in the gym, you may have left a few things out of your routine, given the majority of people use Winter and Spring to get some serious hypertrophy and strength work in. When it comes to Summer, you could probably do with a little break from the routine anyway, and there is nothing better than to use those fresh new muscles you have to expand their potential even more.

The combination of Plyometric and Isometric training will make you start to experience improvements in your power and speed that you didn’t know you had in you. This elicits further growth in your usual gym workout as well and triggers new anabolic hormone activity to boot.

In short, it augments your physique quite dramatically.

A Word on Sandbags

training sandbagIf you are still looking for some weight to be added to your outside routine then I suggest getting a sandbag. These are relatively inexpensive and allow you to expand even further on all 3 aspects of training described above: Regular dynamic lifting, Plyometric and Isometric.

I would recommend a sandbag to anybody, even the biggest guys, to include in their workout programme anyway. They are slightly awkward by nature and take different movements and use of strength to work with. What’s more is the pro sandbags made from tough mil-spec material can come in sizes which take up to 160 pounds.

Click to read more about Isometric Training for improved Strength

Click for our article: Sandbag Training Introduction

Watch this space for some workouts you can do outside, with and without a sandbag.


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