I have been a gym rat for most of my adult life. Outside of my time in the Marines most of my training took place inside concrete walls on rubber floor pads. I lined up with all the other fitness disciples to take my place on the treadmills and elliptical while watching movies and trying in vain to deny I hated what I was doing and just wanted it to be over. I went through my routine of bench presses, and turns on the squat rack every other day week after week. That’s all over now! I have been liberated, set free, unchained from the monotony and it is glorious.
A few weeks back I decided to start taking my running sessions outdoors. Admittedly it was to avoid the germ bunker that is my apartment’s tiny gym more than anything else. Walking in there each morning has become a sort of mixed bag of guess the bodily fluid dripped all over the equipment. The Janitor that cleans the office and clubhouse has no interest in entering this den of disgust and I can’t blame him added to the fact that few people using it know how to be courteous to those that follow and you get a Petri-dish of filth.
I still use the treadmill from time to time to measure my progress on runs and if it’s pouring rain. Beyond that I have taken to driving ten minutes down the road to a local state park. There are miles of trails there to explore and I find the scenery and terrain make runs go by much quicker. I am also able to stretch my stride out and take advantage of the more efficient gate this promotes and quicker speed I achieve with less effort. The trail I use most often is eight miles long and its mix of terrain and hills keeps my mind engaged and focused. At first it was a little awkward and I had to be careful to watch my footing and not twist my ankle. As my strength and flexibility in my legs and feet improve though I am noticing that my feet are starting to take care of themselves and adjust to changing conditions.
I am a fan of obstacle racing. This sport obviously takes place outside and there just is no good indoor substitute to prepare you for the rigors of the course. You must get used to running and training outside if you hope to survive. Also it is advisable to be clever an inventive with your training, and become comfortable with being uncomfortable so to speak. My weight and strength training are still done primarily inside from the comfort of my converted living room but I will be moving these outside too. My girlfriend and I have procured some logs, sandbags, and buckets to use as resistance in our exercises. These are unstable weight substitutes and challenge your core and supporting muscles more than even traditional free weights can.
We will still use the equipment we have inside a few days a week to work on strength and stamina. It’s just not practical to haul your plates, bar, and dumbbells around with you though. Likewise I also understand that for many people, outdoor training may not seem practical. I live in a suburb of Nashville, TN. There are no sidewalks and the people drive like crazed lunatics at the best of times. While I hate having to drive to the park and the gas it consumes, that is the safest place for me to run and train. Fortunately for me I also work from home so I can run during the morning. I know many people work away from the house all day and running in the dark may not be the best decision. In many circumstances the gym is the only alternative.
I encourage anyone who is able; to take your running and training outdoors. Even in cold temperatures, proper clothing and common sense can make it enjoyable and safe. If you’re going to run at night wear reflective clothing and even a headlamp if you can. Run against traffic and stay alert. Drivers are more distracted on the road than ever before and you must be prepared for evasive maneuvers. I understand the realities of modern life and if you must run in a gym continue to do so. The health benefits of exercise indoors or not are undeniable. But take some time on the weekends or your off days to find a park or trail near you to explore. The clean air and scenery will do you mind and body good. The uneven terrain will build up and strengthen the many neglected muscles of your feet and lower legs, and who knows, you may just grow to love it.