We are strong believers in the benefits of training outdoors, it is the fundamental premise that underlies all our efforts to bring the outside world in through biophilic (natural) design principles in our gyms.
Years spent exercising in parks, forests and beaches using our bodyweight and elements of the environment around us felt so right that we set out to recreate at least some of that same positivity in an urban, indoor gym.
A Biofit space will never replicate nature in its entirety but it can do certain clever things to offer authentic natural elements even indoors such as using natural plants, materials, colours, textures and scents for example while carefully removing all technology.
So what is it about spending time with Mother Nature in general, and natural fitness training outdoors in particular, that is so darn good for you?
Real world purpose
In many gyms, the movements we’re asked to rep out on a piece of machinery become completely detached from any real world purpose. When training in a natural environment, the gap between movement and function is reduced to almost nothing as we are able to pull ourselves up onto a branch and climb on top of it for example, not just rep out the chin-to-bar pull-ups. We soon realize that an outdoor pull-up is going to require added grip strength and is only half the movement anyway, we then need to get our body on top of the branch as well!
More stimuli when barefoot
Going barefoot on varied terrain helps to wake up the feet, activating many of the smaller muscles that would previously be dormant in shoes on a perfectly flat surface indoors. Scrunch your toes, let your feet get a little dirty and reconnect with the earth. Go crazy and don't wash them as soon as you get home either!
One of the key outputs from our Jan 2017 research study into the wellness benefits of a Biofit gym session was that clients felt more connected to nature afterwards. Why was this important? Because a connection with nature is a reflection of vitality and purpose in life (, Howell et al 2011; Nisbet et al 2011). If we can create that effect indoors imagine what a hike in the mountains will do for you.
Exposure to Vitamin D
The only vitamin that the human body generates for itself, direct exposure of skin to sunlight is like a human version of photosynthesis. Nourishing both mind and body, sunshine is best taken in short bursts through the larger body parts such as chest and back. Use sun protection and avoid burning the skin above all else, just try to find a way to make sunshine your friend not your enemy. Consider a Vit D supplement if you live in the northern hemisphere with limited hope of sunshine for much of the year.
Improvising with what’s around us, natural fitness has variety in-built into its DNA, all that is required is a slight change of location and we can find ourselves confronted with a new set of ‘toys’ to play with during a movement session, be it a hill, rock or tree. By removing all fixed equipment from our gym floor and constantly bringing out different combinations of equipment, we aim to replicate something similar.
This may be an obvious one but humans simply were not built for spending all our time indoors staring at screens with shoes on our feet and halogen lights dictating our sleeping patterns. Getting outside when you move and train is a way to re-align the body and its internal clock with the natural cycle of day and night, amongst other things!
Spend enough time outside in an isolated natural location and studies have shown that your heart rate will soon start to slow gently and levels of the stress hormone cortisol will decrease. So while 30 minutes is good, a few hours is even better for these kind of subtle physiological changes to take place. A half day exploring should do the trick, three days camping would set you up for the month! Even our research study showed that a Biofit session noticeably reduced stress levels in 75% clients after 45-90 mins in the green, leafy studio.
Only in the great outdoors in deep woodland, near a lake or beach are we able to inhale the beneficial bacteria, negatively charged ions and plant-derived essential oils or phytoncides that we evolved with over millions of years, all of which play a part in improving gut health and mental wellbeing. Inspired by this insight, a Biofit gym uses natural aromatherapy and air purifiers that remove pollutants while adding negative ions to the air.
Outdoors we inevitably find ourselves surrounded by the sounds of birds and other animals, of the smell of the ocean or pine trees, of the chiaroscuro light effect of sunshine filtering through a dense forest canopy, of fallen leaves underfoot and a host of other subtle details that, collectively, create an incredibly dense and nourishing sensory experience.
Training indoors in a sterile, formulaic environment is deliberately designed to remove the need to concentrate on what is around us, where we are putting our feet, what the weather is doing, and so on. Not being present in the moment as it is happening when outside is a recipe for disaster. Nature simply commands our attention, meaning an additional mindful quality to any time spent outdoors. Mindful movement is one of our key tenets, staying present and focused while training helps relax the mind and restore mental energy for other tasks after class.