Focus on Fitness: Your outdoor mini-workout with a tree

By Gloria Schwartz

If you’re going stir-crazy from all the time you’re spending at home, I’ve put together a series of exercises that you can do outdoors. Find a tree and you’re good to go. You can do these in your backyard, a park or in the woods. Enjoy the autumn leaves before they’re gone. Integrate these exercises while you’re out on a hike. You can do these exercises in any order and do multiple sets as you wish. If you can’t get out of your home, then of course you can do these exercises against a wall.

  1. Tree sit: This exercise is normally called a Wall Sit.

Benefits: Great for lower-body strength building. This exercise works your quadriceps (front thigh muscles) as well as your glutes and calves.

How to: Stand with your back against a tree. Place your feet hip-width apart for stability. Lower your rear end and walk your feet away from the tree so that you end up in what looks like a sitting position, with your back flat against the tree and your hips and knees bent at ninety-degree angles. Tip: Your thighs should be parallel to the ground and your weight should be on your heels, not on your toes.

Hold that position for as long as you can. You will probably feel your quads burning or shaking at some point. Return to standing position when you can’t hold the position any longer. No cheating: Do not place your hands on your thighs as that gives you support and takes away from the benefits. You can cross your arms or just let them dangle at the sides. If you’re unable to hold the position for more than ten seconds, try again with a less intense angle; for example, try with your rear end lowered only half as much so your hips are at a 45-degree angle. As your legs get stronger with practice, you can progress to the 90-degree angle. Whichever level of difficulty you choose, time yourself so you can track your progress over time. See if you can work your way up to at least 30 seconds.

Contraindications: May not be suitable if you have knee issues.

  1. Incline Push-ups: Who wants to do push-ups on the ground? Not me. Do them against a tree. It’s easier and cleaner.

Benefits: Great for upper-body strength building. This exercise works your triceps, pecs and shoulders and if you engage your core muscles, you’ll also strengthen lats which are the muscles down the sides of your back. If done correctly, push-ups also give the abs a workout.

How to: Place the palms of your hands against a tree and step away. The further you step away, the more challenging the exercise becomes. There are many variations for variety and added challenge. You can step further away, lift one foot off of the ground, or place your hands in different positions such as closer together or wider apart. When your arms are further apart, you’re targeting your chest muscles (pecs) more. When your arms are closer together, you’re targeting your triceps (back of arms) more. Notice how your muscles feel with each variation. Tip: Keep your body in a straight line from head to toe; in other words, do not bend at the waist.

When doing push-ups, bend your elbows until your nose almost touches the tree, then straighten your arms all the way. Engage your core muscles by tightening your abs. Work your way up to 10 or more push-ups.

Contraindications: May not be suitable if you have lower back issues. You can reduce stress on your lower back by placing one foot forward.

  1. Tree Split Squats: Normally called Wall Split Squats, this exercise is more advanced.

Benefits: Works many muscle groups in your lower body including your glutes, quads, hamstrings and calves. This exercise also works your core muscles and helps you improve your balance.

How to: Stand with your back towards a tree but not touching it. Take a big step away from the tree, then place the front sole of one shoe against the tree trunk at around the height of your knee. Press the front of that back foot firmly against the tree. Your whole body remains straight and almost vertical with a slight forward tilt. Bend your back knee while keeping that sole on the tree, until your back knee almost touches the ground or as low as you can go without losing your balance. Rise back up. See how many times you can repeat it, then switch to the other leg and repeat the exercise. Tip: Your front knee should not jut forward past your toes; if it does, place the front foot further away from the tree. Place your hands on your head.

Contraindications: May not be suitable if you have knee issues.

Your health care provider and/or personal trainer can advise you on exercises and modifications specific to your health and mobility issues.