Performing a cardio workout indoors or outdoors may seem like a no-brainer. If the weather is good, you do your workout outdoors. If it’s cold or raining, you do a nearly identical workout indoors on a piece of cardio equipment. However, it’s not always a good idea to perform the same workout in both settings. There are more variables than you may think between the two training environments.
Indoor workouts offer a controlled environment, and you don’t have to account for auto traffic, route planning or pacing (the machine takes care of it for you). But they can become quite boring if performed for a long time.
Outdoor workouts allow you to appreciate the weather and the scenery. And they may offer better results. A study at the University of Stockholm found that subjects who performed a running workout outside rated the workouts easier compared to those who performed the workout indoors. It was easier because they had more fun. However, the weather can be inconsistent, you have to plan your route and you are more likely to be interrupted by traffic. (Learn how to hydrate during the summer.)
There’s no definite answer as to which one is better. The key is to factor in the different environmental variables to maximize your workout in each setting. Exploit their advantages and avoid their disadvantages rather than performing the same session across the board. (Try this foolproof marathon training plan.)
The following three types of workouts are designed to improve overall fitness and burn fat. There is an indoor and outdoor variation for each, so you can employ them in both settings. Vary your workouts, but do each type once per week.
Add variety to your workouts by changing the modality. For example, you can perform the indoor workout on a treadmill, bike or elliptical. For the outdoor workouts, you can run, ride a bike or ride an ElliptiGo.
High-Intensity Hill Repetitions
This workout burns calories at a high rate by keeping the body’s metabolism elevated for hours afterward.
Warm up for 5 to 10 minutes at an easy effort level of 3 to 4 on a scale of 10. Increase the incline of your treadmill or elliptical trainer to a moderate grade of 7 to 8 percent. If you’re on an indoor bike, increase the gear or resistance. At the same time, increase your effort level to 9. After 30 seconds, go back to a zero incline and your warm-up intensity. Recover for 90 seconds and then complete a second hill repetition followed by another recovery interval. Complete 6 to 12 hill reps (depending on your fitness level), then cool down for 5 to 10 minutes.
Choose a hilly outdoor loop route. It can be either a short loop that you intend to cover multiple times or a longer loop that you intend to cover just once. Warm up for at least 5 minutes at an easy effort level of 3 to 4 on a scale of 10. When you come to the first hill, increase your effort level to 9 for 30 seconds. If you’re not all the way up the hill after 30 seconds, slow down regardless and finish it off at the easiest jogging intensity possible. Continue at a moderate intensity of 4 to 5 until you come to the next hill, then crank the effort level back up to 9 for 30 seconds. Continue this pattern until you’ve completed 6 to 12 hill reps (depending on your fitness level), then cool down for 5 to 10 minutes.
Lactate Threshold Workout
There are two ways to burn more calories in a workout: go faster or go longer. This moderately-fast, moderately-long workout combines both elements.
Warm up for 5 to 10 minutes at an easy effort level of 3 to 4 on a scale of 10. When your warm-up is complete, increase your intensity to 6 and lock into that effort level until you feel it become more difficult, ranking at a 7. This will take anywhere between 10 and 30 minutes, depending on your fitness level. When your effort level reaches 7, reduce your effort to 3 or 4 and cool down for 5 to 10 minutes.
Choose an out-and-back outdoor route that takes about 40 to 60 minutes to finish. Complete the outbound portion at a moderate intensity, starting at an intensity level of 3 and gradually increasing to 5 by the turnaround point. Note your time at the turnaround point and hit the split button on your watch. After turning around, increase your speed by 10 to 20 percent. See how much faster you can complete the inbound portion of the workout without straining.
Long Fat-Burning Workout
This workout helps manage weight by burning more fat than a shorter and faster cardio workout.
Warm up for 5 to 10 minutes at an easy effort level of 3 to 4 on a scale of 10. After completing your warm-up, increase your effort to a 5. Each minute thereafter, do one of the following:
- Adjust your speed up or down by 0.1-0.2 mph if you’re on a treadmill
- Adjust your resistance up or down by 1-2 levels if you’re on a stationary bike or elliptical trainer
- Adjust your incline up or down by 1-2% if you’re on a treadmill or elliptical trainer
If your last adjustment was an increase, your next one should be a decrease, and vice versa. The idea is to maintain your effort level at 5 despite the one-minute adjustments. This is designred to keep you mentally engaged and make the time go faster. Continue for at least 40 minutes, then cool down for 5 to 10 minutes.
Warm up for 5 to 10 minutes at an easy effort level of 3 to 4 on a scale of 10. Increase your effort slightly to 5. This effort level will correspond to your maximal rate of fat burning. (If you use a heart rate monitor, aim for 65% of your maximum heart rate.) Lock into this effort level for at least 40 minutes, then cool down for 5 to 10 minutes. Note that the longer you go at your maximal fat-burning rate, the more your muscles will rely on fat (and the less they will rely on carbohydrate) for fuel.