Author: Julie Kailus
Just because summer is here and you’re itching to get outdoors doesn’t mean you have to forgo your favorite gym-based body-sculpting exercises. It’s time to take them outside with a fresh approach to outdoor exercise in your very own backyard fitness bootcamp.
A functional (and free) circuit training bootcamp session a few times a week will trigger those short-twitch muscles that lead to big fitness gains while giving your body the support it needs to pursue your favorite recreational summer sports.
“Bootcamps provide a fun and creative way to get a person fit enough to then enjoy their recreational activity of choice,” says Samantha Watts, who runs bootcamp classes through her Boulder-based V3 Outdoor Fitness.
Outdoor bootcamps provide plenty of fresh air, exercise variety and, above all, a technique to challenge your body in new ways, explains ACE-certified personal trainer Karen Hopley. “You also get a total-body workout with cardio, strength, and interval training components that can yield high-caloric burn during and after the workout.”
With a few basic pieces of fitness gear and a refresher on some simple “old school” drills (think jumping jacks and winds sprints), you can start solo in your backyard or enhance a bootcamp by incorporating friendly motivation (or friendly competition) and elements around the neighborhood, such as hills and trees, park benches and jungle gyms.
“In bootcamp,” says Hopley, “you are working your cardiovascular system as well as building muscle through weight-bearing and other types of strength training, incorporating core work in almost every exercise, developing your speed and agility, and exercising in new ways to keep your body guessing … and changing.”
When designing an outdoor fitness bootcamp, think about cardio, upper-body, core, lower-body and total-body exercises, Hopley says. “Incorporate different exercises to hit these five areas, starting with large muscle groups first and always allowing muscle groups to recover while working other muscle groups. If you plan to fit in three or more bootcamps a week, you can split up workouts by muscle groups, advises Watts.
Either way, a balance of exercises is important. “You are always moving in bootcamp, but the key is to plan for lower-intensity recovery exercises in between the higher intensity efforts like running drills, burpees, jumping, hill running, etcetera,” says Hopley.
A sample bootcamp session could include a 5- to 10-minute warm-up of brisk walking, jogging, high knees, butt-kicks, side shuffles, jumping jacks, squats or easy push-ups, followed by 30 to 45 minutes of exercises using body resistance and props like a balance pod, toning ball and resistance bands.
Hopley suggests creating one-minute bootcamp “stations” with a 30-second recovery time between each one. To make sure you’re on track, use a heart rate monitor or the 1-10 Rate of Perceived Exertion Scale (RPE), she says. With 1 being at rest and 10 being an extremely intense effort, shoot for a 7-9 during higher intensity cardio exercises and a 5-6 for strength exercises.
Some bootcamp-style interval exercises include:
Balance pod zig-zag touch: Using balance pods in a zig-zag formation, run and touch each one until complete. Repeat.
Bench triceps dips and push-ups: On any sturdy bench or step, perform triceps dips. Then work the chest and tricep muscles with bench (or ground) push-ups.
Step-ups: Using a low bench or step, alternate legs during step-ups. Get those arms involved to increase your heart rate. Or even carry a gallon jug filled with water.
Band biceps curls: With a resistance band under both feet, perform biceps curls. Feel free to alternate arms if you get fatigued during the minute.
Wall sit: Place a yoga block between your knees and sit against a wall. With your thighs (quadriceps) about parallel to the ground, squeeze the block to ensure your knees stay close together and remain in an isometric hold for a minute.
Squats on balance pods: For an extra stabilizing and balancing challenge, perform regular squats with one balance pod under each foot.
Upright row: Work your shoulders using resistance bands under both feet. Holding both handles, palms facing your body, lead with elbows, bring arms up, skim the front of your body until you are at chest height, hesitate, and return to start.
“For any particular exercise, you can use a set repetition range, set time frame, different intensity level you’re trying to hit, and different levels of recovery between exercises — and the equipment options are endless,” says Watts.
Finish with a 10-minute stretch cool-down. Also, don’t forget to hydrate as needed (carry a water bottle with you) and wear sunscreen and hat to reduce sun and heat exposure.
Friends can also add to an outdoor bootcamp’s fun and variety factor. “For most people, having another person to work out with or be accountable to is a huge motivation,” says Watts.
You can incorporate “partner” exercises or perform individual exercises side by side while pushing and motivating each other. Try facing each other, about 6 to 8 feet apart, and doing a chest pass, overhead pass, under-the-leg pass and one-legged pass with a medicine ball. Hopley suggests asking friends to bring along a “found” tool to incorporate into the workout. “A garden hose can be used as a ‘pull’ station, empty milk jugs can be filled up with water to carry and hula-hoops can be used as a jump station,” she says.