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Adventure Fitness: Taking It Outside

Members of all ages can enjoy mixing up their regular fitness routines with activities that take them into the great outdoors.

Treadmills, cycles, step classes ... sometimes the same old thing becomes, well, old. To combat that, many fitness professionals are shaking up their programs by taking their clients outdoors. The change of scenery, equipment options (or lack thereof) and activity options makes this training a win/win for all. It's exciting for clients and instructors to do something new, and it keeps everyone motivated.

As you can imagine, outdoor fitness is highly successful in temperate climates. Guests at the Golden Door resort in Escondido, Calif., love the climate, scenic beauty and variety they get with outdoor training. "The most popular non-fitness-center activities are hiking, outdoor cross training and water exercise," says Trish Martin, fitness director. "Other areas that are popular are the inner focus programs such as tai chi, meditation, qigong and stress management lectures."

But, even in climates where it's cold, adventure fitness is going strong. "Living in Washington State, we have about two and a half months of nice weather," says Dana Snow, owner of Adventure Fitness Studio, Spokane, Wash. Her clients love the great outdoors, and enjoy boot camps and nordic walking, in particular. "With the Adventure Boot Camp for Women, I use the HITT principle (high-intensity interval training), so they [expend calories] ... after they stop working out. And, [I] design the workout in an obstacle course fashion. We use hand weights and do single-muscle exercises, then something like skipping or jogging or [jumping] jacks. Each day is different. Sometimes I'll do 12 repetitions of strength and one minute of cardio, and other days I'll do 25 reps and laps."

Both Martin and Snow find that their clients who prefer outdoor fitness activities are trying to alleviate boredom, find more motivation or jumpstart a plateaued weight loss. Says Martin, "I believe that people who seek adventurous activities become more open to experiencing different types of activities, and will change what they do for exercise on a frequent basis."

John Connelly, manager of the L.L.Bean Outdoor Discovery School, Freeport, Maine, finds the same. The numbers of people flocking to schools such as these for active vacations is growing exponentially. "People are seeking new experiences in new places, and more people are also seeking opportunities to learn something new," says Connelly. "They are seeking ways to create memorable experiences for themselves, friends and family. 'Togethering' is the term being used in the adventure travel industry that describes people's desire to go places and do things where they have the opportunity to meet like-minded people who enjoy the same activities or destinations. Kayaking and cycling are two of our activities that we hear our participants saying that they are pursuing to support their commitment to a healthier, active, outdoor lifestyle."

     
 

"Take 'em Outside" Program Ideas

Make each day different for your outdoor programs, just as you would indoors. Most important, have fun! Here are some ideas:
  • Swim or water jog.
  • Yoga/Pilates/tai chi in the park.
  • High-intensity interval training: sprints, jumping jacks, skipping, running backward. Alternate cardio with upper-body strength on benches and the ground.
  • Bike ride.
  • Kayak.
  • Take clients through an adventure boot camp on a running route or trail. Scatter weights, balls, foam rollers, etc., throughout the route.
  • Hill training.
  • Encourage clients to try a mini-triathlon - and do it with them!
  • Teach a sport that has a lot of direction changes and movement. If clients can't play tennis, basketball or soccer well, they can at least do drills that get their heart rate up. Their skill level isn't important; it's their enjoyment of the movement. Make it fun, not competitive.
 
     

Use your terrain

The types of adventure activities you choose for clients and members will depend on their likes, dislikes and goals. You'll also be limited by your equipment availability, but it's your imagination that will provide your clients with their workout regimen and the excitement. "Use the environment around you as much as possible," says Martin. "Use ... body weight as resistance. Elastic bands are an excellent travel tool, as they take up very little packing space. ... Changing the modalities frequently and incorporating multi-muscle/multi-joint exercises really adds challenge and variety." Snow says, "I use playground equipment for things like pole squats, step-ups, pull-ups and cardio in between. There are always things you can do to increase or decrease the intensity for impact and non-impact [exercises]."

In addition to high-intensity adventure training, your clients may enjoy mind/body activities in the great outdoors. Tai chi on the beach, or Pilates and yoga in a quiet park next to a fountain. Even simple stretching and meditation in a quiet area can be a wonderful cross training activity for those with stressful lives. The YMCA of Newport County, R.I., offers tai chi on the beach right down the road from the Y in the summer months. The sound of the waves, the cool sand underfoot and the feeling of being one with nature makes this class very popular.

The spirit of fitness

Whatever your clients are looking for "out there," and there are many reasons people seek outdoor fitness, their experiences will likely mirror the findings of John Connelly: "Fitness is perceived of, and is defined, differently by people. For some folks, simply becoming active ... is a fitness commitment. And for others, going from active to being more athletic defines fitness for them. This said, we see that people engaging in these outdoor activities with an entry-level skill set can have a good, active session that would approximate what they may do on a stationary bike or a rowing machine. But, if someone is seeking a more intense fitness workout, they would need to acquire a more full skill set, and some ergonomic efficiencies, to enhance their ability to get the most out of the equipment and the sport for the purpose of cardiovascular and ... strength development. In both cases, the activity in the outdoors feeds the mind and spirit much better than the indoor gym ever could."

Adventure for all ages

Adventure fitness is a great idea for all ages and, while it's easy to think of adventurous activities for kids, don't forget adventure for older adults and the corporate crowd. Nordic walking is a great idea for people of all ages. Dana Snow's Baby Boomer clients love it, and walk year-round, even in the cold. Nordic walking and other similar activities allow people to simulate cross-country skiing while walking with poles. Extra resistance in the form of elastic bands can be added for arm strength and cardio endurance. Snow says that men and women enjoy this activity, particularly those who are former runners, who have had joint replacements and can't take the higher impact of running. "I'd say our youngest Nordic Walker is in their mid-50s," she says. "It's a nice cohesive group that is well-paced with each other."

When thinking of adventure fitness activities for your clients who are perhaps older, newer to fitness or unsure of their ability, think of modified things you might do with other clients. Everyone needs balance work, flexibility, cardio and strength, and it's nice to incorporate some mind/body relaxation into it, too. Use curbs, benches, bands and balls, just as you would with your younger clients, but allow for modifications. Perhaps add in activities they used to love - ballroom dance steps, the twist, jitterbug, electric slide - whatever suits their interests and keeps them enjoying movement. It doesn't have to be all low-impact activities with light weights and chairs. Mix it up and help everyone to enjoy the great outdoors.

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