Imagine hoofing it up a lush mountainside with an instructor and a dozen other hikers, stopping only to blast your leg muscles with a set of uphill lunges. This isn't an elaborate adventure retreat. It's part of a growing trend in fresh-air fitness classes and personal training sessions, which don't run any longer than a typical gym visit.
Thirty-six percent of gyms and 55 percent of personal trainers in the United States and Canada now hold activities and classes outside, according to a recent survey from IDEA Health & Fitness Association, a leading organization for fitness professionals.
It's no surprise that more exercisers are venturing outside. Alfresco exercise promotes playfulness and child-like enthusiasm, says Tina Vindum, author of Tina Vindum's Outdoor Fitness: Step Out of the Gym and Into the Best Shape of Your Life in 8 Weeks or Less.
You might even get a confidence boost. In addition to feeling good about getting in shape, people often experience a sense of accomplishment from toughing it out in less-than-ideal conditions like rain or cold weather, according to Danielle Danault, a fitness instructor and president of Cardio Plein Air/Outdoorfitness in Quebec.
Activities in your area depend on the local environment, but hiking is probably the most popular, says Vindum, who certifies fitness professionals to teach their own outdoor fitness sessions through her company Outdoor Action Fitness. Based in San Francisco, California, Vindum leads clients through cardio and strength circuits, hiking and biking up mountains, along beaches and through parks. North of the border, Danault's company offers outdoor cardio and toning, boot camps, Nordic walking and other classes in 54 parks around the province of Quebec.
Open-air exercise may help strengthen your eco-friendly mindset. "People are often more respectful of nature when they train outside," says Danault. "I see people picking up garbage on the path or taking care not to step on flowers. And they easily follow the park's rules. It makes them feel at one with nature," she says.
Beyond that, being out in the fresh air and natural light also give you a much-needed dose of vitamin D and breathes new life into an indoor gym workout, where questionable ventilation and harsh fluorescent bulbs dominate. The ever-changing scenery in the great outdoors staves off boredom, says Danault. And having to work your way through different types of terrain engages your brain and your body in a way that gym machines often can't.