Four top Chicago trainers weigh in on outdoor workouts
Sweet, sweet summertime.
Now that summer is officially here, there are plenty of things to do in Chicago during everyone’s favorite season. If you want to spend even more time taking in the fresh air and Vitamin D, move your workout routine outdoors.
It’s free, it’s easy and when it comes to choosing an activity, the options are endless.
We asked four of Chicago’s leading fitness experts about how they work out under the sun and how you can, too.
Clockwise from the top left: April Sutton, Certified Personal Trainer and Professional Stuntwoman, Sutton Strong; Jeremy Walton, Co-Director of Training, Shred415; Tracy Schy, Chief Sweat Officer, WheelPower Studio; Heather Pande, Certified Personal Trainer.
What are some of the biggest benefits of an outdoor workout?
April Sutton: One of the benefits of taking your workouts outdoors is the fact that you can get more creative. I tend to work out harder simply because there isn’t as much equipment. Exercising outdoors helps expand your lung capacity, which improves endurance and cardiovascular health.
Jeremy Walton: I would say the number one benefit of outdoor training is that the options are so endless. When training outside the body adapts to the elements the outside world creates: steps, water, sand, trails, urban structures.
Most gyms [and] studios are controlled and limited in their environment, but when you take away the walls and the air conditioning you are realigned to the elements and challenge the body in ways that nothing else can compare.
Tracy Schy: You don’t always need to be in a studio with fancy equipment to get a great workout in. There is always room for versatility. [At] Bodyweight Bootcamp classes, we use our bodies and our surroundings to promote health and build muscular endurance.
Heather Pande: Getting outside and out of the gym can increase your enthusiasm and break you out of your rut. Changing your environment will expose you to fresh air, Vitamin D, and keep your workouts interesting and stimulating.
Some studies show that just spending time in nature can reduce anxiety, lower blood pressure and stress and even boost your immunity.
Some of my clients tell me they experience higher energy levels and less depression when enjoying the beauty of the outdoors.
Where do you like to work out outdoors?
April Sutton: I enjoy working out at on a hill or track for agility workouts. I can combine my isometrics circuits such as push-ups, squats, & lunges with an occasional sprint on the track or hill. I feel more athletic and free in a sense.
Jeremy Walton: The best thing about outdoor workouts in Chicago is how many options there are. I don’t have one place, I have many.
The 606 trail, Milton Olive Park, Oakwood Beach, Montrose Park, Swallow Cliff Steps, the River Walk. Even local fitness studios bring workouts outside: Shred415 outdoor workouts at the Park at Wrigley, Fitbit offers free workouts at a different location each month, Lululemon offers free yoga at Oz Park.
With all of these options, you could truly do something different every single day for the entire summer.
Tracy Schy: I love being outside and making it as diverse as I possibly can. For cardio, I like taking my outdoor workout to dirt bike paths with my mountain bike. The Des Plaines River Trail is a favorite.
Also, I usually compete in the Chicago Inline Skate Marathon every summer. So, finding paved trailed and local hilly roads on the North Shore to roller blade on is a must.
For strength workouts, I enjoy being at the playground. There are so many upper body and core exercises that can be done there.
Heather Pande: The park, the beach, the rooftop deck… the entire city has been my gym. There are Divvy bikes everywhere. Kayak rentals. Most beaches even rent out paddle boards, which is a great core workout. There are beach volleyball nets to rent for pickup games.
Feeling old school? Put on some roller skates (or roller blades) and skate along our most beautiful lakefront. Take a yoga mat and some friends and find a grassy spot in Lincoln Park. Feeling super adventurous? There are swimming lanes between Oak Street Beach and Ohio Street Beach.
Or, just explore our city on foot. Take a train five miles and walk home. Wrigley Field, Museum Campus, Millennium Park and the Riverfront all make a great background for the walking explorer.
How do you find that an outdoor workout impacts you differently than an indoor workout?
April Sutton: I feel that outdoor workouts give me less anxiety. I do not feel as confined. There are not as many people watching so I have a clearer head space when doing so.
I notice it helps clear a lot of my client’s heads after they have been in the office all day.
Jeremy Walton: It’s hard to deny the connection to the world when you are running along the lakefront in the morning and watching the sunrise over the lake, or experiencing the true beauty of our city doing a yoga session at Millennium as the sun sets over downtown. The mental clarity, freedom, and peace that come from that experience are as real as it gets.
Tracy Schy: I have always found both [indoor and outdoor workouts] to be rewarding. I really enjoy an intense indoor cycle class, and I’m able to “let go” during them. However, I find that I push myself just as hard when met with natural obstacles outdoor cycling as well. It’s a toss up really.
Heather Pande: I like indoor and outdoor workouts equally. There are definitely benefits to both. As a personal trainer, I always stress the benefits of keeping your routine fresh and regularly changing up your workout. So if changing venues can facilitate the needed variety, I say do it.
Have you found anything new or interesting about your community by taking your workout outdoors?
April Sutton: What I have found interesting about working out outdoors in my community is that there are a lot of hidden gems.
I have explored more on my cycling trips for outdoor spots to workout and I have found hills, staircases, pull up bars, chin up bars, new tracks, & new turfs that are very accessible.
Also, mentioning outdoor activities to other people motivates others to do the same. I mentioned a tennis workout to someone the other day and now they would like to meet up for outdoor tennis sessions.
Jeremy Walton: I think my favorite experience from outdoor workouts is the aftermath. Getting together with friends for an outdoor workout and then getting drinks afterward, or if it’s a morning run/workout then getting brunch.
Chicago knows that the outdoor weather months are short and the full balance of sweat and smiles is never taken for granted. It’s the reason I love this city so much.
Tracy Schy: I have found that there are numerous running and outdoor cycle groups which meet on a weekly basis. These groups seem to be growing by the minute. It’s a wonderful thing. We live in such a fabulously fit community.
Heather Pande: Dodgeball! There are numerous leagues like softball, volleyball, soccer, etc… but I was so surprised by how much fun I had playing Dodgeball. It was a great workout and the competitiveness really pushed me to try my best. Not only did I get a great workout, I had a fantastic time.
I also liked the sunset kayak tour available on Montrose Beach. And never forget the value of carrying a jump rope! Fast way to get some cardio in without lugging heavy equipment. And if you haven’t heard of The 606 [trail], I strongly encourage you to Google it and explore! A true gem.