Take It Outside!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012 • Madison, WI 53718-2936


As I write this post on out-of-the-box workouts, I hope Mother Nature takes pity on us with more cool weather in Chicago soon so we can enjoy ditching the gym and taking our workouts outside.  I know what you're thinking: Wait a second.  Now that I committed to a gym, you’re telling me NOT to go?  YES (weather permitting), and here’s why . . .

The best workouts take place outside the traditional gym environment.  I'm about to give you about a million reasons why.  Ok . . . not a million, but enough to make my point.

Guess what?  You don’t need all that fancy equipment!  Unless you're a professional athlete, your body weight and some creativity is really all you need.  Machines do a great deal of the work for you anyway, so they're not the most direct route to fitness.  Waiting for machines is a complete waste of time, and who has extra time these days? 

Outside, there are fewer distractions (magazines, TV, people-watching and conversations).  And when you're outside doing your own thing, so is everyone else.  No one cares what you’re wearing, how you look, or what fitness level you’re at. 

Being outdoors also creates a better mind-body connection.  Numerous studies have shown that a closer connection to nature is good for our minds and bodies.  In this world of 12-hour workdays and in-your-face electronics, we could all benefit from a little extra sunshine and fresh air.

When you get your fit on outdoors, you have more options (both manmade and natural surfaces of varying textures and inclines, etc.), creating a greater challenge for your body and yielding quicker results. 

Here's one to think about: you didn’t need a gym membership when you were a kid, did you?  I didn't think so. I bet you were outside walking, running, biking, and playing all kinds of sports.  Fitness should be just as fun for grown-ups as it is for kids!  Watch a kid hopping or skipping rope and let that inspire you.

Unlike during your childhood, you probably work hard and take vacations to keep your sanity.  You can’t take your gym with you, but you can make any destination your own personal gym.  I know I’d rather run down a new beach at sunrise or hike a new trail than watch hamsters running on treadmills or look at myself in the mirror at a gym.

Finally, if you're not working (as is unfortunately the case for many people these days), you may not be able to afford a gym membership.  Maybe you're cutting back where you can to prepare for future uncertainty.  Whatever the case may be, know that you can be fit and healthy sans gym.

Did you know there are 580 parks in Chicago? What follows is a list of my top 5 Chicago parks for workouts and the features I like about each. Even if you don’t live near one of these parks, you can still get a good workout in any park using simple bodyweight exercises and a little creativity.

#1 Lakeshore East Park

  • 1/3 mile paved (one lap)
  • 3 stairways
  • 2 incline ramps
  • Large grassy area for drills
  • Playground nearby in Millennium Park

#2 Loyola Park

  • 3/4 mile beach
  • Complete outdoor gym with body weight exercise stations

#3 Lakeshore Park

  • ¼ mile track
  • Large grassy area for drills
  • Body weight exercise stations

#4 North Avenue Beach

  • 1 mile beach between North and Fullerton Avenues

#5 Montrose Beach

  • ½ mile beach
  • Large grassy area for drills
  • 1 large hill

Since Chicago weather is unpredictable at best, I’d like to share some tips for getting the best workout in your home during inclement weather.  There’s an influx of new members at gyms (and their colds and flu viruses) during winter, so skip it!  Bonus:  no messy boots in the bottom of your locker.  You only need a small amount of space—just a bit larger than the frame of your body at the most.  Use your own bodyweight initially; this is enough of a challenge for most people.  Run stairs in your or a friend’s building.  If you enjoy biking or are training for an event during the winter, use an indoor bike trainer.  For variety, more of a challenge, or if you travel, invest in a few pieces of portable equipment.  You can buy simple yet effective equipment for a much smaller investment than a gym membership.  I recommend things like resistance bands, jump ropes, TRX, sandbags, kettlebells, and medicine balls to take you to the next level. 

I hope I have inspired you to reconsider that gym membership, or at the very least to spend more time outdoors.  If the above ideas sound interesting but you still need help making them happen, I’m happy to help.  Now close your browser and get outside!