As you’re reading this, we can presume you probably enjoy hitting the gym every now and then. However, when the sun’s out it can feel a shame to be cooped up indoors.
Squeezing in a gym session in the morning or late evening are good ways to keep up your weights training without missing out on the summer weather, but if you can learn how to make serious strength gains outside you can enjoy the best of both worlds.
“There is nothing ‘magical’ about a gym setting in itself, so doing similar workouts in your back garden or park is going to allow for the same strength gains,” insists personal trainer Scott Laidler, who has worked with Oscar-winning actors and musicians. “The nuance to consider is whether you can gain strength without a full gym kit – and the answer is yes.”
Here Laidler outlines how to use your bodyweight, your local park and some natural outdoor features to create your own outdoor set-up. The secret is simply to chase the same progressive overload you would in the gym.
The art of bodyweight training
“Essentially you just need to consistently ask more of your body over a given period of time – as well as fuel yourself well and get adequate rest – to see real gains,” he explains.
“If you consider muscle growth, there are many different routes to the same goal. Having a full barbell set in a gym might be the most linear approach, but you can also do bodyweight exercises like handstands, which is more in the vein of gymnastics training.
“There is a continuum between strength and muscle gains, so however you train for strength you will usually also see welcome muscle gains.”
When you consider the average man in the UK weighs around 83.6kg, that’s a lot of useful weight to harness in your outdoor workouts.
“The best bodyweight exercises for building strength outside are the classics: squats, press-ups, pull-ups, dips, muscle-ups, inverted rows and planks,” suggests Laidler.
“Each of these exercises offers a whole world of options for progression, so you can get very technical. For example, once you’re confident with your bodyweight squats, you can transition to pistol squats. And you can adapt press-ups with myriad advancements, such as manipulating your cadence, changing your inclines, or even doing one-arm variations, Rocky-style.
“With bodyweight exercises, you can scale up your repetitions and movement patterns quite quickly.”
Outdoor fitness essentials
You don’t need a lot of equipment to improve your outdoor training, but it’s worth investing in a few select pieces of kit.
“Kettlebells are a great help for outdoor strength gains, as they naturally lend themselves to functional strength exercises, which are exactly the kind of multi-joint, compound work that yields excellent results,” says Laidler.
“A suspension trainer like a TRX is also excellent for strength training, and a good travel companion which you can take to a local park, or put on a lamppost or tree.
“Moving more into the realm of cross-training, gymnastic rings and parallettes offer plenty of options for strength training, too.
“Once you understand the basic mechanics of what leads to an increase in strength – and focus on that progressive overload – your options are endless.”
So what is the best way to progress your training outside to ensure optimal strength gains?
“The simple 5 x 5 sets is a classic strength protocol,” says Laidler, “but you can progress to more advanced protocols outside, such as using a ‘rest and pause’ technique to add to the overall load, or switching to ‘cluster training’, where you have short rests in the middle of your sets to help you achieve higher-quality efforts.
“But in the outdoor environment it’s less about rep ranges and more about mastering your control and technique.
“Once you develop an instinctive understanding of when you are hitting your current limit, you can experiment with cadence and progressions and rests and holds to nudge that level higher.
“The good news is that with bodyweight drills you’ll see the number of reps you can do goes up quite quickly, so you will really notice your progression this summer.”