Ever since gyms closed in March, I’ve been working out at home. And since my house doesn’t have a suitable place for many of the exercises I like to do, I’ve mainly been lifting outside. Here’s what I’ve learned.
Find the right spot
In the gym, things are where they are. At home, you get to pick where you do your lifts. I had hoped to lift in my garage, but the ceilings are too low. If I raise my hands overhead, I have to be careful that I don’t hit the garage door opener. If I want to hold anything bigger than a dumbbell, I have to take it outside.
And here it gets more complicated than you might expect. I don’t need much: just a platform and a barbell. But there are still issues.
For one: My driveway is bumpy and gravelly. That’s fine for some lifts, but I need a smooth, hard surface for others. No problem, I have a horse stall mat. I can drag it outside.
For another: The area is generally flat, but not perfectly so. It took some trial and error to find the right spot to put the mat.
You also want to be aware of what’s around you. If I drop the bar, where will it go? My sweet spot is well away from the cars, the house, the trash cans, and any places that children tend to play or walk. Now, if I drop the bar behind me, which sometimes happens on snatches, it will roll. But there’s a line of shrubbery that will stop it from rolling into my neighbours’ yard, so we’re good. These are the things you have to think about.
Watch the weather and your light
It’s no fun to lift with the sun in your eyes, and it’s miserable to lift when the sun is beating down on you. I quickly learned that my favourite spot is only in the shade if I lift before about 10 a.m. or after five. (Those are approximate numbers that change with the seasons.)
You have to watch the weather, too, of course. Before I drag all my stuff outside, I make sure it’s not going to rain within the hour. I’ve definitely had days where I was rushing to finish all my sets of a lift before the storm clouds rolled in.
It’s important to have a rain plan. Yesterday, in fact, a downpour started just before my workout was due to start. But it was Wednesday, and I knew that my Thursday workout is one I can do indoors, so I swapped those two days on my schedule. If it were to rain for days on end, I’d have to make some more drastic changes. My go-to rain workout is power cleans and seated presses, both of which I can do indoors. If I didn’t have a garage, I’d do some yoga instead, or dumbbell accessories I can do in my living room.
Have a between-sets shelter from the weather
This may not be an issue if you’re into circuit training or Crossfit-style metcons, but us weightlifters and powerlifters get to take luxurious three-to-five-minute rests between our sets.
In the spring, when it was cold, I’d retreat to a camp chair in the garage between sets. I’d put my hoodie over my shoulders, and sip coffee from a thermos.
Now that it’s hot, I have that same camp chair set up, but now there’s a box fan blowing directly on it. I have sips of water, or if I’m feeling decadent toward the end of a workout, sometimes some frozen bananas.
Beware the hazards of outdoors
Here’s one I wasn’t expecting: in humid weather, my equipment needs time to warm up. The mat is still cool from being in the semi-air-conditioned garage, so as soon as it hits the hot summer air, it starts getting condensation on it — the same phenomenon you see with an ice-cold pitcher of lemonade. It takes a good half hour or so, on particularly humid days, before the mat is dry enough I don’t have to worry about slipping when I do split jerks.
Other hazards will vary with your climate. Weights and other equipment can be hot or cold to the touch after they spend time outside. You may have to be wary of falling pinecones or overhead branches. I have seen chipmunks and birds try to sneak into my garage when I have the door open during workouts.
Don’t go back in the house
My house is full of people. I have a husband and three kids, and they’re usually waking up and eating breakfast while I do my morning workout.
For a while, my program had pull-ups on it. We have a pull-up bar in one of the bedroom doorways. But going inside is a trap. Kids will want things from you. If you don’t have kids, you’re liable to sit down on the couch or get distracted by the TV. Best to stay out of the house entirely, until the workout is done.
So I found a place to do pull-ups outside. If I hadn’t managed that, I would have substituted another exercise, like rows — or, as a last resort, eliminated them from my regular workout and planned a pull-ups only session for lunchtime or sometime in the evening.
It’s weird, until it’s home
The first few weeks of lifting outside were just plain weird. All the sounds, sights and smells were different. My bumper plates didn’t bounce the same way the ones at the gym always do. I had to watch for kids out of the corner of my eye. Everything just felt wrong.
But I resisted the urge to skip workouts or to shy away from lifts that were outside my comfort zone (for some reason, I found clean and jerks really unnerving to do outdoors at first). When I would get bummed out by the inconveniences, I reminded myself that throughout history, people have built strength under far worse and weirder situations than mine. I kept showing up.
And after a while, I felt more comfortable. By now, I even like it. My gym opened, and I thought I’d be tempted to rush back, but all I did was build myself a squat rack when I realised I’d be at home for the long haul. This is home. My red camp chair in the garage with a water or a coffee in the cupholder, that’s home. The place where I set my tripod when I’m taking form check videos, that’s home. The exact four-foot-by-six-foot spot where my mat goes every morning? That’s home too.
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