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Bored With the Gym?

Tired of the crowds, the pulsing music, and the beeping electronic gadgets in gyms, increasing numbers of trainers are organizing outdoor workouts.
By
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Gary D. Vogin, MD

Aug. 20, 2001 -- Every Tuesday and Thursday just before dawn, a perky blond woman jounces along a trail in Marin County, Calif., the beam of her headlamp skittering over rocks as a gasping group of seven tries to keep up. Across the country in Chicago, as the sun rises, another group runs in army-style pairs, chanting as they go.

It's the newest trend in personal training.

Tired of the crowds, the pulsing music, and the beeping electronic gadgets in gyms, increasing numbers of trainers are organizing outdoor workouts. Fallen logs become platforms for push-ups; tree branches double as chin-up bars.

At first glance, this seems a bit silly: Jack LaLanne meets the Girl Scouts. But fitness experts and those who've tried outdoor workouts say that exercising alfresco offers benefits that can't be found indoors.

Tiring of the Treadmill

Just ask Susan Gonzalez. It was five years ago that the 30-something from San Francisco traded her health club for the great outdoors. She'd spent several years committed to the life of a gym rat. She went as often as four times a week, dutifully lifting weights and riding the stationary bikes. But it took just one great mountain-biking class -- organized by Tina Vindum, the Marin County trainer who leads the predawn trail runs -- to make her realize she was bored stiff with the gym scene.

"When you're on the Stairmaster or the treadmill, you're on autopilot," Gonzalez says. "There's no brain interaction." So she joined the growing number of exercisers who swear that the best gym is the one without walls.

Why Working Out Outside Works

Besides the boredom that Gonzalez experienced, there are plenty of reasons to dislike fitness clubs. Gyms can be stuffy and crowded, even smelly. Fluorescent lights flicker overhead. The sound system pumps out frenetic bass lines, often at decibels that would scatter the regulars of an underground rave club.

"There's always psychic clutter in a gym," says Peg Jordan, editor of American Fitness magazine and author of The Fitness Instinct. "The weights clanging, the discussion, the music. Now you've got five or six TVs going at the same time. A walk outside clears your head, gives your ears some time off."

This, clearly, is the most tangible benefit of outdoor exercise. It's more enjoyable, which translates to more frequent and more efficient participation.

"People respond to the peace of mind and freedom," says Suzanne Nottingham, a fitness instructor in Mammoth Lakes, Calif. "They like not having to worry about anyone around them."

Nottingham occasionally trains clients in the gym but is best known for her open-air activities. In fact, she created a program of outdoor cross-training that has been adapted by firefighters and the Senior Olympics, among other organizations. "It can be as simple as walking, plus a couple of diversions like step-ups on curbs or pull-ups from tree branches," Nottingham says.

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