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We all profess to love the gym, and for many of us it’s our home away from home. Sometimes, however, we need to change things up.
Maybe we’ve got a case of spring fever after spending three long winter months inside. Or maybe — as is the case now — a strain of some communicable flu or virus is making the sharing of common-area machines and weights and locker room amenities a little less than desirable.
If that is the case, you don’t need to put your strength and physique goals on hold. You just need to take them outside. We often associate outdoor exercise with cardio, but there’s plenty of strength gains to be had out there, too.
In fact, bodyweight-bearing resistance exercises of the type you can do outside are actually well-recommended, as they often constitute compound movements that exercise multiple muscle groups and they help to enhance balance, agility, and functional capacity. And there’s nothing wrong with taking some resistance bands or a pair of dumbbells or kettlebells with you to the backyard or on your trip to the park either.
Here are six exercises you can do anywhere to increase strength, power, and size.
The tried-and-true pull-up is a terrific bodyweight exercise that engages your entire upper body -- your biceps, forearms, triceps, shoulders and core. Indeed, they're essential for achieving that ideal V-shaped upper body you desire. Pull-ups will even strengthen your grip. And you really can do them anywhere. If your local park has any kind of jungle gym or kids play area, you're all set. You can also place any kind of sturdy bar over two surfaces equal in height. A tree limb will work too, or you can even lean a ladder against your house and do close-grip pull-ups.
Better yet, as you grow more proficient at them, you can try strapping a weight to your waist or ankles to add resistance. Can't do a pull-up? Try doing reclining rows on a lower bar or even a park bench. Or bring along a partner to give you a boost.
To do a proper pull-up, start in the full-hanging position, flex your core and glutes, bend your elbows and raise your chest to the bar. Hold for two seconds and return to the full hanging position.
The natural partner of the pull-up is another terrific compound exercise, ideal for working the biceps, chest, and shoulders, while also engaging your abs and back stabilizers. And of course, you can do push-ups anywhere there's a flat stretch of ground.
To do a proper push-up, place your hands at shoulder width, keep your back straight and your arms at a 90-degree angle to your body. Lower yourself until your chest taps the ground and then push yourself back up until your arms are fully extended again. Putting your hands closer together will emphasize your triceps; placing them further apart will target your chest muscles more.
If you're not quite up to the standard push-up yet, start with your knees on the ground. Once you start pressing push-ups out with greater ease, you can increase the difficulty by raising your feet up higher on a chair or park bench, try one-armed push-ups in which you switch arms back and forth, or even try an entirely vertical push-up with your legs braced in a doorway.
Here's one for your lower body. Forward lunges engage your quadriceps and glutes in your hips and also hamstrings and calf muscles, while utilizing your abs and back muscles as stabilizers. To do one, stand with your feet even with your hips and take an exaggerated step forward with one leg, bending your hips and knees until your legs form a 90-degree angle. Then push back and up from your front foot to return to the original position.
You can increase the resistance incurred in this movement by using dumbbells or kettlebells. Simply hold one in each hand as you do to the lunge. Another variation of this is the step up, in which you stand before an elevated surface like a park bench, a log or a flat rock, step up with one foot and lift your opposite foot directly behind you. Then step down, switch feet and repeat. You can use a couple of light weights here too.
Let's target those abs, specifically your external obliques and rectus abdominis (or six-pack muscles). Find a low tree branch, horizontal bar on a jungle gym or similar perch. Jump up into a sitting position on the bar, then wrap your knees on the bar, and tip backwards until you're hanging vertically from the bar. (If you're new to this, you might want to have a spotter help you out.) Clench your hands in fists at your chest and gradually roll upwards at the hip until your body attains a L shape. Hold for two seconds and lower yourself slowly back to vertical.
Here again, you can ramp up resistance by holding a small weight in your hands while you do the movement. If you're uncomfortable hanging upside down, do a bicycle crunch instead, in which you lie flat on your back on the ground, lift your knees up to form a 90-degree angle at your hip and knee. Then lift one shoulder up toward the opposite knee, hold for two seconds, then return to the original position, then reverse the process with the opposite shoulder going to the other knee.
It's amazing how many traditional gym-centric machine or free-weight movements you can accomplish with a little open space and a kettlebell. The key is to do them right with proper form to avoid injury.
For sheer full-body impact, try a kettlebell swing. Start in a crouch with the kettlebell grasped in both hands, then spring upwards swinging the kettlebell up and out until it reaches shoulder level. Let the kettlebell descend and repeat. This exercise will build strength in your quads and glutes, your abs and shoulders. It will also improve your balance and body control.
Now try an overhead press. Stand with your legs spread for balance and a kettle bell grasped in one hand at shoulder height. In one explosive movement, raise the kettlebell until your arm is fully extended vertically, hold briefly and lower the weight slowly. How about a squat? Hold the kettlebell in both hands at chest level. Squat, pushing your knees out so your elbows can fit between them. Go as low as you can while keeping your back straight. Hold, then explode upwards into a standing position.
There are so many resistance exercises you can do with the ever-versatile kettlebell. To do rows, get into a crouch with a kettlebell in each hand and your arms extended downward at your sides. Raise the kettlebells upward to your hips while rolling your palms inward. Hold and repeat. Is there a flat bench with no back nearby? You can do kettlebell flyes the same way you would do flyes in a free weight area. Lie flat, and raise the bells with arms extended so they're straight above you. Gradually lower each arm laterally until they're at your sides, then return the bells to the original position.
You can do lunges, bicep curls, and sit-ups with kettlebells too. Just make sure you retain proper form and you have a clear, uncrowded space to work in.
Park Bench Dips
This one will target your triceps, shoulders and core. Find a park bench, sit on it, and slide your posterior forward until it's off the bench and you're supporting yourself with your arms. Bend your elbows, bringing your upper arms almost parallel to the ground, while keeping your back straight and close to the bench. Then rise up into your starting position. You can also do park bench push-ups that will allow you to raise your feet for added difficulty or raise your shoulders to make push-ups a little easier.
And finally, while you're outside, you're in an ideal place to get in a little cardio in the form of sprints, lateral hops and side shuffles. Whether the gym is out of bounds or just a little stale, the great outdoors is ready and waiting to help you keep your strength and size goals within reach.