5 Workouts Better Than Yours

Quit your boring, old, local routine and head to the great outdoors this summer to revitalize your workout and have a little fun, too

June 16, 2011
Outdoor workouts that work whole body
Rick Lohre
Unplug From Your Routine Workout

Tired of the treadmill? Bogged down with the Swiss ball? Weights have you wondering? It's easy to get stuck in a fitness rut when you're doing the same gym workout or running the neighborhood loop you've been following for years. "A lot of people spend all day plugged in to a computer or a phone or staring at a monitor, then they go to the gym and plug in to a treadmill for the same old workout," says Lisa Isom, a veteran professional Xterra competitor based in Leadville, CO. (Xterra is an off-road duathlon that combines the disciplines of trail running and mountain biking.) "When you do that, you aren't getting the benefits of an outside workout. You don't get the endorphins going or enjoy the beauty of what's around you."

The simplest way to expand your exercise horizons and travel to fantastic destinations: Get out of the gym. Outdoor sports like rock climbing, trail running, mountain biking, kayaking, and fly-fishing are considered extreme. But they're still accessible to beginners, according to the pros we talked to at the 2011 Teva Mountain Games in Vail, CO. First-timers can rent the equipment necessary for each sport. If you get hooked, the price of admission is just a one-time front-end investment for equipment.* After that, all five of these sports are free. Just find a local rock outcrop, trail, river, ocean, or stream and you're off. (Related: Find out the benefits of exercising outside in 7 Ways Outdoor Workouts Boost Fitness Results.)

*Cost factor: We've rated each of these sports on a scale of one to four dollar signs based on how much you'll spend to get outfitted with equipment.

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Outdoor workouts that work whole body
Preston Utley
1. Rock Climbing

Cue up the chalk bag, climbing shoes, and ropes. If you are looking for an adrenaline-packed, full-body workout, rock climbing might just rope you in. "It's like you are lifting weights while running," says Sean McColl, a top Canadian climber who represents his home country on the World Cup circuit. "You are constantly using every part of your body. Legs, arms, fingers, and your head and mind." Austrian climber Anna Stohr agrees and recommends climbing because it's an easy sport for the whole family to get into. "Go to a local climbing gym, rent some gear, and give it a try," says Stohr, who won the women's International Federation of Sport Climbing World Cup at this year's Teva Games. "It helps break up the monotony of a normal gym workout. With climbing, you are never doing the same movement from one minute to the next. It's a great workout and it's a lot of fun."

Necessities: Climbing shoes, chalk bag, ropes, harness, and hardware like carabineers and spikes

Cost factor: $$$

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Outdoor workouts that work whole body
Connor Walberg
2. Trail Running

If you're burnt on the usual asphalt loop around the block, find a wooded area or a park in your vicinity and head for the hills. Trail running is a great change of pace for a number of reasons, not all of which are physical. "Sure you get the cardio workout and fitness boost from running up a trail," says Isom. "But you also have to be focused and really aware of your surroundings and what you are doing so it takes your mind off everything else in your day." Plus trail running is the most cost-effective of our five weekend workouts. This summer, drop the gym membership, kick the treadmill to the curb, and hit the trail. "Putting on a pair of running shoes and going on a trail run is free and freeing," says Isom.

Necessities: Trail running shoes

Cost factor: $

MORE: Find the perfect pair of trail runners with our 2011 Trail Running Shoe Review Guide.

PLUS: Make sure your shoes fit right with our video guide to running shoe size and fit.


Outdoor workouts that work whole body
Connor Walberg
3. Mountain Biking


If trail running doesn't get you far enough off the grid--or far enough into oxygen debt--maybe it's time to give mountain biking a try. You don't have to be an extreme athlete to enjoy the benefits of rolling on knobby tires, and it beats spinning away at the gym by a mile, according to U.S. mountain bike Olympian and 10-time national champion Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski. "Mountain biking is an incredibly welcoming sport to newbies and beginners," he says. "Get a bike, find a local trail or rec path, and hit the [hills]. Mountain biking is super fun, super healthy, and a sport you can do for a long time." More good news: An increasingly competitive mountain bike market-and the advent of websites like eBay and Craig's List-has made getting a quality new or used bike very affordable. Your local bike shop can also get you a deal on a new or used bike and make sure it's a good fit too. For an up-front investment of $500 to $1,000, you can get a bike and helmet that will set you free in the great outdoors for years to come.

Necessities: Mountain bike, helmet

Cost factor: $$$

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Outdoor workouts that work whole body
Rick Lohre
4. Kayaking

Surf's up! But you won't hang ten when you hit the ocean or river for a day of kayaking. Your toes are tucked nicely into the front end of a closed-top boat (imagine a canoe with the top covered up and a hole in the center for you to get inside). Kayaking offers participants a "liquid conveyer belt" through the great outdoors, says Eric Jackson, Olympian and former freestyle kayak world champion. "Kayaking is unique compared with other outdoor sports like mountain biking or hiking," says Jackson, who owns Jackson Kayaks, the world's largest white-water kayak company. "You are always out in the open on the water in a boat, so you get the most amazing views of the valleys, forests, cliffs, and surrounding areas."

Kayaking is also a great workout, according to Jackson. Paddling works your upper body and core, while your legs and hip flexors work to stabilize your body from inside the boat. Beginners can take their first strokes on flat-water streams or lakes and work up to faster moving rivers and rapids. You'll have to plunk down some cash to gear up for this equipment-heavy outdoor activity. But once that's done, it's just you and the open water.

Necessities: White-water kayaking: Kayak, paddle, life jacket, spray skirt, helmet, roof rack, straps. Ocean kayaking: Kayak (traditional or sit-on-top), life jacket, spray skirt (ocean), paddle, roof rack, straps

Cost of entry: $$$$

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Outdoor workouts that work whole body
Zach Mahone
5. Fly-Fishing

Fishing? A workout? This isn't your run-of-the mill cruise on a deep-sea fishing vessel. Lose the trolling line, grab your waders, vest and flies, and fly rod, and head for the nearest stream, river, or pond. You'll battle the current of the river and keep your upper body, arms, and core fully engaged as you work the fly line to hook that gold medal trout. "People laugh when I say it's work," says longtime Colorado fly-fishing competitor Joel B. Sharp. "But after 2 hours in the water, you're cooked." The sport, popularized by the Brad Pitt movie A River Runs Through It, also offers participants the soothing yin of the great outdoors to complement the raging yang of movement involved. "It's just so peaceful to get out and find a stretch of river or stream where it's just you, the rod, and the wildlife," says Sharp. Learning the ins and outs of fly-fishing takes time, but it's inexpensive to get involved and time well spent for anyone looking to ditch those boring old flies in the gym.

Necessities: Fly rod, reel, line, dry and wet flies, vest, and waders

Cost factor: $$

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