If your idea of exercising in the great outdoors entails inhaling car fumes, bobbing and weaving through sidewalk traffic, or circling the same monotonous neighborhood loop, your workout needs a change of scenery.
Venture off the concrete and hit a trail and you'll get more than fresh air and a new view. Powering up hills tones your tush, descending them sculpts your quads, and sidestepping rocks and roots builds balance, agility and core strength. See our list of the Top 10 Nature Runs in the U.S. for some inspiration.)
"You're going up, down and sideways, so you're constantly surprising, and therefore challenging, your body," says San Francisco—based trainer Tina Vindum, author of Outdoor Fitness: Step Out of the Gym into the Best Shape of Your Life. "If you always use a treadmill or do the same neighborhood route, your body adapts, you stop seeing results, and you get bored."
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Navigating varied terrain requires more energy and recruits more muscles than covering flat surfaces, so you'll burn more calories, shed fat faster, and fend off plateaus.
Trail workouts also provide a much-needed dose of Zen. "Being in green spaces calms us, mentally and physiologically," says William Sullivan, Ph.D., a professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign who studies the impact of the environment on health. "It can reduce high blood pressure, which contributes to stress." Not to mention that leaping over logs and scurrying across creeks, amid trees and flowers and birds, makes a workout feel less like work and more like play. Ready to get a little dirty? Here's a plan for adventure-seeking trail rookies.
Blast calories with these three fun, fast-paced trail routines designed by Vindum and Nikki Kimball, three-time winner of the prestigious Western States 100-mile endurance race.
1. Circuit Play
Why: Mixing walking, running, sprinting, and strength work transforms a hike into a full-body workout.
How: As you move along the trail, vary your pace: Go easy for two minutes, pick it up a bit for five, then sprint or speed-walk hard for 15 to 60 seconds. Recover at a slow pace until your breathing returns to normal. Then launch into a strength move (push-ups and triceps dips on a log, calf raises on a rock, squats with one foot propped up on a rock) for 60 to 90 seconds. That's one cycle. Do 4to 6 cycles, switching up the strength moves and your speeds throughout your workout.