Physical Activity, Not Exercise, Outdoors

Hey friends! In the next 6 minutes, I want to talk to you why I think we should be taking more of our workouts outside – let’s say 50% of them.

To be clear, this is an entirely arbitrary number. I thought of it because I try to split my personal workout time equally between lifting weights and riding my bike, and I’ve been trying to do each of those 2-3 times per week.

It also feels important to note that I’ve been a coach at Mark Fisher Fitness for the past 6 years, and our classes take place inside. That’s exactly where I think functional training should take place. It’s a climate-controlled environment that is ideal for strength training. I remember teaching myself to swing kettlebells in my mom’s backyard 10 years ago and was slipping and sliding in the wet grass the entire time.

It seems to me that in 2019, or at least in the boutique-fitness bubble that I live in, most people equate being active outside to exercising outside – and they try to take their indoor workouts outside.

On the surface, there really isn’t anything inherently wrong with this, and if I could put a retractable roof over the classes at MFF, I’d probably consider it.

The thing is, formally exercising using weights, and being recreationally active outside is not the same. A few years ago, I saw a video on Instagram of someone doing burpees on a pool deck in Bali. Just yesterday, I saw someone doing a kettlebell complex on the beach. I truly believe that there can be benefits from all physical activity, so if you’re doing that, please know that you’re not wrong – but I’d like to see our collective thought process improve.

Rather than doing burpees on a pool deck, why not go swimming? Rather than bringing kettlebells to the beach, why not go surfing, play volleyball, or play frisbee? I think that the recent boom of mace training is really cool, but every time I see a flow sequence, I think that I’d rather just dust off my high school lacrosse stick and brush up on my stick tricks.

All exercise can be beneficial, but I don’t quite understand getting in the car or on the subway to go run on a treadmill or take a spin class. You can get on a bike from your front door. All you need to run is a pair of shoes.

Yes, there are times when doing these activities inside makes sense – if you’re practicing very specific work/rest intervals, or if the weather isn’t cooperating with your fitness plans. And more often than not, there is an alternative that lets you get outside and be active.

The last stage of the Long-Term Athletic Development (LTAD) model is being “active for life” and it’s the stage that I’m the most passionate about. It’s also the stage that our society has the best chance to improve upon.

Almost every sports and performance coach I’ve heard talk about Long Term Athletic Development has championed diversity of movement and participation. Playing a variety of sports is desirable because the movement skills and fitness all benefit each other. For example, a young athlete who plays ice hockey, lacrosse, and soccer should have a better chance of making it to an elite level than an athlete who begins to specialize at a young age.

As adults, we should strive for the same movement diversity – but the vast majority of us don’t have it. We lift weights or do interval training… and then sometimes try to take the same activities outside. It’s a great start, but we can do more.

I think the marketing of “Muscle Confusion”, the “Workout of the Day”, and the prevalence of kettlebell flows is a byproduct of this exercise specialization. We are trying to make what’s essentially the same feel different, rather than engaging in truly meaningful variety.

This is only a hypothesis, but in my 6 years of coaching at MFF, I think that the Ninjas who are most comfortable following long-term training plans are those who have either very clearly defined goals, or are participating in recreational activities outside of the Clubhouse.

If you’re part of a volleyball league, play soccer or softball, cheerlead, or go kayaking or hiking on the weekends, you’re probably better prepared mentally prepared to benefit from the science of strength and conditioning.

Sure I’m biased about this because I went to studied health and physical education in school, and because I can easily change the trails or style of mountain biking I’m doing on any given day. If it wasn’t mountain biking, maybe it would be more hiking, some stand-up paddleboarding, snowshoeing, or skiing.

Yesterday I posted a video about throwing medicine balls that are lighter rather than heavier, but if I had to choose between medicine ball throws and going to a driving range or batting cage, I probably choose going outside and hitting some balls for an hour.

We’ve gone from the most adaptable animal in history to one that resists breaking a sweat unless the environment we’re in is perfect, and I think we can do better. The whole purpose people started exercising as a formality was to better prepare them for those other physical activities that are less formal. The whole point we started going to the gym was to be better at things outside of the gym, and to truly experience the benefits of exercise, you have to have something else to do.

What that is for you, I’m not sure. Maybe there’s an old sport or game you played that you want to take up again. Maybe there’s a new activity that you try with friends, or you can find an instructor or coach to help you out.

Whatever it is, it’s time to get started. If you need help with that, I’m only a message away. I’d love to continue the conversation, so leave a comment or send me a message.

Thanks for joining me for this article. If you’d like to watch a video of this piece, you can head over to IGTV. Thanks y’all!

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