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How To Make The Most Of Your Local Outdoor Gym

Embrace nature, get fit. Sounds simple, huh?
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What’s stopping you from exercising regularly?

We’re guessing it’s not just one reason – there are loads. Not enough time, not enough cash, not having a gym you enjoy close enough to your home or workplace, perhaps?

Maybe you’re worried about the cost of a monthly gym membership? Or of signing up for a series of addictive-yet-expensive classes that you may or may not be able to attend, depending on your work/childcare/social schedule that particular month?

While you’ll always have an excuse on why you should skip the workout in favour of that binge-watching TV marathon, you also know how good you’ll feel once you do decide to get back on track with your exercise: fitter, stronger, more energised... and that’s just part of it.

Enter your local outdoor gym. Y’know, that space in the common with all that wooden or lime green workout equipment you look at dubiously as you push your toddler in the swing of the neighbouring playground.

You might not even be sure of what all of that equipment is for. But your outdoor gym is available any time you are. You don’t have to be a pro athlete or to even consider yourself “sporty” in the least to use the equipment. You can work out for as little or as long as you like, rain or shine. And you can enjoy the benefits of being outdoors and reconnecting with nature, in addition to the positives you’ll gain from getting fit.

Have we mentioned the best perk? Outdoor gyms are free to use. And they’re local. So no more excuses.

Jason Doggett, founder of Muddy Plimsolls, the mobile PT service that works with clients in parks across London, extols the many benefits of moving your workout to your local outdoor gym:

“First and foremost being outside, with the ceiling of your gym being the sky: that’s a great feeling for many clients,” he explains.

“The space that training outdoors offers gives a client the opportunity to mix a huge variety of cardio or plyometric-based work with strength training.

“So rather than waiting around for a piece of exercise equipment to be available, you can find an alternative exercise: run, jump, skip, or do SAQ (speed, agility, quickness) drills. Outdoor gyms tend to have fewer equipment stations but way more space than the average gym. So we recommend really using that space because that’s where the calories get burned.

“Also, working outdoors, either early morning in the dawn, or in inclement weather, gives our clients a real sense of achievement.”

Here’s what you need to know about taking your workout outside.

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Where’s my nearest outdoor gym?

The Great Outdoor Gym Company is the UK’s biggest supplier of outdoor gym equipment - kitting out hundreds of gyms across the country (Fun fact: these lime green gyms harness green energy, so you can charge up your smartphone or tablet via a USB port while you’re exercising). Find a local gym via their website or check out your local council website to see which outdoor gyms are in your area.

You can rock up whenever suits you in the day (you could also go after-hours, but working out in the dark feels far less tempting), and you can even squeeze in a workout with the kids in tow. Expect to find a range of equipment you’ll recognise from the indoor gym, like cross-trainers, bikes, shoulder and leg presses, pull-up bars and more.

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What exercises should I do in the outdoor gym?

Primarily, you’ll find resistance-based equipment at your local outdoor space - you won’t be able to adjust the weights, but you’ll still be able to do some cardio and strength training.

Doggett recommends opting for “a combination of ‘allover’ exercises - squats, press ups, bodyweight rows, etc. These exercises require a lot of effort and a little knowledge of good technique, but they are extremely effective in getting the body stronger as well as burning more calories.”

He advises avoiding trying to target specific body parts only, where you focus on smaller muscle groups.

“That usually means the exerciser barely works up a sweat and doesn’t really burn that many calories,” he says.

If a piece of equipment looks like an alien life form, don’t worry - there should be instructions on how it works on the machine. But you don’t want to get injured, so better to avoid it until you can ask a trainer (or fitness-fiend friend) for help.

Also, feel free to bring some of your own equipment like weights, a kettlebell or a skipping rope - nothing to stop you turning nature into your own personalised gym space.

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How do I get the best workout outdoors?

Here’s a basic rule to remember, according to Doggett: “Poor outdoor workouts usually mimic poor indoor workouts. And the recommendations are the same: time your rest periods, increase your reps until you reach near-maximum, and make use of the real advantage of an outdoor workout: the space and landscape around you.”

Stretching, jogging and doing push-ups in the sunshine all encouraged.

Even when the weather is less than gorgeous, you can still get many benefits from your outdoor workout, from less competition for the good equipment to enjoying nature in all her temperaments.

Having the right attitude is key to having a successful workout, rain or shine.

“We train in all weathers, all seasons, so we’ve seen it all. Snowing? The park will be beautiful and very hushed. Wet? The park will be deserted and all yours. Plus, you were going to have a shower afterwards anyway, weren’t you?” says Doggett.

He also advises coming to train with your favourite tunes on tap, as well as some protective, weatherproof clothing when the sun is nowhere to be found.

“Most of the time we recommend clothing from outdoor brands like Rab and Mountain Equipment rather than sports brands. They really do protect you,” he explains.