I am beginning this article less than an hour after retuning from a 90-minute bike ride on an absolutely perfectly sunny day with a clear blue sky, a cool breeze and rolling terrain covered in bright green grass with hearty trees sprouted up in the pastures. Ahhhh
For me, some of my best workouts have been outdoors. I dont know if its because it reminds me of my childhood playing tag in the front yard, riding my bike on the sidewalks in my neighborhood and playing softball on a freshly mowed diamond or if, as an adult, I enjoy the escape from the florescent lights, gym smell, piped-in music and pounding monotony of the treadmill. Maybe its because I am a Sagittarius, and we love the outdoors, or maybe its because it plainly just feels great to unite with nature, soak in some vitamin D and inhale some fresh (depending where you live) air.
I started going to the gym when I was 13. I remember the equipment was in the basement of a tennis club, and it felt dungenous without windows and with unnatural lighting. On sunny and warm days, I found it harder to go the gym. I naturally wanted to be outside. Of course, I went, but you would have to believe that if I was the average American or even average gym goer, it would be easy to play hooky.
When I started working in a gym, whenever the weather permitted in the northeast, I would open up the doors and windows and let the fresh air blow in. I remember people seeming to be in a happier mood. Like many trainers, I worked long hours under those florescent lights, and any chance I had to use the parking lot, outdoor courtyard, walking paths, stairs or whatever was in my environment, I took advantage of it. I noticed the clients appreciated the change of scenery, and I began to find creative ways to incorporate retaining walls, stoplights, mailboxes and whatever Mother Nature or the environment made available.
Today, I coach an Adventure Boot Camp, and while it has many benefits, one of the most highly rated aspects on the surveys, according to the participants, is the fact that its an outdoor program. The campers love to be outdoors. As adults, we are in an artificial environment most of the time, from homes to office buildings to cars. We are nature starved! On days that the weather is inclement and I make the decision to hold camp indoors, several campers will express their disappointment. They, at times, would prefer to exercise outdoors, even if it means extreme cold, high winds or drizzle.
Some of the things we have seen outside during the early morning workouts are the lunar eclipse, armadillo, coyote, shooting stars and, every month, the glow of the full moon lighting up the earth. As we lie back to stretch some mornings, a canopy of stars fills the sky. Its a priceless way to start the day. There is something freeing about having open space to exercise in and being able to spread out to perform drills, traveling around a park performing dynamic leg exercises, stopping under a tree or near a lake to stretch or feeling like Rocky as you attack a set of stairs or bleachers.
If you are currently not doing any training outdoors with your clients, I suggest you start out with something like incorporating your parking lot. Of course, you will always need approval from a landlord, township or whomever is the owner or has authority over the use of the space. Taking a workout outdoors takes the clients training to a whole new level. Allowing the room to sprint, tackle an obstacle course or jog around a scenic loop combined with the energy inspired by nature will help your client adapt to new training techniques, experience new-found performance results, re-ignite motivation and potentially get greater enjoyment from the session.
Be Able to Adapt and React
Outdoor training brings many elements into play that are not an issue when training indoors, such as heat, humidity, rain, wet grass, extreme cold, wind, poor air quality, fog and so on. There are also environmental concerns, such as slippery surfaces, construction areas, traffic, noise, pollution, high crime areas, poor lighting, unavailable parking, unavailable restrooms and the like.
You need to be able to adapt and make it a productive session while keeping the safety of the client first in mind. It may also be more challenging to monitor clients if they are spread out completing a drill or run or if its dark and you cannot tell if they are overexerting themselves or experiencing any symptoms of distress. You will need to learn to be proficient at monitoring a group of people at the proper intensities for each individual. You will also want to make sure your skills in CPR and first aid are up to date. Especially be able to recognize signs of heat stroke and heat exhaustion and have supplies such as a first aid kit, glucose drink and ice pack available.
Outdoor Training Perks
With the right planning, a wonderful environment can be found in a park, parking lot, school grounds or community area, but even the best of areas may have temporary or chronic issues, such as noisy trains passing by, dust or muddy paths. Its always best to have a back-up plan for an indoor location, especially if you are in a climate with long seasons of rain, snow or extreme heat.
Another great benefit of an outdoor location is that you can accommodate a group of people rather than one or two clients at a time. There are numerous benefits to group training, including the accountability to you and each other. Then there is the socialization so desperately needed in todays society. You can also count on higher client retention compared to typical personal training. In my experience, clients are averaging over 60 sessions outdoors, whereas the average indoors is less than 20 sessions.
Trainers might wonder what they would do session after session with little to no equipment, when they may be used to having access to hundreds of thousands of dollars of equipment. One of the things that I love about the outdoor workouts is that it challenges you as an instructor to think independently and come up with new and challenging exercises, using your creativity, games, drills and your clients bodies. In the gym, its easy to be stimulated to create a workout based on the equipment you are standing next to or the exercise you see another trainer performing with their client, but when outdoors, it takes your training skills to a new height, as you need to plan ahead and rely on your expertise and on-your-feet thinking.
According to the American Council of Exercise, Outdoor exercise is more engaging and mentally stimulating due to the changing scenery and terrain.
Consider contacting your former clients who have dropped out of training and let them know about the option for outdoor workouts. Whether you begin an outdoor fitness program like a boot camp or decide to start simply by taking your workouts outdoors, the idea of an outdoor environment may be just the thing to jump-start their fitness plan again, considering that we are coming into the best weather of the year this spring. Also, if your outdoor workouts are done in a group, the pricing would be more affordable than one-on-one training, which will be very attractive to one-on-one clients used to paying higher rates. Let them know that their outdoor workouts will be equally, if not more, productive and will still combine strength, cardiovascular endurance, speed, agility, balance and flexibility designed to help each participant reach their goals.
With more and more opportunities for clients to get fit, from videos to iPod workouts to home equipment and corporate fitness options, offering outdoor workouts can be just the thing to give you a competitive edge, get you out of the monotony of the same environment and provide some fun and productive exercise options. From throwing tires to running suicides on a basketball court to jogging in the sand or sprinting up the bleachers, with the world as your gym, your options are unlimited. Give it a try!
Kelli Calabrese is the editor of Personal Fitness Professional and the Master Trainer for Adventure Boot Camp. She is the coach of Argyle Adventure Boot Camp and the author of a brand-new outdoor exercise drill book. She is also the co-author of Personal Training Prosperity with Phil Kaplan.