Want muscles as capable as they look? Train outside.
Want muscles as capable as they look? Train outside. (illustration: Ethan Barnowsky)

A Gym as Big as All Outdoors

Strength-train outside this summer

Want muscles as capable as they look? Train outside.
Ethan Barnowsky

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You could build power in front of a gym mirror, but, trust us, it's better to achieve brawn in Mother Nature's playground. “Most people in a gym train in positions or planes of motion that have nothing to do with their sport,” says adventure-racing coach Tony Molina, 34, a veteran of nine Eco-Challenges and two Raid Gauloises. For instance, leg curls and mountain biking work your hamstrings in very different ways. In order to optimize functional strength, Molina designs routines like the trekking workout (right), which combines cardiovascular speed hiking, plyometric lower-body exercises, and a strengthening exercise that targets upper-body muscles. Simply weave Molina's workout into your strength routine twice a week by starting with ten minutes of brisk hiking using trekking poles, then completing the three exercises in order. Continue hiking quickly for ten more minutes, then complete the routine again. Repeat this cycle three to five times. The payoff? Muscles as capable as they look.

Bounding Repeats

This exercise works the calves, quadriceps, hamstrings, hip flexors, and glutes to improve your mountain-biking, trail-running, and hiking strength. With a pair of trekking poles, briskly skip—yes, skip—up a slight to steep incline. Plant both poles with each step, as if skate-skiing, and spring off one leg. Continue for 12 skips per leg. You may look odd, but all that loping will pay dividends when you need to pick up speed and maintain it.

One-Legged Lunge Hope

By targeting your quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes, you'll gain powerful fast-twitch muscles to help you sprint up steep hills on a bike or on foot and improve your legs' ability to absorb shock on the way down. Stand with one leg slightly bent behind you, positioning your foot on a small, sturdy rock or stump no more than a foot high. Place your other foot a step ahead of you, with your knee slightly bent. Then hop with your forward leg. Keep your back straight and your forward knee and foot in line throughout the movement. Do 15 reps with each leg.

Body Pulls

With this version of a modified pull-up, you'll build strength in your back, shoulders, forearms, and biceps—vital for climbing walls, paddling out of harm's way, and muscling a bike through the technical sections of a trail. Find a tree with a healthy shoulder-high branch at least as thick as your thigh and capable of supporting your weight. Grasp the branch with both hands and swing your legs up and around it, crossing your ankles securely. Holding on with your legs and hands, pull your chest up to the branch, keeping your head to either side of it. Hold for one count, then lower yourself. Do nine more reps, alternating the side of the branch you keep your head to with each pull.

From Outside Magazine, Jul 2003 Lead illustration: Ethan Barnowsky