Outdoor training is one of the classic human traditions. Almost all of the workouts I do take place outdoors, whether it’s weight lifting at the outdoor gym, sprints on the beach, hiking, fat tire cycling on the beach, paddle in the ocean, pickle ball on the field or Ultimate on the grass. Being outside in the sun while you train and play means better results, more vitamin D, a bigger pump (from nitric oxide production from said sunlight), a stronger connection to the earth through barefoot groundingexhibition at all benefits of nature, and it’s just nicer. However, you can’t always train outside. Sometimes you have to bring the outside inside. Sometimes you need indoor exercises.
What are the best indoor exercises?
Ruck uphill on treadmill
One of the best overall exercises for building strength, endurance, and “power” is the uphill ruck. You put on a heavy pack (or weighted vest) and walk into the hills. It’s gentle on the joints, tough on the muscles and incredibly demanding on your cardiovascular system without forcing you to go fast. Climb rucking is a great way for anyone whose joints won’t allow them to run or who just don’t like to run to still do great aerobic work. But there are no hills inside.
A good indoor replacement is to use the treadmill on maximum incline. You pump the incline up to 15, strap on your backpack and off you go. Pick a manageable but challenging speed. It’s arguably better in some ways than real hills because you’re able to consistently climb and eliminate flat portions. I’m not a big fan of rucking on flat ground – it doesn’t seem very useful to me.
The only thing he can’t replicate is the downhill portion, a vital part of the ruck session as the eccentric loading of the knee helps strengthen the connective tissue and trains the muscle to “drop” the weight. After the treadmill ruck with some high rep VMO squats while carrying the bag or carrying weights is a decent approximation.
You know the chorus. Hill sprints are without exception the best sprints of the moment. They are harder, because you are fighting gravity even more. They are easier on the joints because your feet don’t “drop” as far. They are more effective than flat sprints, so you don’t need to spend as much time doing them.
Flat sprints on a treadmill have always displeased me. For one, ambulation on a flat treadmill is not the same as ambulation on flat ground. A 2013 study found major differences between treadmill acceleration and floor acceleration. Runners on the ground accelerate and change their biomechanics to accommodate the acceleration, increasing hip joint power and reducing knee joint power. On the treadmill, the ground accelerates instead and the runner retains the same “kinesiological mechanics”.
By increasing the incline, you can almost recreate the effect of running on real terrain. According to one study, a 1% incline is enough to make treadmill running very similar to floor running.
Most bears crawl on grass or in sand.
You can just as well handle crawling around the house or the gym. In fact, every time I think about it, I spend 5-10 minutes crawling around my house. Upstairs, downstairs, in the kitchen, the bathroom. It’s a fun way to get around, it’s great for shoulder mobility, and it’s actually a great way to warm up before an upper body day. Try to keep your torso relatively flat, parallel to the floor, and do most of your movement through the shoulder girdle.
To make it a real workout, you can crawl 10 steps, do 10 push-ups, crawl 10 steps, do 10 close-grip push-ups, and repeat endlessly. An easy way to blast your upper body.
Balancing while walking on narrow surfaces is a fun way to train and challenge your balance and vestibular system, and it usually happens outdoors in nature. Logs crossing streams, fallen trees protruding from a ravine with a 50 foot drop below, slippery backs of park benches, root systems exposed enough to cross,
While not as exciting as balancing on real surfaces outdoors, long pieces of wood are relatively inexpensive balance beams that work great indoors. Simply lay the pieces directly on the floor in the desired configurations. It’s also safer, since you don’t fall more than an inch or two if you mess up.
- 2×4 if you are not very comfortable on the beam
- 2×3 if you are
- 1×2 if you really want to learn how to balance
You can also use them for crawling – bear crawling along a 2×4 is great exercise and surprisingly challenging.
Jump off “rocks”
Although I don’t do it so much anymore – the risk/reward ratio is too high for me and a fall would be dangerous – I enjoyed leaping from rock to rock in the many streams and rivers during my childhood in Maine. It’s a mix of explosive strength (you have to jump far and high), balance (you land and take off on often loose or tight rocks), precision (you have to aim for a specific spot in the world and land there) , and text navigation (it can be slippery or wobbly or rough or slick or mossy). It also takes a bit of daring. And it’s fun.
To do this indoors, you can place weights, benches, boxes, and Bosu balls all over the floor and jump from place to place. Using a mix is preferable, as it provides different heights and stabilities. If you use weights, Olympic weights work best. In a pinch, furniture can also work. Even a blanket or pillow on the floor can be a “jumping rock” (just be careful if it’s on hardwood). The important thing is to have a target aim.
Again, kettlebell workouts are best outdoors, but they also work well indoors. For what?
Kettlebells are compact. They take up almost no space and the actual movement pattern of a kettlebell workout is also quite limited. If you really wanted to, you could get a good KB workout in a big closet. Kettlebells are versatile. With just one kettle bell, you can work all major muscle groups. You can get a full body workout in about ten minutes.
Here is an example of a kettlebell complex:
- 10 goblet squats (legs, glutes, chest)
- 10 rows bent over, each arm (biceps, back)
- 10 swings (hamstrings, glutes, lower back)
- 10 aerial presses, each arm (shoulders, triceps)
- Repeat 5 times.
You’ll be done in 10-15 minutes. You will breathe hard. You go feel as if you had a good workout, and you will have got a good workout.
It’s great for training outdoors, but you can’t always get it to work. These indoor exercises are the next best thing to being outside in the sun.