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Take your workout outdoors

Turn logs, picnic tables and hills into tools to keep you fit

Pam LeBlanc

Tired of lurking among the treadmills and weight machines at the gym? Head outdoors, where the scenery's pretty, the air's fresh and you don't have to listen to those annoying gym rats grunt as they work out.

Parks, trails and playgrounds all make great backdrops for workouts.

Think of it as living in your own gym, says John Colver, a former bike racer, paratrooper, mountain guide and founder of the Seattle-based training company AdventX, which trains people for adventure and high-level performance.

"Why would I go inside to exercise?" says Colver, 46, who stopped in Austin on a recent signing tour for his new book, "Fit By Nature" ($24.95, The Mountaineers Books). "People are looking for alternatives to the gym, and the outdoors is natural."

Instead of sweating away under fluorescent lights, try using a fallen log as a platform for one-legged squats or hoisting a split of wood overhead. Even old-school basics like jumping jacks, lunges and toe touches are better on a bed of grass.

"I'm a big fan of circuit training, and taking circuit training outdoors is a fun thing to do," Colver says. "Using body weight exercises is the primary way to do it."

Two of his favorite exercises are squats and pushups, which work the body's core muscles.

But what about the baking heat of an Austin summer?

Go early, stick to the shade when possible, stay hydrated, wear light-colored, breathable clothing, and watch for signs of heat exhaustion, such as headache, dizziness and cramps, Colver says. Ease up on your workout, too. Or consider riding a bike, which creates its own wind chill factor.

"A simple rule I've used is over 100 degrees — half the length, half the intensity," Colver says. "This way people can stay in shape and maybe save the harder efforts for cooler days."

When it's cold out, don't go overboard with warm clothing, either. Instead, dress in layers, finishing with a lightweight breathable jacket, thin gloves and a hat.

"Most people are going to sweat anyway," he says. "Get out there and embrace it and have layers you can take off."

The 12-week program outlined in the book eases nonexercisers into an exercise program, giving them three weeks to adapt to exercising, four weeks of building up intensity and another five weeks of peak training. Those who already exercise regularly can build endurance and strength with it.

"It allows a reasonable amount of time to learn to exercise again, and to transform exercise from something that's difficult and intimidating to something that's comfortable and enjoyable," he says. "You build enough endurance to do a 45- or 60-minute workout and feel strong when you're done, versus feeling like it's going to kill you."; 445-3994

The world is your gym

Look for these features, which make good outdoor workout spaces:

1. Baseball or soccer fields, green spaces, sand and paved paths

2. Picnic tables, park benches, stairs

3. Trees, logs, hills, flat spaces

4. Appealing scenery, such as views of a lake, river or mountain

5. Accessibility to home by foot or bike

6. Someplace where you won't bother others