8 Ways to Motivate Yourself to Exercise Outside, According to Fitness Experts

published Apr 9, 2021
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Whether you’ve never liked exercising, or are feeling a particular amount of workout-from-home burnout after a year of closed gyms and fitness studios, you’re not alone. Even personal trainers and fitness pros are feeling the strain! And while sheltering in place and a dreary winter likely haven’t helped your desire to move around, spring is the perfect time to move your workout outdoors and get a healthy dose of movement and fresh air alike.   

If you dislike running on a treadmill or hate workout videos, exercising outdoors is a great way for your mind to decompress while you engage in physical activity. Research shows there are several benefits to exercising outdoors, including increased energy, a decrease in anxiety, and a greater likelihood to stay consistent with a fitness routine — sure, some of these payoffs are linked to exercise in general, but even a walk around the park can leave you feeling invigorated in a way that a home weights routine might not. 

“When you work out outside, there is a complete change in scenery. You see new people, animals, and elements, all of which are somewhat unpredictable and can be more exciting,” life coach and cognitive behavioral expert Melanie Shmois, MSSA, LISW-S, tells Apartment Therapy. On a long run or bike ride, different scenery can help distract you from the discomfort and boredom that you may inevitably experience and can make those miles fly by. “Looking at your treadmill screen is not an option outdoors,” she points out.

You’re likely also feeling extra motivation to exercise outside this year, since it is easier to adhere to social distancing guidelines when you’re out in the open. If you need extra convincing on the benefits of fitness in the outdoors, here are 10 ways to motivate yourself to exercise outside, according to fitness experts. 

Credit: Joe Lingeman

Find an outdoor exercise you actually like to do.

“My number one tip is to find something you like to do outside,” says Jeanette DePatie, an American Council on Exercise-certified fitness trainer and founder of EveryBODY Can Exercise. If you don’t love to run, then getting motivated to log miles outside will be tough. Instead, DePatie suggests thinking outside the box. Do you enjoy yoga, tai chi, paddleboarding, gardening, or another activity? It all counts as exercise. “Find an outdoor activity you truly love and you’ll be much more likely to do it,” she says.

Start small, and work from there.

“The best way to stay motivated is to set small, attainable goals in addition to big goals,” says Mercedes Owens, a senior instructor at Barry’s in Chicago. Maybe your big goal is to work your way up to running a 5K, but you’ve barely run before. “Small goals like running half a mile three times a week are attainable,” Owens says. Aim to complete the smaller goal on the way toward your bigger one, and you’ll realize you’re there sooner than you know it. 

Credit: Minette Hand

Pair exercise with something you enjoy doing.

One of the most effective ways to encourage healthy habits is to bundle it with something we enjoy doing,” says Whitney Kessler, a certified fitness expert and group instructor. That might mean meeting up with a friend in a park or backyard for your daily workout, taking a stroll through a neighborhood you enjoy, or rewarding yourself by grabbing your favorite coffee after you finish your workout. The goal is to make the whole session a pleasing experience. 

Build in accountability by finding a workout partner.

Some days motivation to exercise isn’t there. Nathan Lloyd, a licensed personal trainer and the owner of Expert Fitness LLC in Boulder, Colorado, says that teaming up with a friend for outdoor workouts “can help you gain that extra bit of commitment that will help you step out of your comfort zone when you really don’t feel like it.” 

“Working out alone can get boring for some because of all the monotony, but with a friend, it can become more fun,” he says. Not only can you look forward to new conversations as you sweat, but it might be more difficult to cancel on a pal if you’re just not feeling it. 

Use exercising outdoors as way to explore your own city.

Peloton instructor Chase Tucker suggests turning your outdoor workout into an adventure. Think of it as “an excuse to explore parts of your city that you’ve always wanted to check out,” he says. He recommends driving or taking a ride-share to a part of town you want to visit and walk, jog, or run around the area while sightseeing and being a tourist in your own city. 

Schedule your workouts.

“Write down your workouts in your calendar ahead of time, including the time you will be training, what you will be working on, and your goals,” says Michael Julom, an ACE-certified personal trainer and the founder of ThisIsWhyImFit.com. It’s a small but powerful way to hold yourself accountable and will help you visualize training and better regulate recovery time as you schedule off days. (Yes, recovery days are important — you can and should do nothing at all some days!)

Plan to vary your workouts as you schedule them. This could be taking a different route, pace, tempo or style of training, or a completely new activity. You might also want to dedicate certain days of the week for specific workouts, such as making Monday a run day, while Tuesday is a day you stretch out with a yoga session in the park.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

Challenge yourself to view park staples as exercise “equipment.”

There isn’t a fee to exercise outside, a commute, or a guilty feeling when you don’t make it to your workout class on time. “Exercising outside provides a perfect playground for beginners because you don’t need fancy equipment and you can even use benches and trees as part of your routine,” says Laura St. John, one of the founders of Strong Confident Living. For those who are only beginning to work out at home, going for a walk a few times a week is a great way to supplement your at-home routine in a gentle way.

“Every time you pass a bench, use it as a step up or try incline pushups,” St. John says. “You can weave in jumping jacks, squats, and burpees along your trail.” They add one other piece of advice: “Don’t worry about what anyone is thinking.” 

Look at outdoor exercise as a way to get mentally stronger, too.

“Getting outside is ALWAYS a good choice,” says Peloton instructor Jess Sims, adding that it’s important to mentally take a break from your job and personal life that mostly takes place indoors. “When you add a good sweat to the outdoors, it’s the ultimate.” She encourages people to take a bodyweight strength class outside, do a HIIT cardio workout, or go for a power walk or a light jog. “Just do something,” she says, even if the weather is less than ideal. “My old basketball coach used to say that working out in the rain builds character — so rain or shine, get that sweat.”