Aussies spend $8.5 billion a year on gym memberships, sports equipment and fitness crazes. It’s great that we care so much about our health and fitness, but we can easily forget that our many national parks offer stunning natural extensions to our urban fitness playgrounds that no inner city gym interior can ever compete with.

Adding outdoor workouts to your routine this summer – or really at any point in the year – is good for the body, mind and soul. Studies even show that working out outside has significant mental health benefits beyond the obvious physical benefits. Here are our five favourite ways to workout in nature and in a NSW national park.

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    H.I.I.T up beach sprints


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    Short, sharp and absolutely shattering – H.I.I.T workouts (high intensity interval training for the uninitiated) offered by everyone from F45 to fitness entrepreneur Kayla Itsines are one of the most efficient ways of getting fit.

    Take interval training to the outdoor realm with beach sprints and really push your body to its limits. Beach sprints burn 1.6 times more energy than running on pavement or a treadmill. They’re harder to set up on crowded, city beaches, especially during summer, but beach sprints are perfect for long stretches of untouched coast like Termeil Beach, down the South Coast of New South Wales.

    Ranger Tip: You’ll be tempted to cool off in the ocean after your workout. Just remember that some of our beaches in our national parks are not patrolled, and can sometimes have strong rips and currents even on a calm day. Please read our Beach Safety guide.

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    Trail running in nature


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    With the rising popularity of paid runs like Blackmores Sydney Running Festival and City2Surf, why not make the most of ready made trails in national parks for an awe-inspiring natural experience? Break free from the crowds and get in the zone amongst nature by giving the hilly Dharug National Park 11km walking track a go. Trail running is great pre-training for upcoming competitive runs, making it the perfect complement to your existing running routine. Or, it’s a great place to start if you just want to run or walk at your own pace.

    National parks are to be enjoyed by all, so please remember to make way for others using the track and of course leave no trace. If you want to really do your part for the planet you could even try the Swedish fitness craze ‘plogging’ – jogging whilst picking up rubbish. 

    Ranger tip: The looped 11km walking track is for experienced hikers or more experienced runners that maybe able to finish the normal suggested 5-7hrs in 4hrs. This is a grade 5 track.

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    Exercising in natural environments has greater benefits for mental health because it combines the benefits of exercise with the restorative effects of being in nature. Cooling off at a beach like Dudley Beach in Glenrock State Conservation Area after an outdoor power walk is a case in point – salt water spray beats chlorine any day of the week. Plus, the serenity of  Dudley Beach in and of itself is a whole new world to explore, a mere 2hrs from Sydney’s CBD.

    The use of seawater for medicinal benefits even has a name: thalassotherapy. Thalassotherapy has historically been used for a myriad of purposes, from treating skin conditions, elevating mood and detoxifying the body and mind. Remember, don’t swim alone in isolated beaches.

    Ranger Tip: Beaches in this park are not patrolled, and can sometimes have strong rips and currents even on a calm day. Please read our Beach Safety guide.

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    Already swapped the elevator for stairs at work? Alright, time to meet your next challenge…The Smugglers track, Barrenjoey Headland in Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park.

    We’re talking fairly steep but short, 400m (grade 3) walking trail with a whole lot of stone steps crossing bushland, which has the benefit of remixing your workout with a bit of history and nature all in one. Just bear in mind that the steps are uneven and steep, so proceed with caution. It will take you 1hr from Sydney to find your outdoor stairmaster challenge.

    You don’t need to hit beast mode and punch them all out in one go. In fact, stairs are perfect for setting your own pace. Stairs also work your glutes far more intensely than regular running, which makes them a good booty building alternative to deadlifting or squatting. At the top enjoy scenic views of Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park, Broken Bay and Sydney’s northern coastline. When you are ready to make your way back down there’s the easier option of the Access Trail but will take twice as long. Remember, don’t workout near cliffs or rock edges.

    Did you know? The Smugglers Track got its name from customs officers who built the track in the 19th century to monitor any smugglers that bringing contraband into Broken Bay.

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    Bents Basin Road picnic area at Bents Basin State Conservation Area. Photo: John Yurasek/DPIE

    Backyard sports, an easy workout win

    Bents Basin picnic area Bents Basin State Conservation Area

    John Yurasek/DPIE (2018)

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    The demands of a full-time 9 to 5 mean squeezing in fitness around busy schedules, like solo pre-work gym sessions or runs after work. We make it happen, but the sad thing is that we can lose the social aspect of sport as we get older. Working out feels more like a health obligation than a fun part of our lives.

    Re-insert joy into exercise by taking classic backyard games like touch footy, cricket and soccer over to Bents Basin Road picnic area and hark back to the days when “working out” just meant “playing with your mates in the backyard for hours”.

There you have it – 5 simple ways to get outside and move your body in one of our breathtaking NSW national parks. From trail running to backyard sports, working up a sweat al fresco is infinitely nicer than simply hopping on that indoor treadmill grind once more.