With all of the undeniable health and fitness benefits the modern day gym culture has brought us, it seems we’ve developed a disconnect between gym exercise and physical activity— in that, we drive to the gym to walk on the treadmill. And many folks even drive around the gym parking lot to find the closest parking spot. Not to mention those who come into the gym to be active and “lift weights,” but, ironically, don’t “lift” their weight plates or dumbbells to put them back when they’re done.
We are all guilty of the above contradictions. And it’s unlikely these things come from laziness, seeing as how we are going to the gym in the first place. These issues are commonplace because we seem to have lost touch with the fact that “physical activity” is “exercise.”
In other words, somehow we’ve forgotten that we don’t have to be in the gym to exercise and improve our fitness and physique.
This article will compare the benefits (and limitations) to cardio training indoor versus outdoors, and provide you a comprehensive cardio and strength-training workout you can do outdoors to get out of the confines of the gym and still get into great shape.
Cardio Training: Indoor vs. Outdoors
Research has shown that overall, treadmill (i.e., indoor) running was representative of over-ground (i.e., outdoor) running for most people. The study published in the Journal of Applied Biomechanics comparing the exertion of running on a treadmill and the exertion of running outside concluded that a one percent treadmill grade most accurately reflects the energetic cost of outdoor running.
In regards to cycling (i.e., riding a bike), according to a study published in the Journal of Sports Sciences, the difference between road and indoor cycling was found to be minimal for small individuals, but larger riders may benefit from the fixed resistance indoors compared with the progressively increasing drag due to increased body size that would be experienced when riding outside.
Put simply, the research evidence— overall— does not show that cardio (i.e., running and cycling) training inside is superior to training outside, or vice versa, when it comes to muscular recruitment and caloric expenditure.
However, getting outside to work out on a nice sunny day can give you a healthy boost of vitamin D. Research published in the Archives of Internal Medicine cites “decreased outdoor activity” as one reason that people may become deficient in vitamin D, and shows that those with the lowest vitamin D levels have more than double the risk of dying from heart disease and other causes over an eight-year period compared with those with the highest vitamin D levels.
In addition to helping you work on your tan and supplying you with adequate amounts of sunlight, running and cycling outdoors is just more interesting and fun due to the diverse terrain, constant change of scenery, etc. Not to mention the running and cycling groups you can join and train along with for motivation and social interaction.
Outside Cardio & Strength Training Workout
Getting in your cardio training outside via running and biking is one thing, but what about strength training?
Below is an outdoor workout program you can use three to four times per week as a stand-alone workout, or once or twice per week in conjunction with a gym-based weight-training program, to help you shape a sexy and athletic body.
This outdoor workout combines cardio activities with strength moves. The program involves four tri-sets (3 exercises, 1 set of each exercise performed back-to-back with as little rest between exercises as possible).
Warm-up: Jog – 5 minutes
*AMRAP = As Many Reps as Possible
Perform tri-set for 3 rounds with 90-second rest between sets
Perform tri-set for 3 rounds with 90-second rest between sets
Sprint (i.e., run as fast as you can) about the length of a football field (i.e. 100 yards).
Remember, don’t pull your head and neck with your hands. Keep your hands lightly touching behind your head as you lift your torso up.
2a. Lateral Shuffles
Be sure to stay light on your feet and move as quickly as you can control while moving laterally.
2b. Bench/Ledge Triceps Dips
Sit on a bench with your legs extended out in front of you and a dumbbell in your lap. Place your hands on the edge of the bench behind you and lift your glutes up off of the bench. Lower your body by bending your elbows to about a 90 degree angle. You will feel a stretch in your chest or shoulder. Press up from the palms of your hands squeezing the triceps and repeat.
2c. Single-arm Planks
In push-up position with your wrist directly on your shoulders and your feet just wider than shoulder-width apart, lift one arm off the ground without allowing your shoulders or hips to rotate, or allowing your head or belly to sag toward the floor.
3a. Stair Sprints
Sprint up and down a set of stairs. Strive for 50 steps total—so this may require going up and down the same flight of stairs a few times in order to complete the set.
3b. Weight Stair Climb, Every Other Step
Holding a full water bottle or light weight overhead, climb up a set of stair skipping every other step. (Hold with one or two hands) Strive for 25 steps total—so this may require going up and down the same flight of stairs a few times in order to complete the set.
Lying with your elevated off of the ground, alternate lifting each leg in a scissoring motion.
4a. Skip Up/Back Pedal Back
Sprint (i.e., run as fast as you can) about half the length of a football field (i.e. 50 yards). Then, run backwards to the start. You’re always facing the same direction during this exercise. Emphasize long, smooth strides on the back pedal.
4b. Wall Sit
Leaning against a wall, sit in a squat position for 60 seconds.
Hold the traditional two-handed plank for 30 seconds.
Photo Credit: Special thanks to Jonny GetRight for the captures.
Jones AM, Doust JH. A 1% treadmill grade most accurately reflects the energetic cost of outdoor running. J Sports Sci. 1996 Aug;14(4):321-7.
Jobson SA, Nevill AM, Palmer GS, et al. The ecological validity of laboratory cycling: Does body size explain the difference between laboratory- and field-based cycling performance? J Sports Sci. 2007 Jan 1;25(1):3-9.
Harald Dobnig MD, Stefan Pilz MD, Hubert Scharnagl PhD, et al. Independent Association of Low Serum 25-Hydroxyvitamin D and 1,25-Dihydroxyvitamin D Levels With All-Cause and Cardiovascular Mortality. Arch Intern Med. 2008;168(12):1340-1349. doi:10.1001/archinte.168.12.1340.