This article features 5 outdoor exercises that you can include in your outdoor fitness workouts. The 5 best outdoor exercises below have been selected because they work multiple muscle groups while developing functional strength and superior muscular endurance.
And, as well as bringing you some of the best calisthenics outdoor exercises, you will also find a couple of cardio exercises too.
By including a range of strength, muscular endurance, and cardio exercises, you will be able to develop the best outdoor workouts. Workouts that both improve fitness and facilitate fat loss.
Because the following 5 outdoor exercises require no equipment, you can take them anywhere you go. So, if you’re on holiday, a business trip, or just unable to access a gym, these 5 outdoor exercises will enable you to keep fit and stay trim.
Outdoor exercise #1: Press-ups (and other body-weight exercises)
Muscles worked: pectoralis major (chest), anterior deltoideus (shoulder – the front bit), triceps brachii (the curtain rail from which bingo wings flap), and transverse abdmoinus (the six-pack – for those that have got one (six)).
The humble press-up is a classic callisthenic exercise that is a staple of the military training diet. And it still features as one of the mandatory fitness tests that all aspirant soldiers must pass if they wish to gain admittance into the British military.
Press-ups are one of the best outdoor exercises
Like so many (I hate to use the phrase) old fashioned exercises, press-ups offer more bang per invested buck. Really, the press-up is a quasi-plank which accounts for why it works the transverse abdominus and, to a lesser extent, the hip flexors and quadriceps.
In addition to being a great whole-body exercise, press-ups can be performed almost anywhere. It’s this attribute that makes them great outdoor exercises.
But also, we mustn’t forget that the press-up is bewilderingly versatile. There are literally hundreds of modification options. See a snippet of those modifications below:
Strict (Military) Press-up
Wide Hands Press-up
Triangle (Diamond) Press-up
Super (Hindu) Press-up
Staggered Hands Press-up
Sphinx Press-up (Triceps Extension)
Spiderman (Side Kick) Press-up
Press up teaching points
Firstly adopt the pre-press-up position: hands placed on the floor spaced slightly over shoulder width and in-line with the shoulders, knees down.
When you are ready to start your set raise your knees so that you are in the ‘high plank’ position.
Under control lower your body until there is a 90°angle at the elbow joint (you can, of course, go lower if you wish).
Pressing evenly through both arms return to the high plank.
Methods of modification
As I endeavoured to identify above, there are many press-up variations. In addition to the 9 listed above you can also perform plyometric – or clap-hand press-ups – which advances the dynamism and explosivity of this exercise.
Also, if you’ve exhausted the stock of variations above, you could have a bash at walk-out press-ups: start from a standing position, bend down, placing the palms of the hands on the floor, then proceed to ‘walk out’ into the press-ups position, complete a short set and walk the hands back. You should finish in the standing position.
I’ll stop there because the enormity of potential variations could comfortably consume a book.
Press up dos
Keep control throughout the movement.
Fix your eyes on a point about 1 to 2 feet from your fingertips.
Press up don’ts
Do not lock out at the elbow at the top position.
Do not hold your breath – this is a very common mistake and one to be avoided.
Do not allow your back to sag in the middle: it should remain perfectly flat like a piece of wood.
Other outdoor bodyweight exercises to try
Muscles worked: primarily the quads, core and cardiac (muscle). Yes, the burpee is a superb cardiovascular antagonist and perhaps the best body-weight exercise ever conceived by mortal man (in my opinion).
Not quite convinced with my over-enthusiastic assessment of this sadomasochistic soul destroyer? Master the technical mechanics, which are super-simple, and have a bash at performing 100 reps as quickly as your physicality will permit. Once you’ve forced your lungs back down your throat email over which muscle the burpee primarily targets.
Truly, it’s these attributes, and there are a few left unsaid, that make the burpee one of the best outdoor exercises on the market.
Muscles worked: While in the act of imitating a length of wood, and at the same time defying the inexorable law of gravitation (this we call planking), a multitude of muscles are engaged.
The primary muscles activated include the rectus abdominis (abs), erector spinae (back), the transverse abdominis (which is a sheet of muscle under the rectus abdominis that enfolds around the torso like a large belt), the latissimus dorsi and, to a lesser extent, the pectoralis major (chest) . . . oh, and the triceps and anterior deltoids.
Though the plank appears to be a simple exercise many find it difficult to hold the position for a mere minute (the world record is about 36hrs ±5 minutes). But by working on your planking performance, and it’s well worth the effort, you will eventually develop a seriously compact core.
Furthermore, of all the outdoor exercises the plank is second to but one (burpee!). To execute a plank all that’s needed is a slice of space that is marginally longer than your body length. If you have access to such a meagre resource, you can practice planking until you’re ready to content that world record.
Muscles used: when bear crawling you use lots of different muscles – pretty much all of them. But the primary muscles worked include: the deltoids, triceps, glutes, quadriceps and hamstrings. Secondary, or incidental, muscles include the pectorialis major (chest), upper back (trapezius, rhomboids, latissimus dorsi) and core.
The bear crawl is a classic functional outdoor exercise that can develop orangutan-like upper-body strength. Pub quiz factoid for you: if you didn’t know, orangutans, not gorillas, are the strongest primates.
In addition to being , the bear crawl will improve core strength and cardiovascular fitness.
Muscles worked: the muscles targeted whilst performing lunges are mainly those of the legs and the surrounding areas. Some of them include the gastrocnemius, quadriceps, hamstrings, gluteus maximums and hip flexors. Other muscles worked are the transverse abdominus and, depending on how the exercise is modified, the deltoids and upper back.
Lunges enjoy popularity amongst fitness enthusiasts because they improve muscular endurance whilst developing agility and coordination. Furthermore, lunges are often used in sports conditioning because they work several components of fitness simultaneously making them a very effective exercise.
The sumo squat
Muscles worked: the primary muscles worked when practicing the sumo squat are the quadriceps (anterior thigh muscles). As well as the quads the sumo squat also engages the hamstrings, gluteus maximus (bum) and your calves (specifically the soleus muscle of your calf).
The sumo squat primarily targets the muscles of the legs. However, you can use weights – such as a barbell, dumbbells, or kettlebells – which will make this a strength-building exercise. Furthermore, you can modify the sumo squat by including a plyometric jump during the upward phase of the movement.
In addition, if you decide to sumo squat with weights, or a resistance band, you can target muscles of the upper body by bolting a lateral raise to the end of the squat. This slight modification will engage the deltoids and trapezius muscles.
The sumo squat is a great outdoor exercise if you are looking to improve the muscular strength and endurance of your legs. Additional physical benefits include:
your range of squatting flexibility (augmented mobility at the knee).
Handstand wall walks
Muscles worked: when wall walking the muscles stimulated include the deltoids, triceps, rhomboids, abdominals and erector spinae.
By performing this exercise you will develop multiple components of fitness such as muscular strength, muscular endurance, balance and coordination.
Handstand wall walking is a great way to improve upper-body physicality. This exercise is a quintessential functional strength builder but it also helps to forge rock-solid musculature whilst carving a lean defined physique. Truly, wall walking is one way to get the body of a gymnast.
Muscles Worked: the Russian twist targets the transverse abdominus and all the surrounding muscles of the abdomen.
Granted, the Russian twist does not boast the same range of muscle engagement as do some of its hard-hitting comrades: the press up, plank or burpee. However, it is a terrific core developer and abdominal sculptor.
Also, when you put that beasty circuit together comprised of burpees, bench jumps and clap-hand press-ups, you’re going to need a recovery exercise. Russian Twist to the rescue!
Outdoor Exercise #2: Pull-up
Muscles Worked: Pull-ups require the use of a variety of different muscles of the upper body. These include latissimus dorsi, teres major (back), rear deltoid (shoulders), pectoralis major (chest), biceps brachii, triceps, brachialis and brachioradialis (forearms).
The pull-up is imbued with an air of infamy for the fact that few people can perform even one full repetition. Many aspiring Royal Marines have failed the pre-training course because they lacked the upper-body strength to complete 5 full pull-ups – a mandatory potential Royal Marine Commando fitness test.
However, by persisting with this notoriously challenging exercise, you will develop some serious upper body strength. And you’ve got no excuse not to practice. The pull-up is the perfect outdoor exercise that can be performed in any park.
What’s more, you can easily modify the pull up by throwing in a toes-to-bar between each rep.
Pull-up teaching points
Firstly, you need to locate a parallel bar that is suspended at least 6 feet above the ground. In my experience, the best place to find such a bar is usually at a public park.
Stand directly under the bar and reach up and grasp it. (There are a variety of different hand positions you can employ: palms facing backward places emphasis on the biceps; palms facing forwards the forearms and lattisimus dorsi; palms facing each other – neutral grip – works a mixture of the aforementioned muscles.)
Prior to initiating the exercise remain in a ‘dead hang’ – that is, arms perfectly straight – and without using momentum for assistance smoothly pull-up.
It’s not until your chin has cleared the bar that the upwards phase of the movement is completed.
Once your chin has cleared that bar, under control lower back to the dead hang.
Methods of modification
After a few weeks of diligent practice, you’ll be able to complete 10 good pull-ups with no problem. It’s at this point that you might want to increase the resistance. You can do this by gripping a weight between your legs, donning a weighted vest, or using a weights belt. Of course, when you get really good at pull-ups, you can progress on to ‘muscle-ups’.
Pull up dos
Always start at a dead hang.
Ensure to keep your eyes riveted to the bar when pulling up.
Keep breathing throughout the exercise.
Always lower down slowly and with control.
Pull up don’ts
Do not swing into the upwards phase of the exercise.
Do not let yourself fall from the upper-most position.
Do not jump into the exercise and carry that momentum up into the movement – that does not constitute as a repetition.
Outdoor Exercise #3: Running, Sprints, Hill Sprints
Muscles worked: the muscle groups targeted when running are the quadriceps, hamstrings, gluteals, hip flexors, calves, thoracic diaphragm, tensor fascia latae, flexor hallucis brevis or longus, tibialis anterior, core muscles, and upper-body muscles (chest and back). And, of course, the cardiac are respiratory muscles (the heart and diaphragm respectively).
Besides being the most popular outdoor exercise, there are tons of physical and psychological benefits to running. For example, running can improve your overall mental health due to the fact that the brain, during cardiovascular exercise, releases dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin; collectively called the feel-good chemicals (or the ‘runner’s high’).
Don’t run off, there’s more!
Running also strengthens your heart and diaphragm while improving the efficiency of your cardio-respiratory system. In addition, a runner can expect to enjoy increased bone density, weight loss and a plethora of other positive outcomes.
By including sprint training and/or hill sprints into your run sessions, you will also develop explosive fitness and, if you sprint often enough, your general running performance.
Running teaching points
Establish a distance you would like to run. A beginner should look to run for no further than 2 miles – and running should be interspersed with walking. When you develop your physicality you can, of course, increase the distance.
Always warm up prior to running (prior to any and all exercise!). A warm-up may consist of walking, light jogging and mobility exercises.
When you begin running, remember to keep a relaxed posture so that you do not develop tension in the body. Remain relaxed and avoid hunching over.
Breathe steadily and deeply so that you replenish the working muscles with the oxygen they need.
Wear clothes you feel comfortable running in – either Lycra or, if you’re a bit self-conscious, loose-fitting cotton wear.
Ensure that your trainers are suitable for running and not fashionable pumps or ‘boating’ shoes.
Always warm up before setting off on your run. This will reduce injury and at the same time improve performance.
Don’t force yourself to go faster than what you are capable of as this will increase your chances of sustaining an injury.
Don’t attempt long distances if you have not built up sufficient stamina in the legs. Start off with shorter distances of 2 to 3 miles and, over time, build up to 5 to 6 miles.
Don’t run too often, and don’t run more than what your body is capable of. Overtraining could result in injury, decreased performance and loss of motivation.
Outdoor Exercise #4: Bench Hops
Muscles Worked: bench hops primarily stimulate the muscles of the lower body – the quadriceps, gluteus maximus and gastrocnemius. But they also exercise muscles of the upper body and core. Because the hopper has to support him or herself when hopping the bench, the arms must momentarily support and stabilise the body as it traverses the bench. It’s for this reason why, after performing 50 continuous bench hops, you will walk away with a triceps, anterior deltoid and pectorals pump.
Though arguably one of the least colourful exercises among the grand spectrum of outdoor alternatives, bench hops are brilliant for developing explosive ‘plyometric’ power in the legs. And the physicality they develop has wide and far-reaching applications.
A slight digression, Ricky Hatton, who held Welterweight and Light welterweight world boxing titles, used to bench hop a 4-foot bar as part of his pre-fight training regime. He incorporated bench hops into his workouts because he believed this exercise develops superior stamina in the legs. Also, bench hops are a brilliant conditioning exercise.
In addition to augmented explosive strength in the quadriceps, bench hops, if completed in multitudes, are a great cardiovascular antagonist. And when combined with press-ups they make for one of the best all-round fitness developers.
Bench hop teaching points
Firstly, you need to procure or locate a stable platform with a narrow flat surface of between 3 to 4 feet tall to hop over. The higher and wider the object the harder the exercise will be. Usually, there are loads of fixed objects in parks that fit the ambiguous description above – such as seesaws, benches and railings.
After a good warm and a number of practices hops, prepare to begin your set.
Using your arms to stabilise your position, explosively power through the quads and spring the legs over the bench ensuring to maintain good clearance.
Once you have landed – so to speak – the idea is to use momentum to initiate the next repetition. The idea is to try and complete the entire set without pause.
Bench hop dos
Ensure that you maintain ‘soft’ knees throughout the exercise.
Keep good clearance of the bench.
Use the muscles of your arms, deltoids and chest to assist the movement.
Bench hop don’ts
Don’t land with a thud – if you are then it is an indication that you are not adequately bending the knees on impact.
Don’t attempt to hop over a tall object first – build-up to it if possible.
Don’t perform this exercise in inappropriate footwear: cushioned trainers only!
Outdoor Exercise #5: Squat Jump
Muscles worked: primarily those of the quadriceps, gluteus maximum (buttocks) and gastrocnemius (calf). But by including the jump many more muscles are recruited both to execute the exercise and stabilise the body on impact. And, because the jump requires greater muscular engagement, the heart (cardiac muscle) must work harder to both supply energy and recirculate metabolic waste.
Much like the press-up, squat jumping is a deceptively simple exercise. Yet it packs a serious fitness punch and it can be performed pretty much anywhere. Hell, so long as you’re not over 6-foot, you could squat jump in a phonebooth.
It’s perhaps for this reason why squat jumping has remained a favourite among the fitness community since forever. For the squat jump is not only comparatively easy to master, but it requires no equipment and very little room to perform. Hence the reason why it’s been selected as one of the 5 best outdoor exercises!
Also, the range of possible adaptations and modifications makes it a phenomenally versatile exercise. You want examples? See below:
3-Way Jump Squat
Burpee Squat Hold
Squat with Side Leg Lift
Squat to press-up (aka bastod!)
Squat to jump toe touches
Squat into bunny hop
Pistol (single leg squat)
Squat jump teaching points
Get yourself into position: stand with your feet a little over shoulder-width apart, knees soft, arms folded across your chest.
Bend at the knee.
When there is a 90°angel between the hamstring and calf fire through the quads propelling your mass a foot or so above the floor.
On landing ensure to a) roll from the front to the back of the foot and b) bend the knee on impact. Applying these techniques will absorb/dissipate the shock.
While still remaining in control of the exercise exploit the potential energy that you have just generated by sinking immediately into the next repetition.
Squat jump dos
Keep control throughout the movement.
Fix your eyes on an indefinite point to your front as this helps maintain posture alignment.
Breathe steadily during the exercise.
Squat jump don’ts
Do not at any point lock out at the knees.
Do not land with a THUD! You should land softly and almost silently.
Do not bend at the hips – the back must remain perfectly straight throughout the exercise.
And there we have it, the 5 best outdoor exercises
So now that you’ve mastered 5 excellent outdoor exercises, you’re probably itching to put them together into a workout. The link below will transport you to the third and final article of this outdoor fitness trilogy.
It’s in this concluding article where you’ll discover 4 outdoor workouts to try. But also, you will learn how to design outdoor workouts that promote all-round fitness, develop functional strength, and enhance muscular endurance.
(As we are very interested in user experience here at Hungry4Fitness, we would be very grateful if you could take a few seconds out of your day to leave a comment. Thanks in advance!)
Adam Priest, former Royal Marines Commando, is a personal trainer, lecturer, boxing and Thai boxing enthusiast.