How to Plan an Outdoor Workout

Make Your Workout More Effective With Simple Steps

Heading outside for an outdoor workout can be as simple as lacing up your favorite pair of running shoes to hit the road for a jog. Or it can be as involved as organizing a multi-station strength-training routine at a park for a group of family and friends. Regardless of how simple or complex, a good workout comes down to proper planning, and in the words of Benjamin Franklin, if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Here's what you need to think about before you head outside for your next workout routine.

Write Down Your Workout

yoga outside
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Almost any style of workout can be modified for an outdoor format. You can do cardio, yoga, strength training, circuit work, high-intensity interval training, balance training, or any combination thereof. The trick is that you need to have your game plan set before you step out the door. A wishy-washy plan to add a few bodyweight exercises to your jog will inevitably end up with a sub-par routine.

Instead, decide what you want to do, then come up with a specific plan for how to do it. For instance, if you want to add bodyweight exercises to a running routine, decide which exercises you're going to do, how many sets and reps you plan to complete, and how you're going to add them to your routine.

A solid workout might look like:

  • 10-minute gradual jogging to warm up
  • 5-minutes jogging at your desired pace (know what this is before you start)
  • 20 air squats
  • 15 pushups
  • 10 walking lunges (per leg)

Repeat jogging and bodyweight sequence three times.

If you want to do yoga, don't just randomly choose poses once you're outside, pick an audio or video workout you can follow, or input your flow into your phone so you'll have your practice planned in advance.

Even something as simple as a walking or jogging routine can improve substantially if you pre-plan your workout. In addition to knowing where you want to run or walk, you can decide on a style of workout (fartlek training, steady-state run, hill repeats, or sprints), how far or how long you want to exercise, and whether you have a specific goal for pace or time. Without a plan and a goal, you'll almost always do less than you're capable of.

Select a Location

Once you know what type of workout you plan to do and you know what exercises you want to perform, you can match your location to your workout. For instance, if you want to do bodyweight circuit training, look for a location that has a flat surface for squats and pushups, benches or picnic tables for step ups and dips, and a jungle gym for pull-ups or hanging leg lifts.

If you want a calming place to stretch or do yoga, stay away from playgrounds swarming with kids and instead seek out a flat grassy area near a quiet trail.

Also, don't underestimate the importance of space, shade, access to water, and access to park or playground amenities. If you're going to do a high-intensity interval training workout, or if you're going to work out during the heat of the day, look for shade in the form of tree-lined trails or covered park pavillions. If you don't like to carry water with you, look for parks or paths that offer water fountains. If you're working out with a big group of people, you may want to stay away from busy areas, as you may not have as much access to shared amenities like park benches or jungle gym bars.

Depending on your workout goals, you can even select a few locations that, when strung together, satisfy your needs. For instance, if you want to combine cycling, strength training, and stretching, you could put together a course that includes:

  • A cycling loop where you start and end at the same location
  • The starting location includes a quiet, shady pavillion with a water fountain so you can fill up your water bottle after your ride and stretch for a few minutes before wrapping things up
  • A jungle gym or playground somewhere along the ride that has a basketball court where you can do most of your strength training and a jungle gym for moves like modified pull-ups and dips

The planning shouldn't take more than few minutes but it really can make outdoor workouts more enjoyable and easier to follow.

Plan Equipment and Transport

Body weight workouts of all varieties are an excellent option for outdoor workouts, but they do limit the number of exercises you can perform and the amount of resistance you can use. In time, you may want to use equipment beyond what's readily available at most parks or playgrounds. Obviously, lugging dumbbells or a BOSU ball is unwieldy and ill-advised.

So ​you have two options:

  1. Pick a location with parking so you can haul your equipment in a car. This frees up your options, enabling you to use just about any small workout tool you want in an outdoor setting. Balance trainers, dumbbells, medicine balls, hula hoops, slideboards, and yoga mats are good options to expand your exercise base.
  2. Use lightweight equipment you can carry with you on a bike or on your body. Heavy resistance bands, jump ropes, and suspension trainers are all lightweight pieces of equipment that are every bit as good as other tools for expanding the number of exercises you can do outside. You can throw a suspension trainer and jump rope in a backpack to have with you on your jog or bike ride, or you can loop a resistance band around your body, sash-style from shoulder to hip, allowing you to keep your hands free without adding much bulk or weight to your profile. You can even fold up a travel yoga mat and put it in a backpack for easy use. With a little forethought and ingenuity, you can carry your own portable gym everywhere you go.

Check the Weather

A good workout can go bad at the drop of a hat if bad weather blows through. So even if you look outside and see perfect weather, always check the forecast before you head out.

Beyond temperature, look for allergy alerts, smog or UV warnings, wind chill, humidity levels, and heat indexes. All of these factors can affect how you feel while exercising, and in some cases, may help you make sound decisions about clothing, SPF-protection, or whether it's even wise to exercise outside.

Dress Appropriately

What you should wear when exercising outside varies drastically depending on the weather. Here are a few quick guidelines for staying comfortable and safe:

  • If it's hot outside, wear light-colored, lightweight, wicking fabrics designed to lift and pull sweat and body heat away from your body to help keep you comfortable and dry.
  • If it's cold outside, dress in multiple layers so you can add or remove layers based on how you feel throughout your workout. Choose quick-dry, wicking fabrics. If snow or rain is in the forecast, make sure your outermost layers are weatherproof. Use headbands, hats, gaiters, and gloves to keep your hands, ears, head, neck, and face nice and warm.
  • If it's raining, don't underestimate the importance of waterproof apparel. Even in warm weather, select a lightweight rain jacket and water-resistant or water-proof shoes. You'll enjoy your workout much more if you're not contending with soggy socks and water-logged clothing. Also, think about wearing a hat with a brim to keep the rain out of your eyes.
  • If it's daytime, whether it's hot, cold, rainy, or sunny, daytime workouts require protection from the sun's UV rays. Go ahead and slather on sunscreen to protect your exposed skin, but don't stop there. Wear sunglasses and a hat every time you head outside, and if your workouts last longer than the 80-minutes covered by most sport sunscreens, consider wearing UPF-protective apparel to cover your arms and legs. Finally, keep an SPF-rated chapstick on hand to apply as needed. A little bit of preparation can save you from a lot of pain.

Stay Safe

Workouts always carry an element of risk, and outdoor workouts are no different. While there's no need to feel overly concerned about hitting the trails or going to the park, you need to be conscientious of potential dangers.

For instance, you could twist your ankle while running on a trail, you could be confronted by an unleashed dog, you could experience heat stress while on a bike ride, or you could get lost in an unfamiliar area of town. By planning wisely before you start your workout, you can navigate risks, injuries, or other potentially dangerous situations more effectively. Here are a few quick tips:

  • Always carry your phone. Aside from the obvious benefit of being able to call someone for help if you need it, your phone also offers features like GPS tracking and mapping, perfect if you end up lost. Even if your phone doesn't get service where you are, if you were to get lost or injured, rescuers could use your phone to help ping your location.
  • Always carry cash. Keeping a few bucks on you ensures you can stop at a quickie mart if you need a bottle of water, or you can buy a candy bar if your blood sugar gets low.
  • Tell a friend before you go. Most of all, communicating your whereabouts to a loved one is critical. Even if you're just heading to a local park, tell someone where you're going and when you plan to be back. If you're going to explore a new route, take it a step further and tell a friend you'll check in with them when you're done. If they don't hear from you, they'll know when and where to start looking.
  • Take a dog (if you have one). Dogs need exercise, too, so if you have a four-legged best friend, take him with you when you enjoy your outdoor workouts. In addition to exercise being a good way to bond with your pet, the presence of a dog can help deter strangers from bothering you. Bonus points if your dog is big and strong.

Plan for Enjoyment

One of the best parts about exercising outside is getting to enjoy Mother Nature. Don't let yourself get so wrapped up in your workout that you forget to stop and take a look around you. Breathe in the fresh air, notice the trees, flowers, and waterways, and allow yourself to feel grateful for your surroundings and your ability to move.