An Introduction to Outdoor Fitness

I remember distinctly the moment my approach to fitness was transformed. As both a former Alpine skier and competitive mountain biker, I had spent years of my life in a gym. Training and keeping fit was my job. Over time, I had been growing increasingly frustrated with training in the static indoor environment: those workout rooms full of stationary bikes and treadmills, weight machines and fluorescent lights. Working out day after day, I could feel my mind and body going numb in this dull, oxygen-deprived, monochromatic environment. It was also getting harder and harder to really test and challenge my body. My muscles had grown so used to repetitive exercises of the standard gym equipment, I had reached a plateau that was taking away from my performance.

Tina Vindum's Outdoor FitnessOne day, I found myself staring out the window in the middle of yet another boring indoor workout, gazing at the majestic Sierra Nevada Mountains, feeling stifled and frustrated. It was fall, training season for skiing. Leaves covered the ground, and the air was crisp and cold. Like a kid stuck in a classroom, I pined for the freedom that lay outside my window. That day, I rebelled. I threw on extra layers of clothes and I took my workout outside. Soon I was running slalom through the pine trees, learning to keep my balance on the uneven footing, and stopping from time to time to do strengthening and stretching exercises against the tree trunks and boulders. Using the diverse terrain of the Sierras, that day I created an alternative gym with a thousand possibilities, and an exciting new way to exercise and train my body. It was a thrilling experience to use the natural surroundings to guide my workouts, and to discover that I didn’t need a lot of equipment to achieve muscular strength, agility and power. I knew instantly that this was the workout I’d been longing for: an intuitive, brand-new way to exercise and improve my performance, a way to keep my training continually fresh and challenging, a way to feed my mind and spirit as well as work my body.

Outdoor Fitness was born that day. After spending some time training in the outdoors, I began to notice some unexpected changes: a noticeable increase in my mental focus and sharpness, a sense of emotional strength, and greater well-being that infused me with a post-workout calm and centeredness I had never quite achieved before. I was getting great physical results, and I was also getting a whole lot more. I began to experience happiness and joy – it was if every cell in my body was overflowing with a new life force. I had reconnected with that place inside of me that loved being outside and near nature – that place where I was a “kid” again – a place that since that time, I cannot live without.

Environmental Integration

Tina Vindum's Outdoor FitnessIf I had to put my finger on what the “it” is, I’d say it’s the experience of connecting to the natural world around you. This process of connecting mentally and physically to nature is what I call Environmental Integration. Awareness of your environment keeps you safe on the trail; it also promotes a feeling of “oneness” with the natural world around you. Nature becomes both a guide and a companion.

In Outdoor Fitness, you learn to adopt the laws of nature to your workout and your mindset. You learn to “go with the flow.” You don’t conquer a mountain, battle a tricky path, or fight your way through tall grass. This approach puts you at odds with your environment, and leads to rigidity, tension and stress. Instead, you let go and relax. Like a bird in the wind or a fish in a stream, your body and mind flow freely with the forces of nature, the elements and terrain you encounter, gravity itself.

Environmental Integration and Sensory Awareness: The Core of Your Core

The practice of sensory awareness takes us to a place deep within ourselves. As you connect to everything that you see, hear, touch, smell, feel—even taste—you’ll go deeper and deeper into what I call the “core of your core.” You are so integrated with the environment that you become part of it, and it becomes part of you. It’s a place where your senses become so heightened that it feels almost surreal. It’s a mental and emotional high. It’s a place of hyper-consciousness. It’s very primal. And it’s very wonderful. When you get to the core of your core, you discover it’s a place where you feel deeply alive, deeply grateful and deeply connected to the world around you, and to your inner self.

Daily Practice: Environmental Integration

Just like good balance and agility, enhanced sensory awareness is an acquired skill. Use your warm up as an opportunity to connect with your surroundings and activate your senses:

  • Tune into your surroundings
  • Feel the terrain underfoot
  • Relax and feel the pull of gravity
  • Notice the colors and textures
  • Take in the sounds around you
  • Feel the breeze brush your skin
  • Smell the aroma in the air
  • Trust and listen to your internal voice
  • Close your eyes during an exercise: this helps enhance your other senses

OUTDOOR FITNESS: 10 BASE MOVES »

16 Comments
Mary DeLaney

September 22, 2010 at 10:03 am

Tina, I agree with you 100%! I cannot understand folks grinding away on the treadmills and stationary bikes when the outdoors is so magnificent and inspiring! It feeds my soul and strengthens my body! I love your idea about the “core of your core!” You are spot-on! Thanks so much for your contribution. Mary

Alissa

September 23, 2010 at 6:12 am

“You are so integrated with the environment that you become part of it, and it becomes part of you. It’s a place where your senses become so heightened that it feels almost surreal. It’s a mental and emotional high. It’s a place of hyper-consciousness. It’s very primal. And it’s very wonderful.”

LOVE that! So well articulated. There is nothing like the high you get from a great workout experience outside. Connecting to yourself and the world around you. Its a beautiful experience and makes you feel beautiful as well :))

Honey

September 26, 2010 at 11:47 am

I love the majestic outdoors, but not when it’s freezing wet and slushy like it is about 4 months out of the year here.

pamela

September 26, 2010 at 1:32 pm

What an excellent inspiring article. I am part of a gigantic outdoor free qiqong,tai chi, interval training, acupressure,yoga training group. Environmental integration if literally food for the blood. We do this seven days a week. So I am so inline with your joy. Keep inspiring the masses.

BEST
pam

Michelle Sommers

September 26, 2010 at 2:03 pm

I have become an outdoor workout junkie – cannot stand the thought of venturing into the gym again. Running on the beach every morning helps me physically, emotionally & spiritually become a better person. Even in the winter, I feel better getting outdoors every day.

Gina

September 26, 2010 at 2:16 pm

Love this article. It’s so well written and really gets to the heart of what I love about being outdoors. I will run in any weather – rain, snow, ice, heat – and I really feel that it contributes to my whole mind-body wellness in a way that running on a treadmill in a gym could never do. But now I’m also looking forward to adding some outdoor strength training to my workouts. Thanks for the contribution!

Patti roberts

September 27, 2010 at 3:45 am

Very inspiring

Tara Riley

September 27, 2010 at 4:25 am

Well said Tina. I’m a big fan of outdoor workouts, I think they keep me in balance and flexible both spiritually and physically. I save the gym for the coldest icy snowy days of Chicago winters. Even then I run outside if road conditions permit. In this way the gym becomes a novelty a sort of indoor playground. Good luck with your book

Sandra Kearney

September 27, 2010 at 5:26 pm

It is why I do what I do and love it every single day. Running a fitness program for women outdoors, on one of the most lovely beaches in the world is my idea of a perfect job. There hasn’t been one class, cold or not, when the comments aren’t about how spectacular it is as well as the great workout to be had on the sand, using logs, cliffs, trees, stairs, beach volleyball poles and whatever other elements are available. I’m with you – our tag line is “Let’s take it outside ladies!”
Congratulations on your book. Wishing you the best and thank you for spreading the word about outdoor fitness.

Jane

September 28, 2010 at 6:45 am

I recently moved to a small town along the Mississippi River. My closest gym is 30 miles away (where I work) and my closest indoor pool is 45 miles away. Along with this move, I bought a carbon fibre road bike and kayak. Because I am in a small town my opportunities for biking, hiking, kayaking, etc., in a safe environment, are endless! My mental health, physical shape and eating habits have never been better. Bring on the winter as I’m excited to XC ski in the frozen wooded backwaters.

Amy

September 29, 2010 at 8:28 pm

I’ve been teaching yoga since 2003 and just recently started drawing my students outside to experience the true mind body connection that yogis strive for. The landscape of my nature studio (the outdoors of Madeline Island on Lake Superior) inspires every studet to breathe deeper and truly be present. I am so excited to get your book and incorporate some of its philosophy into my yoga teaching!

Patrick

October 20, 2010 at 6:51 am

Shop here all the time for my wife. There is magic in being outside. Rowing early, the river is like glass, the birds are just waking up. When it’s light in the summer, turtles sun themselves on rocks. There is no substitute for this. Even in winter, only severe cold or a frozen river slows us down. Then, it’s time to ski and play hockey. 🙂 The gym is just for weights or severe weather.

Good luck with your book.

kim

October 25, 2010 at 12:55 pm

I could just imagine the Outstanding Feeling this must bring. Unfortunately I am stuck in Upstate NY were it snows 8 mos. out of a yr. I do work out in a gym, but I have to agree it is tough…esp. the Treadmill part. I am a Army veteran…I use music, esp. military tunes to get me through my workout. And surprisingly it WORKS! When weather retunrs to a better state here, I will try the Great Outdoors!

Serenity

October 26, 2010 at 9:32 am

Have you ever read the book Explorers of the Infinite? I love how they talk in there of the time in the outdoors, in the wilderness as ‘wild time.’ The mind goes to a different, more true place, away from the constructs of the urban world.

Yay WILD TIME!

Serenity

October 26, 2010 at 9:33 am

Forgot to say that your bullet-points of ‘Environmental Integration’ are absolutely amazing. So dead on, I live in the U.P. of Michigan, and my daughters age 5 and 4 asked me one time why I like to run. I said because I love the outdoors. That’s it, that’s enough, that’s everything.

grace n la sala

October 29, 2010 at 5:10 am

totally Agree, finally I am hearing from other women who think like I do! Being a South Florida resident for over 40 yrs-those mundane gyms (germs included) I could never get into!

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