How to Turn Nature Into a Gym

The Rejuvenating Benefits of Exercising in Nature

Woman doing push-up in the grass
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Nature’s elements — they're something not only made to marvel at, nor made solely for use as material objects, but made to be played with, used in unison with, connected with. Climbing a tree creates more excitement than climbing stationary stairs. Throwing yourself into the blue of the ocean always reinvigorate you more than the gym pool. Sand, rocks, and terrain all can work with you as exercises aids, motivators, trainers, and inspirations.

While outdoor exercises may not always be the most convenient, they hold great importance. Working with and around nature doesn't just reinvigorate your physical body, but your mind and your soul. Don’t fool yourself into the comfort of the gym's smooth grey lines and sanitized plastic. Go ahead and smell the grass, feel the dirt, immerse yourself in the elements, and leave yourself feeling properly worked and in tune with this magical world.

Beach Cardio Bursts

Outdoor Gym Tuck Jump
Jeffrey Crease

Beaches may be one of the most ideal locations to relax, but the sand can also act as a paramount addition to any workout. Whether you perform tuck jumps, take a run, or get down and dirty with some burpees, the sand adds amazing resistance. Your feet have to dig deeper as you simultaneously dig deeper within yourself. You strain to maintain stability on the ever-shifting surface. You constantly have to harness your various muscles to make up for these changes. Don't be afraid to get dirty, get covered in sand and possibly look like a croquetta.  A refreshing, reviving, cleanse in the ocean is only a few steps away.

Try these: Sprints, skaters, jumping lunges, jump squats, tuck jumps, and burpees

Driftwood Strength Training: Upper Body

Outdoor Gym Driftwood Press
Jeffrey Crease

Driftwood is an amazing material to use on your next beach workout. Usually dried by the sun and salt, the wood softened by a life on the shore, driftwood acts as a wonderful alternative to a barbell. Try biceps curls, shoulder presses, and triceps pulses to isolate your upper body. For compound exercises, do bent over rows or lie on the sand and do chest presses.

Even if you're not at the beach, you might be able to find similar downed branches along other trails and parks. As long as they're not too heavy or rotted out, there's no reason not to put them to use.   

Driftwood Strength Training: Lower Body

Driftwood can also act as a ViPR. Placing one end of the wood in the sand, you can perform side lunges while simultaneously shifting the wood from one arm to the other. (Lunge to one side, bringing the wood to the same-side knee, then lunge to the opposite side, transferring the wood to your other arm and across your body to your opposite knee.)

Additionally, use the extra weight to intensify a sunset squat session, or while performing some sandy lunges.

Driftwood can also act as an obstacle — while performing a burpee, use the driftwood to jump over between each rep. Instead of jumping up, you'll have to propel your body laterally over the wood. 

Rock Power and Strength Training

Rocks are nature's strength training equipment. If you have access to flatter, medium to large rocks, you should take advantage of nature’s medicine balls. Perform "rock slams" in place of ball slams. Squat down to lift the rock and carefully raise it over your head before slamming it down in front of you. The weight of the rock and the intention of the slam let you harness the stress of daily life and release it.

Safety note: This is best performed on a soft surface, such as sand or soft terrain. Do not perform on hard surfaces, such as concrete or other rocks, as the rock you slam could break or shatter. 

Rock Strength and Core Training

If you feel prone to clumsiness and want a more relaxing rock regimen, use the rock to perform a plank rock drag. Get into plank position, either with a straight arm or on your forearms. Place the rock away from you, no farther than arm's distance. Balancing on one arm, pull the rock toward your body with the other arm, maintaining your plank position. You can then push the rock across the body and switch arms, pushing away from you and to the side, making a square shape. Particularly in sand, the resistance will add an interesting, ever changing, challenging component. 

Terrain Cardio Training

Outdoor Gym Climbing Terrain
Jeffrey Crease

People tend to find themselves on flat terrain almost everywhere they go — perfectly smooth for an easy, comfortable commute from one place to another.

Instead of smooth, artificial pavement, use natural terrain to motivate and challenge you. Use the elevation and the material the land is made from:  the rocks, sand, gravel and dirt. Use natural obstacles that require you to jump over, squat under or balance on. Let yourself go with the land. Don’t try to avoid it. 

Tree Neuromotor Full-Body Training

Outdoor Gym Tree Climbing
Jeffrey Crease

Few things are more magical than an amazing tree. The wonderful thing about trees is not just their beauty, but their physical form. Strong, unique, challenging, and always present. Revert back to your childhood and try to climb them! The tree will challenge your whole body while you feel that child-like thrill. Climbing a tree requires your arms to pull you up, your legs working to push you higher, and your core to keep you balanced.

Tree Cardio Bursts

Outdoor Gym Stump Jump
Getty Images/Mathijs Delva

When you find yourself roaming around a forest, and you stumble upon a tree stump, honor its life by connecting with it! Switch out box jumps for stump jumps. The flatter the surface, the better. Power through your thighs as you explode off the dirt, onto the stump.

Play with your surrounding area. Play with different stump heights and different widths. Enjoy yourself, enjoy the burn, enjoy your life and the life that surrounds you.

Safety Note: Prior to performing the jumps, sweep the area for any rocks or roots that may cause injury. Also, perform these in dry conditions to avoid risk of injury.

Tree Strength Training: Core

Outdoor Gym-Tree L-Sit
Jeffrey Crease

If a focus on abs is what you're looking for, grab a stable branch and perform an L-sit, drawing your legs up to hip-height and holding the L position as long as you can. Test your endurance and keep legs strong and straight. 

Try This: Perform L-sits when you run or in between sets during an outdoor circuit. 

Tree Strength Training: Upper Body

Outdoor Gym Tree Pullups
Jeffrey Crease

If heights pose an intimidating obstacle, you can also jump up, catch a strong branch and perform some pullups or chin ups. Because branches change, some thicker than others, you may also find your forearms burning as you try to hold your grip.

Safety Note: Stay aware of the terrain around you to avoid injury when dropping down from the branch. 

Beach Core Training

Ocean current can be used to enhance your core workouts. After a hot, sandy workout on the beach, little is more satisfying than a dip in the ocean. Use this cool down to not only refresh, but to wrap up a sweaty session with resistance-based abs. Wade into the surf (you don't need to be enveloped by water) and perform a standard plank or side planks.

The ebb and flow of the ocean will cause you to really focus on stabilization. You can perform this move with a straight arm, or on your forearms, depending on how deep the water is. Even if your feet can’t stay firmly in the sand, you can still focus on stabilizing and keeping your legs straight, tight, and afloat. 

Try these: Standard plank, floating plank, side plank (alternate between straight arm and forearm planks)

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