IN A POST-QUARANTINE WORLD,
NATURE IS THE NEW GYM!
During lockdown, gym rats discovered hiking as exercise. Now they say they’re never going back.
“I’ve always loved being out in nature but I didn’t realize how little I was making an effort to visit amazing outdoor spots. My perspective has changed. Since coming out of lockdown, I have visited mountain peaks, wild swimming locations, and walked 25 miles in less than 12 hours at three mountain peaks. This is now my main form of exercise.” ~Katy Jane Woodroffe
Walter Meyer was a regular gym-goer for more than 40 years. Prior to the pandemic, the 58-year-old San Diego resident never missed a workout. In fact, he had a faithful regimen: 30 minutes of cardio; 60 minutes of weights; and a 20-minute cool-down stretch.
Yet when COVID hit, the fitness fanatic was forced to stop his gym workouts. Confined to the house, he tried things like push-ups and resistance bands but it wasn’t quite the same. Desperate for exercise, Meyer began exploring nearby hiking trails.
As he frequented them more and more, a funny thing happened: He discovered he loved it. Not only that, it was a better form of exercise than he’d imagined.
“(My hiking partner and I) keep up a fast enough pace to sweat a lot,” he said. “It’s a better workout than I got in the gym.”
Jim Regnier, 76, crosses a log as he hikes through the Pecos Wilderness area in New Mexico.Meyer isn’t the only gym rat who’s taken his fitness routine outside since COVID struck. Across the pond, Katy Jane Woodroffe, a 32-year-old dive instructor from Britain, said she used to hit her local gym five days a week. She’d combine heavy compound lifting with tabata and gym classes. However, once lockdown went into effect, she found it difficult to stay disciplined.
“I struggled to maintain consistency from home,” the Birmingham resident said. “It’s important for me as a scuba diver to keep a good level of fitness. I tried bodyweight sessions from home but ultimately, I started getting out in nature and walking.”
Similarly to Meyer, she found that she liked hiking more than she ever would have thought. Soon, what began as simple strolls in nature became a broader passion for the outdoors.
“I’ve always loved being out in nature but I didn’t realize how little I was making an effort to visit amazing outdoor spots,” she said. “My perspective has changed. Since coming out of lockdown, I have visited mountain peaks, wild swimming locations, and walked 25 miles in less than 12 hours at three mountain peaks.”
“This is now my main form of exercise. Although I revisit the gym from time to time, it’s no longer the same with the stringent measures and face masks.”
The gym no longer holds the same appeal, she said, with such strict social distancing measures in place. Working out in masks is no fun and there are long waits for the machines. Instead of returning to the gym, Woodroffe has developed a four-point workout plan for the coming year that integrates hiking, running, scuba diving, and cold-water swimming.
“The lockdown really altered my mindset and I now think of the gym in a different capacity,” she said. “Why stay in a building to exercise?”
“Not having a gym to go to has made me remember there are other ways to get a workout that don’t involve being cooped up inside,” he said.
Jamie Hickey, a personal trainer and owner of Truism Fitness, said there are tons of health benefits to hiking. First of all, the combination of altitude and cardiovascular activity increases your lung capacity, which, over time, makes it easier for you to perform physical activities without falling short of breath.
It also lowers your blood pressure and cholesterol levels, ultimately reducing your risk of heart disease and diabetes. Hiking downhill, he explained, is actually effective at decreasing blood sugars and increasing your tolerance for glucose. Hiking also strengthens your heart, he added.
“Hiking is a great aerobic activity and when done at a moderate or high intensity, it will make your heart stronger, allowing it to increase its blood flow (and) oxygen output,” he said. “It will also decrease the chance of heart disease, making you experience overall healthy benefits to your lifestyle.”“Not having a gym to go to has made me remember there are other ways to get a workout that don’t involve being cooped up inside.” ~Walter MeyerHiking is also a great weight-loss recipe, he said, noting that one hour of hiking can burn up to 500 calories, depending on the terrain and how much weight you carry.
“The increase in altitude also puts you into a state of oxygen deprivation, which has a direct effect on your metabolism,” he added.
Hickey said that when the lockdown began, he started taking his clients outside for workouts. After a bit of trial and error, he found that hiking was the most effective solution.
“When the gyms closed, I realized that a large part of my clients didn’t have any workout equipment at home so I started to try and figure out ways to safely work out with a group of people,” he said. “Hiking trails ended up being the best form of exercise due to the changes in elevation, footing, and types of ground. Not to mention the scenery made it fun and enjoyable.”
“The response from my clients during the last few months has been so positive that even after the gyms open back up we will still be making these outings twice a week,” he said. “Nature provides mental and physical benefits that you can never replicate inside a gym. I have noticed that I don’t need to motivate people nearly as much when we’re outdoors hiking as when we’re in the gym.”
Woodroffe said she’s experienced similar benefits.
“It’s certainly hard work,” she said. “(But) the great thing about hiking is that you set the difficulty beforehand. I sometimes go to easy spots that simply burn calories and make for a beautiful day. Other times I walk 18 to 25 miles up three mountain peaks.
“I sweat and my heart races during the harder hikes—it’s no easy feat.”
However, she has noticed tangible benefits.
“My resting heart rate has improved since regularly hiking and I still do some high-intensity exercises,” she said. “I’ve noticed that walking has helped me maintain a great level of fitness. Plus, it’s more of a steady-state cardio, allowing you to really push on, in everything you do.”“Nature provides mental and physical benefits that you can never replicate inside a gym. I have noticed that I don’t need to motivate people nearly as much when we’re outdoors hiking as when we’re in the gym.” ~Jamie HickeyHickey said that if you’re really intent on getting a good workout during your hikes, there are things you can do to make it tougher. First of all, hike on uneven terrain. (Just be sure to have a good pair of hiking shoes.) This can increase the amount of energy your body uses by 28 percent compared to walking on flat ground, he explained. Another strategy is to add weight, either via a heavy backpack or a weighted vest, Hickey said. The latter can increase your heart rate from 3 to 5 percent, making an already efficient cardiovascular workout even more effective. It’s so effective, in fact, that there’s a whole fitness movement rooted in it called “rucking.”
In addition to all of the physical health benefits, both Meyer and Woodroffe pointed to a number of intangible perks.
“Hiking allows me to keep my sanity,” Woodroffe said. “I can rationalize my thoughts and day-to-day stresses. I also love the fresh air, smell of the greenery, and the sound of the wind through the trees. Many of my hikes are in locations with beautiful views too. There’s nothing more rewarding than seeing all of your hard work at the top of a mountain.”
Meyer said that there are also benefits you don’t get in a gym.
“Constantly having to plan which machine or weights to do around the other people working out, it is hard to turn my brain off,” he said. “There was a zen to (outdoor workouts) that I never found in the gym. Just letting my mind turn off and stop thinking too much. In addition to the improvement in heart rate and lung capacity. I can now storm right up hills that used to make me pause and wheeze.“I am too hyper to be good at meditation or tai chi or yoga so hiking lets my body be active while my brain sort of checks out and relaxes. I never take my pulse but I am sure my resting heart rate has improved not only from the exercise, but from letting myself relax.” ~Walt Meyer“Hiking makes me feel complete,” Woodroffe said. “I live in a city center, thus not being able to connect with nature as much as I’d like to. It gives me a liberating feeling to start with and emotions change throughout just one hike, really showing you what a journey it is. By the end, there’s a huge sense of accomplishment and you sleep well that night. Hiking to the top of a mountain allows you to sit and enjoy your hard work with a view.”Ready to get out there and sweat? Here’s a complete 5-minute guide to getting started:
- Grab your hiking workout (screenshot the exercise plan above)
- Buy hiking shoes (trust us, you’re gonna need something with good tread)
- Select a trail (try to find one with some elevation gain)
- Pick a date (give yourself ample time to complete your hike)
- Go hiking!