When gyms closed due to the spread of COVID-19 starting back in March of 2020, it threw gym goers, owners, and employees for a loop. Understandably, it affected a lot of people financially, and gym goers were left without access to barbells, weight, and cardio machines. For those who participated in group fitness classes or CrossFit style training, it was a loss of community. They’re all massive losses, but it got me thinking: what if some of these people think exercise starts and stops with the gym?
When gyms closed due to government mandate (many of which still are), all their equipment remained behind locked doors. Some lifters just stopped training. Forget about all those bodyweight workouts or using household items as replacement equipment, it’s just not the same.
However, stopping or slowing down your training isn’t doing you any favors if your diet isn’t making significant concessions. Plus, there is a whole world of training left unexplored, literally. Go outside and play!
[Related: Five Things You Can Do Outside The Gym To Get Stronger]
But What Is Play?
For those who’ve forgotten: to play is to perform any activity for its own sake, with no real goal in mind. You know, for fun. We’re talking going on a hike or playing sports that can be done at a social distance, such as frisbee, or even going on a long distance bike ride. This might seem insignificant when it comes to training and long term goals, but when was the last time you actually did any training or intense physical activity outdoors…and enjoyed it? When was the last time you did any type of training that was actually fun, instead of just part of the routine.
Taking a page out of our childhood playbook and getting some fresh air into your training routine can reinvigorate you while quarantine remains ongoing. There are even scientifically backed health benefits to doing so.
Benefits Of Fun
A lot of us think of lifting weights as ‘play’, but this is usually structured (as it should be) with a goal in mind, such as better strength, improved performance, or vanity. The downside of that, though, is the risk of burnout or lack of motivation (which the lack of access to a gym can exacerbate).
Improved Training Consistency
We can get wrapped up with the gym’s bells and whistles, which can lead to the neglect of important aspects of fitness like moving in different directions or along different planes. The human body moves in three dimensions, not just up and down. The main benefit of putting play into your exercise routine is how strong of a motivator it is to continue exercise because it promotes consistency.
To quote the author of “No Sweat,” a book about the science of motivation, Michelle Segar:
Logic doesn’t motivate us; emotions do. People who exercise for enjoyment stick with it more than those who do it for medical reasons.
When you enjoy something, you’re more likely to do it again, even when it’s doesn’t involve a barbell.
[Related: 4 Common Items To Spice Up Your Outdoor Training (With Workouts)]
When you were a child, you engaged in locomotor play. This type of play involves large body activity like running, climbing, playing on the swings and monkey bars at the local park, etc., and it supported your muscular development for strength, cardiovascular endurance, and overall coordination.
Locomotor play was the neural and muscular basis of your physical coordination and going back to ‘play’ may help you break through sticking points in the gym. (2)
Non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT) is the energy expended for everything you do that’s not related to sleeping, eating, or exercise. It ranges from the energy expended walking to work, typing, performing yard work, and, you guessed it, playing outside.
When you don’t have time for formal exercise, or the gym isn’t an option, being more active throughout the day will have a huge impact on your health and wellbeing because NEAT can account for up to 50 percent of daily calories burnt in highly active people. Plus, if fat loss is your goal, increasing your NEAT plays a huge role in your success. (3)
Fat loss and/or hypertrophy is more than just lifting weights and cardio. In my opinion, you’re doing yourself a huge disservice if all you do is exercise inside a gym.
If you don’t have regular access to your gym, or even if you do, it’s time to look at other options and think outside the box. Playing outside and having some fun is not only a useful tool for your fitness goals, its good for your state of mind. I’m going outside to play basketball with my son. He’ll beat me, but we’ll both win.
- Smith K Peter, BA, PhD, Pellegrini Anthony, PhD Learning Through Play Goldsmiths, University of London, UK University of Minnesota, USA
- Byers JA, Walker C. Refining the motor training hypothesis for the evolution of play. American Naturalist 1995;146(1):25-40
- Nana Chung, et al. Non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT): a component of total daily energy expenditure. J Exerc Nutrition Biochem. 2018 Jun 30;22(2):23-30. doi: 10.20463
Feature image via Shutterstock/Goran Bogicevic