Your backyard is where you relax, but why not make it where you exercise, too? Getting some fresh air and sun while working your muscles is easy, fun and free. Just check your ego at the treadmill – your pliés and planks may look silly to the neighbours, but your abs (and tan) will be worth the gaping.
Your backyard is a great place to do more extensive exercise because it offers more space than inside your house, says Nathan Mellalieu, owner of Vancouver's Studeo55 health club. For that reason, he suggests shuttle runs, which are "a fantastic form of interval training." Stand at one end of your backyard and run to its midpoint. Then run back to the start. Then run the full length of the yard, and back to the start again. Repeat that sequence five times in a row, and then let yourself rest for the same amount of time (approximately one minute). Repeat this whole exercise five times, equalling an intense 10-minute workout. It's a short, simple way to increase metabolism.
Ballet pliés work your inner thighs, glutes and quads, says Rachel Ball, an instructor at Toronto's Barreworks. Face a patio chair sideways and put one hand on the back of it. Turn your feet out to a 45-degree angle and spread them shoulder-width apart. Then bend your knees for a deep lunge. Stretch and repeat 20 times, and do the same on the other side. "The most important thing is to make sure your knees are over your toes and your shoulders are staying in line with your hips," says Ball. To really challenge yourself, hold a weighted ball (a can of peas or filled water bottle will do) in your free hand and do bicep curls as you bend up and down.
Face a patio chair sideways – dig its legs into the grass so that it really stays put – and lean one hand on the edge of the seat. Putting your weight into your hand, extend your legs so that they're stacked atop each other. Put your free hand up into the air, keeping your hips up so your body is in a straight diagonal line. For more of a challenge, Richmond, B.C.'s Pur Movement director Stephanie Sy says to lift your top leg in sequences of 15. "This will work your abdominal and oblique muscles tremendously," she says, adding that doing this in bare feet on the grass allows for earthing (being grounded in the earth to recharge the body). Don't forget to flip over and do the other side.
If you've got some low and sturdy trees in your backyard, use them as a jungle gym. Mike Pellegrini, owner of Montreal's Train With Mike, says making use of the branches lets you work arm muscles in ways you wouldn't be able to without a gym facility or expensive equipment most of us don't have at home. Go hand-over-hand, swinging across the branches (or even just along one); when you reach the end, go backwards. Repeat 10 times. Once that becomes less difficult, try adding a chin-up at the end of each circuit. "This will build vertical pulling strength and overall upper-body strength," Pellegrini says.
To sculpt and tone your arms, Lydia Di Francesco, a certified personal trainer with Executive Fitness Leaders in Ottawa, suggests tricep dips. Sit down on a stable picnic bench, facing outwards. Place your hands beside your body and put your feet out in front of you (the further away your feet are, the harder it will be). Slide your butt off the bench and keep your arms straight; be sure to keep your back close to the bench. Then bend your elbows to lower your upper body down toward the ground. Stop once your arms are at about a 90-degree angle. Once you reach the bottom of the movement, press off with your hands while keeping your elbows close to your body and push yourself straight back up to the starting position. Instead of clenching your jaw or fists when the going gets tough, you can dig your toes into the grass. Repeat for three sets of 10.