If you’re fortunate enough to have a large garden or a park near your home, then hopefully you’re making full use of it with regular walks or as a place to spend time with the family.
But here’s another use for that resource: working out!
Training outdoors has a number of benefits and these actually go way beyond the benefits of getting fresh air and sunlight. Read on to find out how you can use natural environments in order to take your workouts to the next level and to build more functional strength and power.
The Functional Strength
Much has been made of functional strength lately. This is a term that describes working out in such a way that you can build ‘real world’ strength that would actually be useful day-to-day.
Bicep curls are often used as a good example of the kind of strength that isn’t functional. That’s because there is no situation in the real world where you would use this motion. At the same time, bicep curls isolate just the one muscle group – the biceps. This is very different from the way we move in the real world where we will usually utilize multiple muscles working together in conjunction to help us move around.
An example of a functional movement is a squat or a deadlift. Why? Because they utilize many muscles working together and because they’re somewhat similar to movements we’d use in the wild. Deadlifting for example is the very basic act of picking things up off the floor – something we should all be able to do with ease.
Squatting meanwhile uses all the same muscles that jumping uses. What’s more is that we would have used squatting as the main way to rest rather than sitting in the wild. When you practice these movements, you improve your stability, your health, your flexibility and your functional, real-world power!
But this still isn’t as functional or as ‘real world’ as it could be.
The problem with lifting a barbell off the ground is that it’s not really something you would do in the real world at all. Think about it: how many barbells do you come across lying in the middle of the woods? And how often do you find gorillas or other animals doing anything with ‘perfect form’ (clue: never!).
When you squat down to the ground with the best possible technique to prevent injury, you’re really doing something that you would never have done in the wild.
In the wild, we would have had to constantly adapt to a changing environment and we will rarely use our body twice in the exact same way. That means we should be able to jump straight into action ‘cold’ and without warm up and it means we should be hardy enough to use slightly the wrong technique.
This actually might sound like the opposite of what a lot of functional strength coaches teach you. But the reality is that our bodies should be tough enough to use the wrong technique and to do things wrong.
Resistance Training in Nature
In nature, you can do a pull up from a branch. When you do this, you’ll find that the branch in your grip is wider at some points than it is at others – and lower at some points than at others.
What this means is that your body now has to adapt on the fly to those changes. This means you’ll be using slightly different muscles every time you do a pull up from a branch and you’ll also be balancing your body by tensing your core.
At the same time, the gripping motion itself will also provide good training and help you to increase your strength in your hands and to toughen them up with calluses.
Even something a lot simpler like doing press ups on the floor will have many of these same advantages: the ground will be uneven and one hand will be higher than the other. One might be slightly in a ditch or on some twigs. Again, this will alter the muscles you’re using – but in a completely natural way, not in the very human way we try to achieve that same thing when we put a ball underneath one hand.
Then there are other exciting things you can try too: like doing muscle ups on branches, like lifting logs over your head, like moving rocks from one place to another. All these forms of resistance training can then be strung together with trail running – running from one destination to the next through woods, through water, or through thick mud.
You’ve heard that you need to keep the body guessing? Well, by using resistance training out in a natural environment you are automatically making your body guess every single time – and you don’t even need to think about it.
Eventually, your body will adapt the only way it can: by becoming tough enough to stand up to constant surprises and changes in your workouts. Your grip will be tougher too and your core will be invincible. That’s true functional strength.
Plus you get the benefits of extra sunlight, extra vitamin D and more fresh air on top of all that! And your immune system will even be strengthened by exposing yourself to cold air.
Some Examples of Resistance Training and Metcon You Can Do in the Wild
So what kinds of exercises do you have to select from when training in a natural environment? Here are some of the best options to try:
Pull Ups/Chin Ups/Neutral Grip Pull Ups – Using a tree branch and aiming to try and find different thicknesses etc.
Inverse Tree Branch Push Ups – Take a tree branch that is close to the ground and grab it with both hands. Keep your feet on the ground but extended out in front of you. Now pull your upper body up towards the branch. This is like a pull up but is easier – allowing you to use it as part of a drop set.
Incline/Decline Press Ups – Press ups with either your hands or your feet on a branch that’s raised above the ground. It moves the focus to your upper or lower pecs more/your shoulders and is also nicely uneven to increase the challenge.
Rock Moving – Find a pile of rocks, stones or logs and move them to a new pile as quickly as you can. This is great for the obliques, as well as the grip.
Incline/Decline Press Ups – Do press ups.
Uneven Press Ups – Press ups on an uneven surface – the floor! This also works with practically any other exercise.
Goblet Rock Squats – Hold a rock in front of your and squat with it.
Log Lifting – You can curl, overhead press or even squat a log!
Log Walking – Place a log across your shoulders and walk and/or lunge with it!
Running – Running is tougher on uneven surfaces but you can make it tougher still by running through shallow water, in mud or on sand!