Maybe it’s because the gym is where I work, and who likes hanging out at the office after hours? Or it could be that I’m an exhibitionist at heart and I secretly get my kicks from being on display. Whatever the reason, I mostly can’t stand working out indoors.
Of course, there are some obvious advantages to lifting with a roof over your head, especially here in Canada where the snow can fall right into May. I’m no Viking warrior. When it’s winter, I seek out warmth. But once that mercury settles into a double-digit groove, I train outside as much as possible.
Now here’s my shortlist of reasons why, even if you’re a member of the best gym in town, you should consider doing so too.
Back to basics
One of the biggest advantages to working out in a commercial gym can also be one of the biggest drawbacks. Those monthly dues give you access to an expansive arsenal of equipment, so much equipment that it can be tough to know what to do or where to start. Even if we narrow things down to free weights and machines, there are still a lot of choices to be made – cable and pulley machines or plate-loaded; dumbbells or barbells; medicine balls or kettlebells? And how about all those specialty barbells and training tools that once could only be found in hardcore gyms but are now as common as a Bosu Ball?
Unless you’re working out at Muscle Beach in Venice, Calif., when you train outside your options are instantly limited. Equipment choices must be narrowed to whatever you can lug in a backpack, wagon or car. This is actually a good thing, for even if you up the ante by making use of a calisthenics park, you’re still forced to focus on the basic exercises and movement patterns that professionals know deliver results. Another advantage: You never have to wait for a rack or bench to become free, so training sessions become more efficient.
A social outlet for introverts
It’s taken my entire adult life to date for me to realize that I’m an introvert. Like a lot of people, I had it in my head that introverts are shy, quiet and reserved – three words no one would ever use to describe me. Then I was taught a different meaning of the word, how an introvert can be someone who enjoys socializing but feels drained by group settings rather than energized. Learning that distinction has changed my life in a profound manner.
When I work out, I almost always do it alone. I don’t like training partners, don’t like group classes, don’t like making small talk in between sets. My training time is for me and me only. But because human nature is nothing if not a quirky mess of contradictions, I hate training in isolation. I’ll let you guess what the solution to this conundrum is.
Training solo outside is like going to the movies or a concert alone. It allows us introverts to scratch our socializing itch without having to engage with others in a demanding manner, something I like to call “being alone with everyone.” Sure, people often stop and comment on what I’m doing when I’m practising handstands in the park, but those conversations don’t last long. Chances are that person is also seeking the same sort of sun-soaked solitude. Kindred spirits tend to recognize one another. Quick connections like that are essential for my mental health, and they don’t happen if I’m grinding away in my basement.
Engage the senses!
I once read about a medical phenomenon of sorts that afflicts prisoners. It seems that spending years and years within the confines of an indoor space that offers no sense of distance is terrible for your eyes. In fact, myopia (a.k.a. nearsightedness) is one of the main medical conditions that occurs within prison; there is also accumulating evidence to suggest the lockdowns brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic have had a similar impact on the eyes of both children and adults.
It may be a stretch to equate gyms to jails, but I couldn’t help but connect the two. When I train outside my senses shift into overdrive. The chirping songbirds provide a soothing soundtrack, the shifting shapes of the clouds in the sky stimulate my eyes and draw my gaze toward the horizon, offering an inspiring sight that doesn’t distract from the task at hand like a smartphone does. And then there’s all that fresh air to fill my thirsty lungs.
Now contrast that with the sensory experience served up by your typical gym. Call me crazy, but that heady blend of Lycra, chemical cleaners and body odour just doesn’t compare.
Paul Landini is a personal trainer and health educator in Kitchener, Ont.