How to Get Fit Outdoors: 8 Open-Air Workouts That Celebrate Summer

How to Take Your Workout Outdoors: 8 Open-Air Workouts That Celebrate Summer

Summer is finally here, and if you’re looking to take care of your body and soul this season, there’s no better way to celebrate than by taking your workout outdoors. “From the perspective of physical health benefits, being outdoors in direct sunlight triggers the production of vitamin D,” explains fitness expert and nationally certified trainer and coach Nick Perri of First Place Fitness. “But from a mental health perspective, exercising outdoors provides peace of mind: Breathing fresh air, feeling a gentle breeze and the warmth of the sun as opposed to stagnant air and concrete walls at the gym can completely change your workout experience.” Mix up your workout this summer with these incredible outdoor workout ideas.

1. Set off on a forest walk (with a side of free therapy)

outdoor workouts: Forest Therapy Walks at The Morton Arboretum
Forest Therapy Walks (Photo courtesy of The Morton Arboretum.)

Why settle for an uninspiring treadmill session when you can meander through peaceful woods, surrounded by more than 4,100 different plant species, at The Morton Arboretum in west suburban Lisle? Shinrin-Yoku, the practice of bathing the senses in the atmosphere of the forest, offers participants a more mindful way to walk. Your certified Forest Therapy guide will usher you through a trail at the Morton Arboretum where you’ll awaken your senses and reconnect with nature through a variety of awareness-raising exercises. Walks last one hour and 45 minutes and conclude with tea made from edible plants foraged along the trail.

2. Swing to your heart’s content on an outdoor flying trapeze

outdoor workouts: TSNY Chicago
Photo courtesy of TSNY Chicago.

If you can’t quite run away and join the circus, TSNY Chicago has you covered. This one-stop flying trapeze school is dedicated to making the circus sport available to anyone who seeks inspiration, challenge, fitness, or just a couple hours of clowning around. Safe yet challenging flying trapeze options include classes for all levels (first-timers and beginners welcome) as well as intensive multi-session workshops for more advanced flyers. Best of all, the trapeze is outdoors all summer long, just south of Foster Beach, so you can count on a cool breeze and an extra wind boost as you burn calories the circus way.

3. Just dance

outdoor workout: SummerDance Chicago
SummerDance (Photo courtesy of City of Chicago, DCASE.)

There’s no better way to burn calories and lift your spirits. Try striking a frown when you’re shaking and spinning to a salsa beat … it’s impossible! If you’re feeling rusty in the dance department, make a beeline to the Spirit of Music Garden in Grant Park for Chicago’s annual SummerDance series, an urban dance celebration that will host the sounds of 48 different live bands and DJs over the course of the summer. Lessons are taught pre-performance by some of the city’s top dance instructors of all genres.

4. Unleash your inner Moana as you paddleboard your way through Lake Michigan’s gentle waves

outdoor workout: stand-up paddleboarding

Though the sport has Polynesian roots, stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) is now available on the high seas of Lake Michigan. This hybrid of surfing and kayaking offers a truly Zen experience. You’ll commandeer what is essentially an oversized surf board, and steer yourself around with a little help from a single-bladed paddle. Pick up your paddleboard at Chicago SUP, the city’s premier stand-up paddleboard outfitter, located just south of Castaways Bar and Grill on North Avenue Beach. Lessons and group excursions are available, too. If you want to up your fitness ante, CrossTown Fitness has partnered with Chicago SUP to offer a one-of-a-kind total body SUP workout this summer: Two class offerings, available on Saturdays beginning in June through September — 7:45 a.m. Total Body Beach Bootcamp (includes paddleboarding) and 8:30-9:30 a.m. Paddleboarding Fitness.

5. Swim laps in a former stone quarry

Centennial Beach is a former stone quarry located in the heart of downtown Naperville. Though the zero-depth-entry sand beach that fronts this 6.2-million gallon, 15-feet-deep swimming hole is most popular with the toddler and kid set, the lap swimming lanes, which separate the shallow end from the deep end, offer a non-chlorinated lap swim workout. Take your fitness up a notch by heading to the beach to participate in the Naperville Sprint Triathlon on Aug. 5, or float your cares away during the popular, adults-only weekend floats: On Saturday and Sunday mornings throughout the summer, from 9-10:55 a.m., adults age 18 and older can swim, sun, or paddle around the beach on an inner tube. No one under age 18 will be permitted inside the Beach until 11 a.m.

6. Shop ’til you drop then burn a few calories with a (free!) fitness class on the grass

outdoor workout: yoga at Oakbrook Center
Photo courtesy of Oakbrook Center.

Oakbrook Center will be offering complimentary exercise classes (presented by Athleta) on Saturday mornings throughout the summer. From April 28 through Aug. 25, instructors will guide participants of all fitness levels through yoga, barre, or boot camp style sessions. Each class begins at 9 a.m., is one hour in length, and is located on Oakbrook Center’s Village Green. More information is available on the Oakbrook Center event calendar page.

7. Take a hike

Outdoor Workout: Chicago Botanic Garden
Photo courtesy of Chicago Botanic Garden.

With more than 300 miles of trails throughout Cook County North Branch Trail, there’s no excuse to not take a hike. One of the county’s premier trails is the North Branch Trail, which begins at Foster and Kostner avenues on the city’s Northwest side and follows the north branch of the Chicago River for 22 miles, through several wooded preserves, to its endpoint at the Chicago Botanic Garden in Glencoe. The trail is fully paved, so you can bike it, too.

8. Sail off into the sunset in a canoe

Set off on a sunset canoe ride and experience a peace-filled, upper body and core workout like no other as you paddle the lush Skokie Lagoons. On the Nature Sunset Guided Tour, a certified naturalist will lead you on a tranquil paddle that will introduce you to the many water birds and turtles that call this corner of Chicagoland home. Expect to be educated on the surprising, paradoxical ecology of this heavily engineered natural area, too. Beginners and children (accompanied by an adult) are welcome.


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Amy Bizzarri is a Chicago-based freelance writer focused on food and travel. She has a keen interest in Chicago history and is the author of “111 Places in Chicago That You Must Not Miss” and “Discovering Vintage Chicago.” Amy is also a proud member of Shot@Life, a movement that works to ensure children around the globe have access to the vaccines they need.






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