Fresh-Air Fitness

Best Practices: Enjoy the great outdoors while getting fitness benefits.

Treadmills, ellipticals, indoor cycling classes—sometimes the same old thing becomes, well, old. To alleviate the boredom that can set in—and that ultimately reduces fitness members' motivation to exercise—many fitness facility owners and managers are shaking up their exercise programs by taking clients outdoors. Exercising outside feeds both the body and the mind. The change of scenery and the new fitness activity options make this type of training appealing to all involved. It’s exciting for members and group fitness instructors to do something new, and it keeps everybody motivated.

Why Go Outside?

Currently, we spend the majority of our time indoors. Most of us wake up, drive to work, work inside all day and drive home to finish our day inside the house. Intuitively, people know there are benefits to being out in the fresh air, but they don’t always have the opportunity to experience them.

The benefits of outdoor exercise are numerous:

  • In outdoor group fitness activities, participants meet other people who enjoy doing the same things they do. This promotes a social connection that people may not get from working out solo in a fitness facility. The connection, in turn, leads to increased member retention.
  • Being outdoors for part of the day helps reset circadian rhythms and balance hormones. Circadian rhythms refer to our internal body clock, which can be strongly disrupted if we’re not exposed to adequate natural light during the day.
  • Outdoor activities are appropriate for all age groups.
  • Fresh air, plants and other outdoor elements have a profound positive effect on both our physical condition and our mental well-being. Plants and trees are living, breathing air filters. They detoxify the air by absorbing many substances that can be harmful to humans, like excess carbon dioxide and dust particles. They also create oxygen, which we need in order to live and function. Plus, outdoor air tends to be much cleaner than indoor air (EPA 2012).
  • Exposure to sunlight provides a dose of vitamin D. Vitamin D offers significant disease prevention for osteoporosis, heart disease and some forms of cancer (Mackarey 2010).

Types of Programs

The kinds of outdoor activities you select will depend on your clients’ likes, dislikes and goals. You’ll be somewhat limited by your fitness equipment availability, but it’s your imagination that will provide the workout regimen and your clients’ excitement about it (Scanlin 2007). Use the environment as much as possible. For example, visit local parks, hiking trails, bike paths, lakes and pools. The following examples can help get you started on your outdoor programming options.

Walking. One of the simplest outdoor activities is leading your clients on brisk outdoor walks. Walking is easy on the joints, and you don’t need to bring along any equipment. Furthermore, almost anyone can do it, regardless of fitness level. You can keep the activity as simple as walking around the fitness facility or the local neighborhood, or you can seek out hiking trails for more of a challenge. The great thing about walking outside rather than on the treadmill is the ever-changing terrain. This challenges the body to move in ways it may not be used to, such as side to side, up and down and diagonally. These movements help build muscles and strengthen joints throughout the body.

Cycling. Bicycling is not only an excellent cardiovascular exercise but also a way to explore the community by riding to other neighborhoods or visiting different parks, bike paths or trails. Members can bring their own bikes, or your fitness facility can offer to rent bikes for a fee. Ensure that participants have the proper safety equipment, including a helmet, knee pads and gloves with some palm-padding.

Swimming. Swimming is a perfect activity for those who have problems with their muscles or joints. The feeling of weightlessness in the water helps people exercise without pain. And you don’t have to stick to just swimming laps. Lead participants in water jogging exercises or a water aerobics class. Depending on where you are located, explore surrounding lakes, pools or the ocean.

Obstacle Courses. Whether you use your parking lot or a local park, you can design fun obstacle courses with cones, balls, curbs, benches and anything else that will challenge your members. In between obstacles, keep up participants’ heart rates with exercises such as jumping jacks, lunges, rope jumping and jogging in place—something different each day.

Group Fitness Events. Organizing regularly scheduled group fitness events is another fun option. For example, consider a Friday Night Fun Run, starting from the health club. At the end of the run, treat your members to refreshments to promote socializing. Or, hold a Saturday morning “yoga in the park” workout. Invite participants to meet at the park for a guided yoga class and enjoy a light picnic afterward.

Other Fitness Ideas. These additional activities may also work for your business:

  • teaching Pilates at a local park or beach
  • training on hills
  • utilizing local basketball and tennis courts and soccer fields
  • running the stairs at a local arena
  • conducting outdoor boot camps
  • snowshoeing
  • offering clubs, such as a running club and a biking club
  • conducting conditioning clinics to help members get in shape for golfing, skiing or other off-site fitness activities

Before You Begin

Incorporating outdoor programming into your fitness facility’s current offerings can benefit your bottom line by increasing retention and attracting new members. However, make sure you investigate what type of liability insurance you need when you go outside. Does your current insurance cover you off-site, or do you need additional coverage? What is not covered? Check into this matter to keep your business and members safe while they are enjoying the great outdoors.

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Valerie Applebaum, MPH, CHES

IDEA Author/Presenter
Valerie Applebaum, MPH, CHES, is a certified health education specialist with a master’s degree... more less

EPA (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency). 2012. The inside story: A guide to indoor air quality. www.epa.gov/iaq/pubs/insidestory.html; retrieved Apr. 16, 2012.


Mackarey, P. 2010. Benefits of outdoor exercise go beyond fitness. The Scranton Times-Tribune (Aug. 2).


Scanlin, A. 2007. Fitness-adventure fitness: taking it outside. Athletic Business (Dec.).



July 2012

© 2012 by IDEA Health & Fitness Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction without permission is strictly prohibited.

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