You don’t have to restrict your exercise to the gym. The great outdoors free and available to everyone for walking, running, roller-blading, working out in the park, meditating, even outdoor swimming. As a personal trainer in London, I encourage my clients to exercise indoors and out.
There are some great walking routes around London, but we could do with a much more pedestrian-friendly capital. The royal parks are great for walking, particularly Hyde Park, and Richmond Park. There’s also Wanstead Flats in east London, a wild and windswept area of open space and lakes, Epping Forest, and in north London there’s Hampstead Heath. South west London has Richmond Park, where you can spot deer while you’re out walking.
Peta Bee wrote a fantastic book ‘Wild Gym: 50 Ways to Get Fit Outdoors’ and running is high up on the list, as it’s Peta’s favourite form of outdoor exercise. The varied and undulating terrain of outdoor running is better for muscles and joints (fewer repetitive strain overuse injuries) than the repetitive sameness of the treadmill, and being outdoors has psychological benefits too. Biophilia, our innate love of nature, is proven to boost our mental health. You also get more vitamin D from increased exposure to sunlight, even in winter.
There are some great running routes on footpaths running alongside the Thames, as well as through all the parks mentioned in the walking paragraph above.
If you want to challenge yourself further, you can run up hills. For example, Parliament Hill Fields in Highgate has a great hill for running up and down.
There’s a growing number of outdoor workout providers, from freelance personal trainers through to companies such as British Military Fitness, who train their clients throughout London’s parks. However some local councils have introduced the crazy policy of charging personal trainers to train their clients in the park, which just acts as a disincentive to train outdoors.
British Military Fitness was started by retired Army major Robin Cope back in 1999, and has gone from strength to strength. Not everyone likes group exercise, preferring one-to-one training, but for those who enjoy group training with a military flavour, this is a great way to get fit. Participants are divided up into 3 groups, beginners, intermediate, and advanced, and wear colour-coded tops to identify which group they’re in. If you’re paired up with someone at the same level as you, it can work really well.
Outdoor kettlebell workouts are also growing in popularity. I’ve seen group kettlebell classes being held on Clapham Common and also Battersea Park. This is a great form of exercise for a whole body workout, and activates all your muscles far more effectively than resistance machines in the gym.
Tai chi is a great antidote to the hustle and bustle of London life, and it’s being practised throughout London’s parks and open spaces. I have several personal training clients in Highbury Fields, where there are Tai chi classes or simply people practising it alone. Regents Park also seems to be a popular venue for Tai chi classes.
Chi means ‘flow of energy’ which involves a series of postures and slow movement, particularly what’s known as ‘hand form’. Benefits include relaxation, peace of mind, greater balance, coordination, flexibility, and increased powers of concentration.
In Hyde Park, on the wide concrete footpath which runs along one side of the Serpentine, there are roller-blading instructors and classes. Roller-blading is great for cardio fitness, and really tones up the muscles of your bum (glutes) and legs (hamstrings, quads, and calves). You also increase your core strength, balance and co-ordination. If you’re a beginner, just make sure you wear protective gloves, helmet and knee-pads.
London has a range of outdoor sporting facilities, from tennis courts to athletics tracks (the athletics tracks at Paddington Rec in Maida Vale, and Battersea park spring to mind). There are also plenty of football and rugby pitches, and cricket grounds too. But London could do with even more, to encourage young people to play sport outdoors rather than stay indoors playing computer games and slagging each other off on Facebook and Twitter.
Demand for tennis courts, for instance, way outstrips supply, as I found one summer’s day in Putney and Wandsworth, where all the courts were fully booked up for the whole day and booked up in advance for the whole of the following day too. The LTA and local councils do a great job funding tennis courts throughout London, but we need more funding and more courts to meet the demand.
Dominic Londesborough is a personal trainer in London with over 11 years experience, training clients indoors and outside.