When it comes to at-home workouts, many people opt to create their workout space indoors, utilizing spaces such as the garage, basement or just an extra room. But setting up a backyard gym and exercising al fresco could have a seriously positive impact on your physical and mental health.
A 2013 review published in Extreme Physiology and Medicine points out a host of benefits to taking your workout outdoors. For starters, researchers found that many individuals worked out harder without even realizing it. Other mental health benefits included stress reduction, recovery from mental fatigue and improved mood, self-esteem and perceived health.
"Not only does time seem to go by faster when you train outdoors, it can be more fun and the fresh air boosts energy levels," says Ramona Braganza, who has trained celebrities including Halle Berry and Jessica Alba.
4 Tips for Building a Backyard Gym
Fortunately, creating the perfect backyard gym is easier and more affordable than you might think. Here's everything you need to consider before designing your own open-air workout space.
1. Weatherproof Your Space
First, consider what the weather will be like most of the time. "Unless you're in a dessert, you'll want to have a covered space to be able to work out even on rainy days," says Tara Allen, certified health coach and personal trainer.
In order to keep your gym open rain or shine, she suggests making use of spaces such as carports or detached garages — or simply hanging a sturdy tarp between trees. This will also prevent you from getting too much sun exposure, Braganza says.
2. Take Terrain Into Account
While hills are great for running, when it comes to weight training, you're going to want your home gym space to be as flat as possible. "Choose a flat area or make it work by leveling off your gym area with some top soil first," Allen says. If possible, Braganza suggests choosing an area that has both grass and pavement side by side, which allows for greater exercise options.
3. Have Enough Height and Space
Be sure you have enough height (in a covered environment) for overhead presses and jumps and enough width if you plan on running or doing other cardio drills. If weight loss is your goal, Braganza recommends using a spacious part of your backyard or long driveway with enough room to really move. "You will be including cardio, so ideally you will need space to run, jog, sprint and do drills back and forth in this area to get the heart rate up."
4. Invest in Some Equipment
Your backyard gym doesn't need a bunch of fancy equipment. In fact, there are plenty of body-weight exercises you can do that don't require any equipment at all! If you want to take it one step further, the best starter purchase is strength-training equipment — dumbbells, kettlebells, sand bags, water jugs filled with rocks or even tires to flip.
Kettlebells and dumbbells are usually inexpensive, and both can be used for metabolic conditioning and strength training. "These also can be used many different ways to hit an array of muscle groups," says Tony Carvajal, certified CrossFit trainer with RSP Nutrition. Or if you're looking for a minimalist option, resistance bands can be used for a number of different movements, stretches and mobility work, he says. Braganza also recommends having a stop watch or timer on hand, since many workouts rely on timed exercise.
If you're really looking to invest in your backyard gym, here are some suggestions for going big:
Choose just one piece of equipment for conditioning, such as a rowing machine, a non-motorized treadmill or an exercise bike, Carvajal says. "Just pick the one you feel you will use most," he says. If you work out with a partner or a few friends, take turns on the machine to transform your conditioning into a circuit workout.
Barbells and Plates
The type of barbells and plates you'll need depends on whether you're performing complex movements such as a clean and jerk or powerlifting movements like squats and deadlifts, says Carvajal. "If you are Olympic lifting, I suggest having one bar that is a hybrid. That way you use the same bar for squats as you do snatches."
A squat rack can be beneficial if you plan on doing a lot of heavy barbell work. The bar can be loaded at a convenient pick-up height and with much heavier weight. "A rig can also be used for a multitude of other movements such as pull-ups and attaching other equipment to the rig like suspension rings," Carvajal says.
A plus, but not a must, floor padding or rubber gym flooring is helpful for people who feel the need to drop weights. "This way you can drop weights with less risk of cracking plates, dumbbells or kettlebells," Carvajal says. It's also a good option if you want to take some of the impact out of working out on concrete.
The Best Exercises for Your Backyard Gym
As long as you have the right equipment, you can execute many of the same exercises in your outdoor gym that you can inside, especially when it comes to anything involving resistance bands, free weights or body-weight exercises. Some examples include:
Banded Curl Into Single-Leg Row
- With one foot, step on the middle of a longer resistance band and stagger your feet with neutral hips.
- Grab the band with a neutral grip, retracting your shoulders and curling the band toward them.
- As you lower the band, contract your triceps.
- Hinge forward at the hips, keeping your arms straight and close to your thighs.
- Keep your hips and spine neutral with a slight bend in your stationary leg.
- Once your body is parallel to the ground, row the ends of the band so that your wrists are close to your rib cage.
- Release your arms and lower your leg back to the start.
Reps: 6 to 8 on each side
Push-Up to Single-Leg Downward-Facing Dog With Knee Drive
- Start in a high plank with a neutral spine, arms a little wider than shoulder-width apart and forming a straight line from neck to feet.
- Bend your elbows and lower into a push-up.
- Press back up, then shift your weight back in to a three-legged Downward Facing Dog by pressing into your palms and bringing your right leg as high as you can without rotating your hips open.
- Shift your weight forward back into a plank and tuck your knee into your chest.
- Straighten your leg and repeat.
Reps: 6 to 8 on each side
Step Down to Step Up
- Stand on a bench or other stable platform.
- Plant one leg and lower your other foot slowly to the ground, hinging forward at your hips.
- Once your "hanging leg" finds its way to the ground, stay forward and use your glutes and hamstrings to step up.
- Focus on keeping your foot planted with most of the weight in your heel.
- Lift the hanging leg up toward your chest, stopping when your knee forms a 90-degree angle.
Reps: 6 to 8 on each side
Mini Band Side Shuffle
- Place a mini band (resistance loop) an inch above your knees.
- Squat down halfway and take a wide step to the right with your right foot.
- Step your left foot over to where your right foot was to begin with.
- As your left foot comes down, move your right foot further to the right, driving your left foot over to where your right foot was.
Reps: 3 rounds of 12 shuffles to each side