Another Slam Dunk for Outdoor Exercise

In a recent study, cyclists who exercised outdoors not only enjoyed themselves more, but also performed better than indoor cyclists.

Do you prefer exercising indoors or outdoors? Do you feel like you perform better in one setting than the other? An upcoming study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research examined this question by studying cyclists. Much like previous findings, this study suggested that outdoor exercise can not only make you feel better, but help you perform better as well.

Researchers recruited twelve male cyclists. The cyclists were put through two forty-kilometer cycling courses. One course was performed indoors. The other course was performed outdoors on a fairly flat trail. Each cyclist used his personal bike, which was outfitted with an ergometer.

So how did the outdoor trials compare with the indoor trials? The difference was astonishing. Every single participant finished the outdoor trial faster. The average time to complete the indoor trial was 96 minutes, compared to just 83 minutes for the outdoor trial. A thirteen-minute difference on a ninety-minute workout is pretty amazing.

Power output was an average of thirty percent higher during the outdoor trials. Participants registered a higher heart rate during the outdoor trial, but also a lower skin temperature. The cooling effect of oncoming air during the outdoor ride was thought to account for the lower skin temperature, because core temperatures were roughly the same for the indoor and outdoor trials. Perceived exertion was also about the same, regardless of location.

So participants felt about the same during the outdoor trial, yet performed significantly better. It looks like outdoor training could result in better long-term adaptations. This isn’t the first study to reach such a conclusion. A previous study from Extreme Physiology and Medicine reported a similar result. When runners exercised outdoors they ran faster and perceived the run to be easier than a comparable run indoors. Outdoor exercise lasting just five minutes or more was also shown to substantially benefit mood.

Looks like this is another slam dunk for outdoor exercise. By taking the gym outdoors you’ll work harder, yet feel better. Even if you can’t do your entire workout outside, do what you can. Just five minutes can make a difference. Sometimes at my gym we will open the roll-up doors so we can see the outdoors, even if we’re lifting inside. Does it make a difference? I don’t know, but on a nice day, it can’t hurt.


1. Molly Mieras, et al. Physiological and Psychological Responses to Outdoor vs. Laboratory Cycling. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research: POST ACCEPTANCE, 27 January 2014. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000000384

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