You don’t need fancy kit to keep fit

The new all-weather keep-fit kit at Hailes Quarry Park

The new all-weather keep-fit kit at Hailes Quarry Park

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THE great outdoors: nature, pure fresh air, the birdsong and the calm breeze . . . all just waiting to be invaded by groups of sweaty people doing squats, lunges and wobbly push-ups.

In case you haven’t noticed, outdoors is the new “in”. And your local park, stretch of beach, patch of green space at the side of the road – even the park bench on the corner – has suddenly become the very latest fitness and exercise trend.

Personal trainer Chris Allan puts Mike Ross, left, and Ben Westphal through their paces

Personal trainer Chris Allan puts Mike Ross, left, and Ben Westphal through their paces

More and more of us, it seems, are ditching the sweaty confines of the health club, disentangling ourselves from hi-tech machines that tot up calories burned while screening EastEnders episodes and leaving behind intimidating changing rooms with the whiff of BO and trainers to emerge, blinking, into the outdoors for a different kind of workout.

There, in spite of Edinburgh’s four-seasons-in-one-day climate, everyone from new mums to experienced triathletes are being put through their paces, unhindered in their bid to get fit by the additional weight of an expensive gym membership.

For the best bit of this fresh air fitness lark – dubbed “green exercise” – is that it doesn’t cost the earth.

Earlier this week outdoor fitness in the city entered a fresh phase when rugby legend Scott Hastings launched a new Edinburgh City Council-funded outdoor gym at Inverleith Park. The park – already a regular venue for outdoor fitness boot camps and personal trainers’ al fresco sessions – boasts ten pieces of free-to-use exercise equipment at its north side, including a tyre run, monkey bars and a bench for sit-ups.

Scott Hastings and Parker unveil Inverleith Park's new fitness apparatus

Scott Hastings and Parker unveil Inverleith Park's new fitness apparatus

The Inverleith fitness trail follows the unveiling last month of Edinburgh’s first outdoor gym. Located at Hailes Quarry Park next to the Union Canal, it has 11 separate pieces of fitness equipment offering an all-round cardio and weights workout. The equipment, all free to use, means locals and passers-by strolling by the canal have the chance to stop and work out for free in the fresh air whenever they want.

The two new facilities come as a growing number of classes and outdoor boot camps compete for green space, offering everything from open-air boxercise sessions to workouts for new mums, some bringing traditional gym equipment like barbells to the park, others making use of natural landscape and street furniture.

With classes costing just a few pounds per session, they are typically much cheaper than a costly gym membership.

According to Chris Allan, who runs Edinburgh’s Urban Gym – regular outdoor exercise sessions that take participants on a brisk jog around the city centre stopping off at benches for press-ups and stairs for extra leg work – outdoor exercise brings benefits that the indoors can’t match.

“We like to use the urban environment as a playground or training ground – the hills and the steps in the Old Town are perfect for cardio work, we might stop at some benches and do some exercise on the benches – you don’t need fancy equipment. In fact, your own body is the gym.

“There are many physiological benefits to being outside. When the sun’s out you’re getting vitamin D which Scots tend to be deficient in. And training outside has been shown in various studies to be good at helping with stress.

“The quality of air – even in a built-up area – is better than a gym where you are breathing in circulated air and other people’s germs.

“Besides, Edinburgh is a beautiful city, it has beautiful views so why wouldn’t you want to be outside enjoying it?”

According to research by University of Essex sports scientist Dr Jo Barton, just five minutes of “green exercise” leads to a boost in mood and self-esteem.

A report from Peninsula College of Medicine and Dentistry in Plymouth also showed that exercising outdoors led to an improvement in mental wellbeing, greater feelings of revitalisation, increased energy and positive engagement. Participants also reported enjoying the experience more than indoor gym sessions and being more likely to repeat the experience.

Ditching the gym membership for outdoor workouts could also be better for our financial health – recent research suggests only 27 per cent of those with memberships actually use them.

Daniela Couto of The Fitness Network, who runs outdoor boot camps and exercises classes at the Meadows, Inverleith Park and Holyrood Park, agrees. “Gyms are expensive,” she says. “People can get ten exercise classes for less than they’d pay for a month’s gym membership. And quite often people pay the gym fees but don’t actually go.

“Once people do exercise outdoors, they prefer it to going to a gym. Even if it’s wet or windy, you soon forget that once you start and get warmer,” she adds.

“They are outside where there’s lots of space, not in a confined area of a gym. And quite often it can be boring in a gym, but outdoors there’s different things to look at, it keeps you interested.

“As for fitness, people might think they can run pretty well on a treadmill but once they try to run outside, they soon find it’s quite different.”

Personal trainer Steve Keppie is often found at Inverleith Park putting clients through their paces. He points out that being outdoors brings a vital extra benefit that Scots can particularly benefit from – a blast of vitamin D.

“Vitamin D from the sunshine is really important in this country,” he says, referring to the high occurrence of multiple sclerosis among Scots, which is linked to low levels of “sunshine” vitamin D.

“We should be trying to get outside as much as we can.

“There are new exercise tools and equipment available these days that make it easier to do a proper workout, outside the gym.”

He uses TRX suspension equipment – like giant rubber bands – and ViPR, rubber cylinders which are raised in the air to work out arms and swung from side to side to trim waists. “Working out outdoors isn’t for everyone, but most people who try it, find they really enjoy it – in all weather,” he adds.

Those who do venture outside are often hooked. Such as Carolyn Young of Trinity, one of a growing number of new mums often seen puffing with their prams along Portobello Promenade, taking part in Rebecca Robertson’s Mummies and Buggies post-natal fitness classes.

“It was a bit unreal on Tuesday when the weather wasn’t terribly nice, but that was the first bad day since I started this in February. I look at it as ‘character building’,” she says.

She joined the classes to improve her fitness and to meet other mums. “It’s a good excuse to just get out of the house,” she adds.

“Besides, it’s brilliant to be outside. The babies get some fresh air while we do some exercises – things like lunges and squats, bench presses, tricep dips, the plank.

“My son Luke, who’s seven-and-a- half months, sits watching with a bit of a wry smile on his face.”

Trainer Rebecca, who also runs boxercise and boot camp-style outdoor fitness classes, says taking exercise outdoors has a wealth of benefits, from cutting costs of classes on offer to simply helping participants feel better.

“A lot of people don’t really like gyms, they might feel awkward,” she adds. “And so many people join the gym then don’t go. But you can get exactly the same kind of workout outdoors as inside.

“It’s so much more invigorating to be outside in the fresh air, sometimes even enjoying the sun,” she smiles.

“Besides, sometimes it’s actually quite nice to feel the rain on your face.”

The great outdoors

OUTDOOR fitness certainly seems to be a growth industry. Livingston-based Burn It was launched two years ago and now runs its outdoor exercise sessions across Scotland, with a prediction that it will double its turnover to £250,000 next year. Details at www.burnitbootcamp.co.uk.

Should you happen to have a baby in tow, look out for Rebecca Robertson’s Mummies and Buggies classes at Leith Links, Prestonpans and Portobello. Rebecca also runs outdoors boxercise at Musselburgh and circuit training at Port Seton and Gayfield Square. Details at www.fitasa monkey.co.uk.

Post-natal fitness classes are also run by Mums in the Park, at Inverleith Park. Details at www.mumsinthepark.com.

British Military Fitness could be held partly responsible for getting us into this outdoors mindset. Running since 2003 in Edinburgh, army-style workouts are held at the Meadows, Holyrood Park, Edinburgh Business Park and Inverleith Park. Go to www.britmilfit.com

Outdoor bootcamp and multi-sports sessions are run by trainer Daniela Couto of The Fitness Network (www.thefitnessnetwork.co.uk) at the Meadows, Inverleith Park and Holyrood.

Urban Gym meets at Castle Terrace car park three times a week for a run around the city centre with various circuit training stops using street furniture. For details go to www.ratrace.com.

Train outdoors at Victoria Park using TRX, rip trainer, kettlebells, clubbells and boxercise pads with personal trainer Tyla Wilson (www.tylawilson.com for details). Meanwhile, trainer Steven Keppie (www.keppiefit.com) puts clients through their paces at Inverleith Park, using medicine balls, TRX Suspension and other equipment.

If all that is too much, try Nordic walking, a kind of power walking with poles which is said to help burn 45 per cent more calories than ordinary walking and uses 90 per cent of your body’s muscles. Beginners classes start tomorrow at Inverleith Park. For details go to www.nordic walkingedinburgh.co.uk.