Create the Perfect Backyard Gym and Then Try These Exercises

Creating a backyard gym is easier and less expensive than you might think.
Image Credit: Bojan89/iStock/GettyImages

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 January 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 potential 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.

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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

If you're going with a covered backyard gym, rather than open-air, be sure you have enough height for overhead presses and jumps. 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.

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.

Here's what to consider buying for your backyard gym:

  1. Resistance bands: Inexpensive and easy to store, these bands are generally made of rubber, so they can withstand whatever weather comes your way. You can buy a variety of different band lengths, sizes and tension levels, making them the perfect addition to just about any workout.
  2. Jump rope: You don't need a treadmill or elliptical for a great cardio workout — an old-school jump rope will do the trick. As with resistance bands, there's a huge selection of jump ropes out there, ranging from speed ropes, beaded ropes and weighted jump ropes. No matter what kind of rope you choose, you'll want to find one that's the appropriate length for your height.
  3. Slam ball: Slam balls are heavy exercise balls that are used for — yep, you guessed it — slamming on the ground, and they make the perfect companion for high-intensity interval training.
  4. Dumbbells or kettlebells: Whereas barbells need plates, clips and a rack, dumbbells or kettlebells are more versatile weights that can give you an equally challenging workout. Plus, dumbbells and kettlebells are easy to carry in and out of the house or garage, making them perfect for a backyard gym.
  5. Tire: Chances are, you already have an old tire in your garage, so you won't even need to shell out for this final piece of at-home outdoor gym equipment. A basic tire makes a great go-to weight that you can incorporate into exercises like squats or farmer carries.

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Try This Backyard Total-Body Workout

Once you have your backyard workout equipment ready to go, give this five-move workout a try, crafted by K. Aleisha Fetters, CSCS, author of Fitness Hacks Over 50. These exercises will hit all the major muscle groups, but the main focus is improving your aerobic power and capacity.

Instead of working to a certain amount of repetitions for each exercise, this workout involves training to a specific rate of perceived exertion (RPE). Your RPE is a scale used to measure your sense of the intensity of your workout. For this workout, you'll want to repeat each exercise to an RPE of 8 to 9 on a scale of 0 to 10, which should feel challenging but still leave a little in the tank after each set.

Start by repeating this circuit for a few rounds. Then, work your way up to 4 or 5 rounds total, Fetters says.

1. Jump Rope

  1. Begin holding the ends of a jump rope in each hand with the rope behind your heels.
  2. Swing the rope over your body and with both feet, jump over the rope.
  3. Continue jumping rope with both feet for a minute or so until you hit an RPE of 8 to 9.

Tip

To make the jump rope exercise more challenging, you can try skipping with one foot at a time. Or, give double unders a try, flipping the rope under your body twice per jump.

2. Tire Carry

  1. Stand with your legs at hip-width distance with a tire in front of your body.
  2. Hinge at your hips and shoot your butt back, leaning your torso forward with a flat back.
  3. Grab the inner lip of the tire with both hands (as if you're performing a deadlift), and keep it close to your body as you stand up. 
  4. Walk forward, carrying the tire until you hit an RPE between 8 and 9.
  5. Lower the tire back to the ground in the same deadlift form.
  6. Rest for 30 seconds before starting the next exercise.

Tip

You can carry the tire on one shoulder or in front of your body with both hands, Fetters says. "Focus on keeping your torso tall while walking. Imagine a string is pulling your head to the sky to keep your back neutral."

3. Side-to-Side Ball Slam

  1. Begin standing with a slam ball in your hands, feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
  2. In one motion, twist your torso to the right and reach the ball overhead, then slam it into the ground. Your power should come from your torso and hips, not just your arms and shoulders. 
  3. Catch the ball on a bounce and repeat the motion on the left side, bringing the ball overhead again.
  4. Alternate side to side until your exertion is at an 8 or 9.

4. Single-Arm Overhead Squat

  1. Begin standing with a dumbbell in your right hand, feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. Press the dumbbell straight over your right shoulder and push your hips back.
  3. Keeping your back straight and upper body steady, bend your knees to lower into a squat.
  4. Once your thighs are parallel to the ground (or as low as you can comfortably go with good form), press into the heels to return to standing.
  5. Repeat this motion to an RPE of 8 to 9.
  6. Bring the dumbbell down to the ground and rest for 30 seconds.
  7. Repeat on the left side.

Tip

If you don't have dumbbells, you can also do this exercise with a kettlebell.

5. Resistance-Band Assisted Pull-Up

  1. Loop one end of a long resistance band around a sturdy tree branch or swing set.
  2. Placing one or both feet into the loop, grip the branch or bar, palms facing away from you.
  3. Keeping your back flat, pull yourself up until your chin hovers right above the bar or branch.
  4. With control, lower your body until your arms are fully extended.
  5. Perform as many reps as possible until your rate of exertion is at an 8 to 9.

6. Kettlebell Swing

  1. Begin standing with your legs at shoulder-width distance, a kettlebell between your feet on the ground.
  2. Hinge at the hips and with a flat back, grasp the kettlebell handle in both hands, swinging it between your legs.
  3. Using the momentum of the weight, swing the bell up in front of your body to chest height, arms fully extended.
  4. Repeat the motion, generating power from your hips to swing the bell between your legs and up to shoulder height with arms fully extended.
  5. Continue swinging the kettlebell to an RPE of 8 to 9.

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