The Complete Outdoor Workout

By Laura High @healthwriter61
April 12, 2015

Welcome warmer weather, and take this no-equipment workout outside.

As daylight stretches into the evening and temperatures climb, the gym may feel stale and confined. Why not take your workout outside? Our expert suggested the following exercises for a fun, full-body workout with cardio that targets all major muscle groups and can be tailored to your fitness level.

“I do either a playground workout, or I’ll go on a trail close to my house,” said Dr. Mike Bracko, an exercise physiologist in Calgary, Alberta, and a fellow at the American College of Sports Medicine.

Check with your doctor before beginning a fitness program. If you’re given the green light but haven’t exercised regularly, Bracko suggests a beginning level of one set of 10 to 15 repetitions of each exercise. If you are moderately fit, he suggests two sets, and if you have a high level of fitness do three sets. You can always add repetitions for more of a challenge.

(Click the links to see more detail about each exercise.)


Start with your upper body and a “pushing” exercise. Find some flat ground. Lie down on your stomach. Place your hands directly beneath your shoulders. Draw your shoulders back, pinching your shoulder blades together while pushing your chest out and straightening your arms. For beginners, do the push-up from your knees. If you are more advanced, balance on your toes and do a full body push-up. For even more of a challenge, elevate your feet on a rock or a bench.

Whatever your level, it’s important to keep your body in a straight line. Engage your core, and avoid dipping your head or bending or sagging at your hips.


Any time you do a “push,” it’s good to follow it with a “pull,” Bracko said. Without equipment, the best way to get a pulling motion is with your bodyweight. You can do a pull-up on a tree branch or a playground bar. Position your hands slightly wider than your shoulders. If you aren’t strong enough to pull up your full body weight, find a lower branch or bar and help yourself up with your legs, resisting your full weight on the way down.

Pulling exercises are especially important for women, Bracko said. Creating a pulling motion on the back muscles, especially the muscles that bring the shoulder blades together, is an effective way to help prevent osteoporosis.

“All those muscles in the back, they pull on the vertebra in the thoracic spine, and then the muscle pulls on the tendon and the tendon pulls on the bone, and the bone is like, ‘Hey I like that. We’re going to increase our density because of that.’” Rubber resistance bands wrapped around a tree or piece of playground equipment are also an inexpensive way to incorporate resistance moves, especially in the upper back.

Or, try pull-ups on a jungle gym. Grasp a bar over your head with your hands slightly wider than your shoulders, and bring your feet onto another bar so your body is horizontal. Keeping your body straight, pull your chest toward your hands and pinch your shoulder blades together. Modify by finding a lower rung on the jungle gym and resting your feet on the ground.

The plank

An exercise for your core, and all you need is a flat surface. Lie on your stomach. Raise your upper body by resting on your elbows with your hands facing down and away from you. Engage your abdominal muscles, your glutes, and leg muscles, and raise your lower body up onto your toes. Look down at the ground, keeping your head and body in a straight line. Hold this as long as you can, initially. Work up to holding the position for 1 minute.

The bird dog

This exercise works your backside. Start on a flat surface on all fours. Place hands directly below your shoulders and knees directly below your hips. Maintain a flat back and look down at the ground with head and spine aligned. Keeping contact with the ground, extend your right arm and your left leg. Find your balance. At the same time raise your extended arm and leg so they are in a straight line with your spine. Raise and lower your arm and leg 10 to15 times. Repeat on the other side.

The squat

For beginners, stand with your feet slightly wider than your hips and your toes pointed slightly out. Place hands on your hips or hold them in front of you and engage your abdominal muscles. Keeping your head up and your back straight, lower your body by bending hips and knees, like you are going to sit down in a chair. Shift weight to your heels. Don’t let your knees extend beyond your toes. Return to the starting position and repeat. Raise your arms overhead to add difficulty.

To make it harder, rest one leg behind you on a rock or a bench and do a one-legged squat. If you’re very fit, you can add a jump at the top for a one-legged jump squat.

Don’t forget your cardio!

Now you’re warmed up for a little cardio. Try a brisk 15 to 30 minute walk if you’re a beginner. More advanced? Try some intervals. At a playground or a field, sprint out 10 yards and come back as hard as you can for several repetitions. Rest one minute. Repeat.

Try running up and walking down a good hill several times. You can do it by time, or “Sometimes I do it by steps,” Bracko said. “I’ll run really fast for 50 steps and then I’ll walk 50 steps.” You can also do these intervals on stairs. “If a person does that type of cardio work for 15 to 30 minutes, that’s a pretty darn good workout.”

Research shows that people who do shorter, high-intensity intervals actually enjoyed the exercise more than the long, slow, distance type of cardio, Bracko adds. Bottom line, people are more likely to continue with an exercise program if they’re doing something they enjoy.

“You don’t have to run, you can walk fast, or you can climb stairs, or you can do sprints. . . . Or you can do more reps and sets of the exercises. . . . That bodyweight can give you almost the same benefits as going for a run and in fact sometimes even better benefits."


April 12, 2015

Reviewed By:

Christopher Nystuen, MD, MBA

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