Going to the gym is the gold standard for getting in shape, but there are countless exercises and workouts that can be performed outside of it. From childhood favorites like jumping rope to a new spin on talking a walk by adding in lunges, you can amp up your fitness with minimal or no equipment, and at no cost.
It can be difficult to figure out what to do on your own without the structure of a class or a gym. Not to fear, though—we tapped trainers for some of their favorite gym-free workout activities. Some are likely familiar, and others you may not have considered before. Read on for 11 different exercises that can be done in the great outdoors for fresh air and scenery—or in the privacy of your own home for those who prefer to keep their workouts more intimate.
Meet the Expert
- Maeve McCaffrey is a teacher for the Yoga Wake Up app and a movement professional based in Los Angeles. She has education and certifications through YogaWorks, ACSM, NASM, MAT, TRX, and others.
- Angela Leigh is a teacher for the Yoga Wake Up app and a fitness mentor and lifestyle coach based in Los Angeles. She is an ACE- and AFAA-accredited personal trainer with fitness certifications including TRX, Kettlebell Concepts, ViPR, Animal Flow, Indo-Row, and Schwinn Cycling.
This childhood activity is excellent exercise for adults. McCaffrey says "you’ll work your legs, core, shoulders, and arms" while jumping rope, and notes that it's not for the faint of heart due to the intensity.
She recommends practicing the motion without a rope first, to get you comfortable, before moving on to using it. For proper form, McCaffrey instructs us to "bend your arms and keep the elbows in toward your sides, hands out to the side, swing the wrists/forearms around...and jump as the hands come toward the floor." Once you've moved on to using a jump rope, work in timed intervals, such as one minute jumping and one minute rest.
Consider this a primitive form of using a stairmaster machine. McCaffrey says that "this modality is great because you can self regulate how fast and slow you go, depending on your cardiovascular shape, and it is really hard to cheat!" She notes that you "can do this in your own home, office, or apartment building," making it an accessible activity for most. You'll use your glutes, quads, abs, hamstrings, and calves in stair climbing. For safety, McCaffrey says to "be especially mindful going down the stairs and use the handrail to stay safe. On the way down, keep a soft bend in your knees and a slight shift of your hips back." Aim for 15 minutes of stair climbing, and try out these variations:
- Every other stair
- Every stair sideways
- Repeat second side
- Sideways every two stairs
- Every other stair, twisting toward the top leg
Though it might not sound exciting, Leigh says track runs can be more fun if you "get creative in the durations, and challenge yourself on when to push." One example of varying things up on a track is her recommendation to "walk 100m, jog 100m, sprint 100m, and walk another 100m," then repeat. In addition to improving your cardiovascular health, running will work your full lower body as well as your core. Aim for at least a half hour of combined walking and running to get the most out of it.
Monkey Bar Hang
You may think of this activity as only working your shoulders, but McCaffrey tells us that it's "also a really fantastic total body isometric" move. To hang from the monkey bars in a way that will feel more like exercise, she instructs us to "jump up to a high bar on a jungle gym, hands at least as wide as your shoulders. Draw your abdominals in and move your feet slightly forward, hollowing out your body. Squeeze your glutes and legs and pull against the bar with your hands to stabilize your shoulder girdle."
For duration, McCaffrey suggests starting with a five-second hold and having an end goal of being able to hang for stretches of 30 seconds at a time. Monkey bar hangs will exercise your lats, delts, forearms, abs, and obliques.
Hike the Hills
More than simple walking because of the incline, hiking is an exercise that also comes with free scenery. Leigh tells us she recommends "hiking your local hills and trails to explore your hometown, and anytime you travel, hiking is a fantastic way to experience the new town." She notes that hiking works your glutes, legs, and core. Her recommendation for doing it with proper form is to keep your torso upright on the incline and brace for the descent. Those movements work the whole body, while hiking at large is a lower-body workout.
How long you'll hike for depends strongly on the amount of incline you're dealing with. Aim for an hour of hiking activity to start.
Lateral Band Walk
A mini-band is an inexpensive and portable piece of workout equipment. As McCaffrey says, "This little fitness tool costs next to nothing and is super versatile, travels well, and stores easy."
To work your entire lower body and core with a simple walk, use a mini-band. McCaffrey instructs us to "place the mini loop band around your thighs, just above your knees. Sit into a squat with your hips moving back, chest lifting up. Keep this position and step one leg out to the side, your toes in line with your knees. Go for 2–4 steps in one direction and then reverse back to your starting place. To make this harder, sit deeper into your squat or move the band down to mid-shin or upper ankles." Do this walk, with rest periods, for at least several minutes.
All you need is a step or a ledge for this exercise with numerous benefits. McCaffrey says that "besides giving your cardiovascular system a wake up, this will help develop coordination, as well as leg and core strength with a focus on calves and ankles."
To do toe taps, McCaffrey instructs us to "tap one foot onto your target and then switch to the other foot, back and forth like that in repetition." She says you can start slow, then increase your speed as you build up confidence. She suggests variations on the move; for example, "you can move around your target, i.e., moving laterally up and down on a curb." Begin with 30-second intervals, then work up to a minute.
To get more out of your stretching and to turn it into more of a workout activity, you can use a wall for added leverage. The stretches that Leigh loves most with a wall are figure 4, wide leg straddle, butterfly, and legs up the wall. She says that "these four stretches down in succession are like dessert for your lower body." Leigh suggests you
"tack this sequence onto walking, hiking, stairs, and track laps to keep your body nimble and mobile for a quicker recovery." These stretches will work your lower half, with a focus on opening your hips. Each one should be held for at least a few seconds per side.
Walking With Walking Lunges
A simple walk is among the easiest exercise there is, and adding lunges to your walks will level up your fitness game. Leigh notes that "from the glutes to toes, you are revving your cardio and muscular systems in this mode of exercise," and McCaffrey says that adding lunges makes walking an exercise "that helps to develop both mobility and strength in the core and lower body."
Do walking lunges as part of your walk in intervals of 20 reps, with regular walking in between. To perform the lunges correctly, McCaffrey says to "start with feet hip-distance apart. Take a big step forward and bend both knees to 90 degrees. Push off of the back foot and pull from the front foot to rise up and switch the leg stepping forward."
Push-Ups in the Grass
Push-ups are nothing new, but doing them while breathing some fresh air may help make them a bit more fun. McCaffrey says they're a great choice of exercise to do near playground equipment and recommends that "if you struggle with push-ups, consider using a mid to low bar or platform on the jungle gym to elevate your body, hence making your body feel lighter."
For proper push-up form, she instructs us to "think of creating an 'A' shape in your arms rather than a 'T,' meaning have the elbows pointing back on an angle versus straight to the side in a 90-degree angle." You'll be working your pecs, delts, triceps, and abs. Aim for sets of 5–10, and work your way up from there.
Let an App Guide You
Can't figure out where to begin? McCaffrey says there's nothing wrong with that, because "sometimes you just want to be told what to do." Following an app's guidance will allow you to take your exercise to a place free from overthinking. McCaffrey notes that "you can find thousands of guided workouts and yoga and meditation practices online or app-based. with countless instructors for free or at a very affordable cost," and offers her own guided yoga and meditation audio practices, as well.
Whether you're hanging from the monkey bars or going for a hike in the hills, there's no gym needed for any of the activities discussed here. Try one or more of them today for a change in your fitness routine. You'll work your muscles, enhance your cardio fitness, and maybe even see something new in the world.