This is an interesting topic and one of the questions I get asked very often.
Training myself and Personal Training my clients in the beautiful forest and woodlands in and around London made me a bit biased towards the outdoors. However I will be as objective as possible when I say “it doesn’t matter”.
Yes, that’s right, and in this article I will explain why I say this.
There are pros and cons to everything, and outdoors vs indoors exercise is no exception. Having had the chance to.
1. Uneven terrain
One of the reasons Personal Training outdoors makes sense to me is because our bodies should be able to react to certain situations fast and skilful. If we trip, twist an ankle, lose balance, these are unpredictable circumstances.
Exercising outdoors develops your body, your nervous system, to react because of the uneven terrain you run, walk and exercise in general. Whether you know it or not creates adaptations in the body, reflexes.
Furthermore the uneven terrain will develop your muscles from many angles, again something that is truly functions, as the muscles can react without damaging themselves, in many different situations.
The flat surface in a gym will never be able to prepare your body to reach to falls and ankle twisting with less or not damage.
The uneven terrain when training outdoors develops the small stability muscles in your joints thus making them stronger.
And just to add that your whole muscles work a lot more as they engage to keep your body balanced and upright. To release the tension in the muscles sports massage therapy can be an excellent method to relax the body.
2. Resistance and incline
On a treadmill you have the controls. You can decide the incline and resistance. Outdoors you cannot. You have no control over the wind and incline when exercising outdoors, and particularly running outdoors.
Let’s face it, our mind is powerful, but it also tries to sabotage us. The body also tries to find ways to work less. When you go on the treadmill coming from work, all tired and half asleep, you want to “take it easy”.
This is the best time to get out there, get fresh air and train against the elements.
You have no control over the resistance and incline, thus you will push yourself and your limits.
As the seasons change so does your training. You will find that training in summer is very different than training in winter.
This is a way to force your exercise routine to change and adapt. This is great, especially if you don’t have a Personal Trainer or Coach. If you keep doing the same of similar exercises (just progression of the same exercise) your progress will slow down or you will even regress. Let’s not mention how boring it is.
Furthermore, exercising outdoors, truly adapting to nature not take kettlebells and do the same gym exercise but outdoors, you have to get creative.
Be outside the box, think outside the box.
4. Fighting the elements
Finally, when my Karate coaches prepare me for competitions they make me fight the tallest and stronger guys in the team. Why?
Well, when you fight against someone or something that is stronger than you, you automatically become stronger yourself.
Nature is the strongest force out there, it can create and it can also destroy. Nature is resilient. Training with nature consistently (as I said before not taking exercise from the gym outdoors, that’s just outdoors gym) will enable you to absorb some of the power, strength and resilience it has. It’s inevitable not to.
5. No waiting in line for machines
1. Uneven terrain
Uneven terrain can also be a downside to exercising outdoors. If your stability muscles are weak and you go running on some very technical terrains you might injure yourself.
I recommend having a Personal Trainer who specialises in outdoors training to teach you and introduce you to outdoors exercising. Not a gym personal trainer who takes gym equipment outdoors, that’s not going to be of use for you.
Uneven terrain requires a certain level of skill, focus and, what I call, Body Mastery.
If you run through the forest and lose focus for a moment chances are you will find yourself face down in the mud.
2. Out of the comfort zone
If you stay in your comfort zone you will never grow. And if you never grow than what you are doing is wasting your time, money and energy.
Exercising outdoors all year round will take you out of your comfort zone. And if you have a Personal Trainer it’s even more so.
And remember, anyone can exercise outdoors in summer, but only the mentally strongest will take on the challenge of exercising outdoors in winter and in any weather conditions.
If you feel you are not strong enough, then it is time to take the challenges nature throws at you and become strong, physically, mentally and emotionally.
3. Street wise
Exercising outdoors, at any time of day and night, can be dangerous these days. So one need to be very aware of ones surroundings. Be vigilant.
Another danger in today’s society is pollution. No need for me to talk too much about that. This is a good reason to stay indoors sometimes.
5. Cold, dirty and wet
When we go outdoors, especially as beginners, we forget we need to be prepared:
– Layers (these are essential, you must ensure you can take layers off and put them on if needed)
– Proper shoes (mud, snow, water, sand, forest, you must make sure you have the right equipment
– Hats (keep your head at the right temperature)
– Gloves (fingers are very exposed to the elements)
– Waterproof jackets and backpacks
– Water (you get dehydrated very fast in certain weather conditions)
– Head torches (when it’s dark or when you know you will come back after dark)
And much much more.
A good Personal Trainer who specialises in outdoors training, true outdoors training, will teach you all you need to know about how to be prepared.
However, these conditions is what it means to train with nature and become as strong as nature. Facing the elements is what makes you strong.
Indoors exercise has its place, and in certain situations it is recommended:
a) When you are recovering from an injury that uneven terrain, moisture or cold can make it worse. It’s safer indoors in these situations.
b) When it’s after dark and you are alone. It’s safer indoors.
c) There are more people around, so if you suffer from health conditions there are first aiders around, phones and so on. You should not be alone if you have certain health conditions.
d) Other situations where supervision is necessary
Well this is debatable. I find the forest cleaner than the sweaty mats in the gym. No offence but I hated when I had to ask my Personal Training clients to lie on the mats after I had to wipe sweat off them.
On the other hand some gyms, which are also very expensive, have 5* conditions. They are very clean.
The air is also cleaner than running alongside a busy road. Then again exercising outdoors is not only about running.
If that’s all you do outdoors you must put your creative hat on and think outside the box.
Exercising alone outdoors can be lonely sometimes. In the same time when there are too many people around, and too many friends you must stay focused otherwise you will waste precious time.
Furthermore, you can learn from others. Not copy without knowing what you are doing. Actually learn from them.
1. Waiting in line for machines
This is very annoying. You have a programme.
2. Set patterns of movement
Unless you have to recover from injuries or have certain health conditions that require a certain pattern of movement, this is not what you want. Why?
Remember what we said about the uneven terrain when exercising outdoors? About how your muscles develop from different angles and they get stronger in many different positions?
When you practice hundreds of reps and sets, over a period of time, of the same movement (or with very little diversity) you develop the muscles, and nervous system, in that set pattern.
When you need your body to react, to move, lift, carry, twist, turn in a different way it will be weak.
Thus, unless you really need to, avoid set patterns of movement. Develop your body from different angles.
3. The trap of repetition
While exercising outdoors all year round forces you to change the way you train, when exercising indoors you can comfortably stay in your comfort zone, in your cocoon. You get out of it very little.
A Personal Trainer can help you with this, only if you are prepared to invest in yourself and put the work in.
How difficult exercising outdoors vs exercising indoors is, and how many calories you burn, it’s all up to you.
You can exercise outdoors and “take it easy”, and you can exercise indoors and “smash it”. The amount of calories you burn is all up to you.
However, how technical and how hard your muscles work around the body, in my humble opinion, exercising outdoors the correct way will yield more and different results.