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Fall into fitness

By John Kernaghan
Health, Fitness Slideshow
October 13, 2015 - 0 comments

After almost 50 years of working out in gyms, I needed a break. More specifically, I needed to take it outside.

And after a summer of open-air workouts, in which I combined my personal training certification with an experiment in outdoor training, I plan to go as deeply into the fall as possible before returning to the sometimes stifling atmosphere of the gym.

The beauty of the outdoor workout is in part the setting, which can be as close as your backyard or local park, and that it can be as simple or as sophisticated as you want. What's more, there's no waiting for equipment or noisy bodybuilders.

And the autumn provides almost perfect conditions for exercising out of doors. The air is cooler and crisper than summer and as we get further into fall, there is the backdrop of seasonal colours exciting the senses. 

No matter the season, it's always wise to check with your doctor before beginning a workout program, particularly if you have not exercised in some time or are just taking it up. Learn your limitations and work around them.

A good starter program would be a brisk 10-minute walk or bike ride from home to a local park, followed by a series of modest body weight exercises and then a circuitous route home for 25 minutes of cardio within your target zone and then some stretching and yoga back home.

You can use playground equipment or park and picnic benches as the platform for exercises like a standing push up or a triceps dip. They can also serve as security for squats and lunges until you're confident with your balance.

Speaking of that, balance and agility tend to be the elements many programs either ignore or devote little time to. A simple balance drill would be to stand a couple of feet from the top or the seat of a bench and setting up balanced on one leg, bend forward to touch the bench with your hand, then standing erect again. You can cheat a bit at first by taking some body weight on the toes of the other foot. Three times 10 of these on each leg can improve your equilibrium. 

For agility, if you have a clear grassy area or path to work with and no knee or hip problems, a few minutes of light jogging mingled with sideways skipping and diagonal skipping, rotating for a minute each, can fire up your inner child as well as retrain your body.

For folks with more experience exercising, outdoor programs could include some light equipment like bands or tubing. These products are portable and offer plenty of resistance training options.

An important aspect of resistance exercises is the duration of each repetition. I find a 3-1,3-1 count provides a slow steady cadence that works muscles efficiently on both contraction and return with an isometric effect by holding tension for one count at the end of each half of the repetition.

You can increase the intensity of your outdoor workouts if you can find a set of stairs or hill to climb as part of your own circuit-training program. But remember to periodically check your pulse to make sure you are within your heart-rate target zone.

For advanced training, the suspension systems using strapping can provide a workout that comes closest to duplicating an intense gym workout.

The TRX systems are the best known. They’re a heavy-duty but portable piece of equipment that can fit in a knapsack or a bike carrier.

And what they offer, provided there is a solid place to anchor them and good footing to execute the exercise, is the highest load of any body weight workout.

You can set them up on a tree branch, a fence or a piece of children’s playground equipment and using the comfortable grips imitate many of the same things you would do on weight machines or with free weights in the gym.

There’s a bonus with them in that virtually everything you do with this equipment engages the core as you balance from the straps.

I’ve added a short intense workout with a suspension set to on-water cardio work in a kayak for a very rewarding outdoor workout.

I warm up with a ten-minute paddle to Bronte beach in Oakville, and then set up the equipment in a tree right by the water. It’s a pleasant way to exercise, cooled by a lake breeze and sometimes watched by curious ducks.

Then it’s back in the kayak for a half-hour of paddling interval training on Bronte Creek, brief bursts of intense work followed by steady state exercise and a languid cool down portion back to land.

Recently during that segment I was treated to a bit of nature’s magic thanks to three brushes with wildlife.

First, a pair of Great Blue Herons showed off their impressive five-foot wingspans as they launched in tandem near me. Next a kingfisher dove into the creek and emerged with a live takeout dinner, the fish wriggling for freedom as the bird soared overhead. And finally, a beaver popped up a couple of metres from the kayak and swam apace for a few minutes before slapping down its tail and disappearing below the surface.

You’re never going to experience anything like that in the gym.


John Kernaghan is a certified personal trainer who graduated from the Canfitpro program at the University of Toronto, Mississauga and runs the fitness company Fit For Anything. He’s available at His website is



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