MF’s strength expert and Wild Training founder James Griffiths explains how you can get properly strong by training outdoors, with minimal kit and smart programming…
The enjoyment and benefits of training outside don’t need to be exclusively for runners and triathletes. My career pretty much started with outdoor training, and as a mobile trainer driving around the country, the job was about being pretty creative with less kit and weight than you’d have in a conventional gym.
First, let’s recap the programming basics for specific goals. Hypertrophy (or growing bigger muscles) is about volume and fatigue. Increasing your strength is more about intensity.
Training your upper body for strength outside isn’t that hard to imagine, if you are open to calisthenics protocols like olympic rings training. And even with no kit at all, if you do enough press-ups and pull-ups you’ll see results.
The lower body can be harder for people to get their heads around. Think ‘leg day’ and you might think barbell squats, deadlifts and the big compound machines. However, a heavy sandbag is an amazing place to start when building a minimal kit list for strength training.
High-quality bags from Cerberus Strength are my go-to, but even some rubble sacks down at your local builders’ merchant can hold 40kg of sand, which could be enough for some high-volume or max-strength work, depending on your level.
Other options for upper-body strength training beyond the obvious, are looking at more interesting ways of increasing intensity with just your bodyweight.
Single-arm press-ups aren’t just a romantic idea from the Rocky films. They are underrated as a genuine upper-strength exercise, and are incredible for developing rotational core strength to build some good-looking abs while hitting your chest, shoulders and triceps with a new challenge. If they are too hard, put your hand on a bench seat, so you can do a full range of movement at an easier angle.
Other leg training that’s often overlooked, mostly because of the notorious lack of space in gyms, is dragging and towing things. That restriction on space is removed when you train outside.
Get yourself a bungee and do some heavy bungee runs/slow walks (the latter will create more time under tension, which will be better for increasing strength).You can easily find 70kg, bungees which will feel plenty heavy enough after 5 sets of 45-second sets.
And if you’ve invested in a bungee for your lower-body workouts, there are multiple options you then have for standing rows, single-arm rows, and even pull-up or lat pull-down type movements if you throw the bungee over a rugby post or solid tree.
A tyre offers another wealth of exercises: not just flips, but thruster squats, landmine presses and drags. Throw into that some plyometrics like depth jumps and box jumps, and you’ve got a great workout for strength and power in one piece of kit.
Enjoy the creativity of programming some new challenges and try some outdoor strength workouts. Focus on more reps, sets and less rest to build muscle mass. Hit less reps with more rest at higher intensities to build strength.
The results will surprise you, and likely create some new ideas for your gym-based workouts, too.
TRY THIS SANDBAG LEG CIRCUIT
One of the old-school leg workouts that I still use today is a ‘four set four hold’ circuit with a sandbag.
The premise is simple: hold the sandbag in four different positions and hit the maximum number of reps you can in each.
Take short, 60-second rests between each position. If you are using a bag that’s hard to balance on your back, you can hit a deadlift rather than a back squat.
1a. Sandbag Front Squat x Failure
1b. Sandbag Shoulder Squat Left x Failure
1c. Sandbag Shoulder Squat Right x Failure
1d. Sandbag Back Squat x Failure