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5 Ways to Exercise Outdoors Without Equipment

Gym closed? Get outside and get fit by walking, performing push-ups and more.

A woman running in the woods.

I sure do miss my gym. In the scope of problems caused by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, I acknowledge that my longing for my lunchtime workout routine, ranks pretty darn low on the importance meter. Still, committing to keeping fit is more important than ever; a sedentary lifestyle is correlated with an increased risk of chronic disease—and a decrease in immune function. In addition, exercise is an ideal way to battle the social distancing blues.

Happily, I have always loved tromping around the great outdoors. These days, my morning quarantine routine involves rolling out of bed, grabbing my mask, and walking between two and four miles. Every. Single. Day. I admit that it helps that my first destination is a picturesque waterfall, right in the center of my town, which is conveniently located near an excellent coffee shop. On days when I am blessed with more time and energy, I make my way up to a hillside cemetery. The views are outstanding, but it is the realization of where I am sitting that helps me focus on the fleeting nature of life—and to put my problems in perspective.

So while I have the aerobic part of my workout down, I haven’t been paying as much attention to the strength training side of things. But Mike Polito, a personal trainer based in Poughkeepsie, NY, insists that anyone can get an excellent workout outside—no equipment necessary. “Being in a gym is not very inspiring for me; being outdoors is always my first choice,” says Polito, the owner of Old School Street Fitness. “As soon as my feet hit the ground outside, especially barefoot, I get energized. We are meant to be outdoors; not inside under air-conditioning or re-circulated air. I highly recommend working out outdoors as long as you can.”

Polito created the Progressive Movement Method, based, in part, on his extensive experience in martial arts, yoga, and gymnastics. But basically, Polito encourages everyone to consider movement as play—and to incorporate it throughout their daily life. “This method works for everyone, whether you are a 16-year-old or 95,” he says.

Here are five easy ways to get started:

Walking, jogging, running. “A lot of people underestimate this,” says Polito. “But even 15 minutes a day can start to make a difference. It’s the oldest exercise in the book and it still works. I take a walk for at least 15 or 20 minutes every day.” Polito says that if you are resistant, bring your dog (if you have one) and once you’ve established a routine start adding in a hill or two. Walking has many additional health benefits, from boosting immune function to preventing cancer. An American Cancer Society study found that women who walked seven or more hours a week had a 14% lower risk of breast cancer than those who walked three hours or less in the same time period.

Squatting and lunging. Polito loves to do squats—lowering your hips from a standing position and then standing up again—multiples times throughout the day. “This is a compound exercise which means it uses several muscle groups at once,” he says, noting that quads, hamstrings, glues, abdominals and calves all get in on the action. “You can do them with or without weights. But your own body weight can give you quite a workout. Or pick up a rock in the backyard—that works really well.”

When I complained that I’m too uncoordinated to do lunges—with one leg positioned forward with knee bent—and tend to tip over, Polito offered this tip: “Do your lunges a little slower. The main mistake that people make is that their stance is too narrow. Move your front leg to the side a bit. Then do three sets of 10 or 15 lunges.”

Push-ups. “The basic pushup—it’s been around for a long time and it still works. It’s an old school workout, even our military still uses it regularly and you can do it absolutely anywhere,” says Polito. If you have trouble doing one, Polito suggests that you move your hands farther away from your feet to make it easier. Inside you can use a kitchen counter to start or outside on your lawn, begin on your knees. “Find a level where you can do 10 pushups,” says Polito. “And take it from there.”

Pulling exercises. “You may not realize it, but everything you do in a day is either pushing, pulling or squatting,” says Polito. Bicep curls are an easy and effective ‘pulling’ exercise that are highly effective, says Polito, who likes to use inexpensive resistance bands, but notes that even those are not necessary. “Pick up some stones and do arm curls with them,” he says. “Or pick up a log; that’s a great workout.” In fact, a lot of yard work incorporates both pushing and pulling exercises, notes Polito. “Try pulling a wagon, or pulling a wheelbarrow; digging, pulling, chopping wood; you’ve got yourself a great workout.”

Easy, Peasy Abs. Polito has an easy exercise that isolates the abdominal muscles. “Sit on a park bench or just sit on your front steps. Put your feet together and lift your legs straight up and down. Do 15 or 20 reps; believe me you’ll feel it,” he says.

According to Polito, all five of these things don’t have to be done all in one session—or even in one day. “Split it up throughout the day,” he says. “Maybe do your walking in the evening, and your squats or lunges in the morning. The important thing is to just get moving.”

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