7 Expert-Approved Outdoor Workouts To Try This Summer
Sport & Activity
Reap the benefits of breaking a sweat outdoors with one of these workouts, recommended by experts.
Summer is here—and, since the benefits of sweating under the sun are plentiful, there's no better time to do an outdoor workout.
Why? For a start, exposure to sunlight increases the release of serotonin, a neurotransmitter, which can boost your mood, lower anxiety and improve your sleep patterns, says Cedrina Calder, MD, a board-certified preventive medicine physician, health expert and fitness professional based in Nashville, Tennessee.
Not only that, but research published in the journal Environmental Health Perspective reveals that spending time outdoors can help address serious health issues, including lowering blood pressure, reducing diabetes and boosting your immune system. It can also benefit your eyesight and even aid in pain management.
Most of us have an innate desire to get outside in the warmer months—a feeling that is worth tapping into, said Tina Vindum, MS, CPT and founder of Outdoor Fitness in Marin County, California.
"Humans like to flock to natural outdoor spaces such as mountains, meadows, forests, lakes, streams, waterfalls, beaches, etc.", she says. "One reason is that the air in these areas tends to be rich in negative ions (oxygen molecules with an extra electron). These negative ions [can] affect our neurotransmitters and have been linked to an improved sense of well-being, heightened awareness and alertness. We feel more alive and in the moment". (Though research would suggest that exposure to nature on its own can provide all of those benefits.)
Regardless of your fitness levels, being active outside offers something for everyone. The best part? All you have to do is step outside your front door to take advantage of these opportunities.
Soak up the sun and try these seven outdoor workouts to mix up your exercise routine this summer. But before getting your sweat on, make sure you always use sun protection (aka, sun cream!) and avoid heat exhaustion by staying hydrated, wearing lightweight loose-fitting clothing and listening to your body.
The Best Outdoor Workout? Try One of These
Unlike running on a flat road or treadmill, trail running requires more physical effort, Calder says.
"The balance and stability that is required when running trails engages and strengthens your core muscles", she says. "It also requires greater use of your lower limb muscles including the glutes, quads and calves".
RELATED: Can Your Legs Get Stronger From Running?
Trail running is a mental workout too. "It requires 100 percent mental focus—or you subject yourself to a tumble", Vindum says. On top of being mentally stimulating, it can boost your mental health, too.
According to a 2020 study published in the National Library of Medicine, people who did at least 6.5 miles of trail running had high self-reported wellness and health scores. Research published in a 2015 issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences showed that a 90-minute walk or run in nature can help lower depression by reducing negative brain activity.
Water-based activities such as surfing are a workout for the body and mind. When it comes to the physical benefits, surfing is a good moderate cardiovascular exercise, says Jimmy Minardi, CPT, certified snowboard instructor, swimmer, surfer and founder of Minardi Training.
"It's a great anaerobic exercise that will help strengthen the trapezius, the abdomen and obliques, as well as the lats, triceps, biceps and deltoids", he says.
Paddling out and paddling in the waves is where you can expect a boost in heart rate. Plus, surfing challenges your neuromuscular balance. "Surfing encourages all the muscles [in your body] to talk to each other and continue to have a conversation so you stay on that board", Minardi says.
Being active in the water is a great way to rinse your mind too (pun fully intended).
"I can tell you one thing after being a devout surfer for the past 50 years, the tranquil and buoyant qualities of being in the water [can] lift your spirits up", Minardi said.
If you're a surfing novice, it's best to work with a certified instructor who can help show you the ropes and introduce you to the sport properly. When it comes to safety, always check the weather and tides before hitting the waves, wear the right wetsuit and, most importantly, know your limits.
You can make hiking as hard or easy as you want, which is why it's so appealing to outdoor enthusiasts.
"Hiking can be a great cardio workout as long as it's intense enough to significantly raise your heart rate and respiratory rate", Calder says. "The amount of time or elevation you commit to really depends on your level of fitness. By monitoring your heart rate and rate of perceived exertion, you can get a sense of the level of intensity of your workout".
If you want to be intimate with nature, going for a hike is the way to go.
"Hiking allows us to take in nature at our own pace—the ability to take in the micro and the macro; to notice the little details that we might miss on a bike or run—bugs, flowers, new changes in the terrain and more", Vindum says.
Roller-skating is recognised and recommended by the American Heart Association (AHA) as an aerobic fitness sport. "It burns between 500 and 1,300 calories per hour, depending on the level type and of your skating", says Trish Alexander, the executive director of the Skate Instructors Association and a certified skating instructor. "It's also low impact, so we see a lot of people who enjoy being physically active turn to skating".
Similar to running and cycling, skating targets the quads and hamstrings; however, it's also an excellent workout for the glutes and inner and outer thigh muscles, Alexander says.
Best of all, research suggests that low-impact sports such as skating can offer a serious mental health boost. "Skating has been shown to bring a wide variety of mental health benefits like clarity, focus and delight, as endorphins are released", Alexander says. "Whether dancing on skates or skating for distance, the sustained activity offers the participant joy and lessens depression".
RELATED: What Are the Benefits of Dancing?
5.Outdoor HIIT Workout
The beauty of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) is that you can do it anywhere, which makes it a great outdoor workout. Not only that, but this type of training is time-efficient and you don't need any equipment to reap the benefits.
Vindum shares that exercises such as plyo press-ups, planks, squat jumps, star jumps and split squat jumps are easy to perform outdoors. For more of a challenge, head to your nearest park bench and tackle moves like tricep dips, regular and lateral step-ups and elevated planks to get a good sweat going. You can also throw some hill sprints into the mix for extra cardio.
While it may look leisurely, stand-up paddleboarding is a great moderate workout, Minardi says.
Stand-up paddleboarding requires you to be on your feet, meaning you bear the weight of your whole body while maintaining balance. This fires up your back muscles, obliques and all of your leg muscles, Minardi says.
Since you use your hands to push the paddle through the water, he adds, "that will increase your exertion rate and elevate the heart rate".
Yoga in a studio is great, but taking your training out into nature can make it that much more rewarding.
"Yoga is already a calming form of exercise, and doing it outdoors just helps increase those effects", Calder says.
There's a reason why so many asanas (yoga poses or postures) like kakasana (crow pose), bhujangasana (cobra stretch), tadasana (mountain pose), and chandra namaskar (moon pose) are named after animals and nature. Taking your training outside in any season is beneficial, but yoga in the heat has its own perks.
"Doing yoga out in hot weather increases your heart rate, which burns more calories", Calder says. "The hot temperature improves flexibility and increases sweating, which helps release toxins".
As always, hydration is key while doing any exercise in the heat. Also, listen to your body to make sure you're not overexerting yourself while working out outdoors.
For more expert-backed advice, make sure you download the Nike Training Club App!
Words by Faith Brar