Like parkrun? Then you’ll love these free outdoor exercise classes

Spend It Better: ‘Green exercise’ is better for your body and the planet

‘Green exercise’ comes with added benefits like vitamin D and burning more calories. Photograph: Getty Images

There are no mirrors in the park, no screens to trap your gaze, just trees, grass and peace. I tried gym workouts a few years ago. They seemed more contained and efficient. But I hated the grunting, the preening and the reeking. And that was just my behaviour. Don’t get me started on everyone else there.

So I’m lucky to be a member of a great running group that keeps me (relatively) sane. It also helps us burn 5 per cent more calories than we would on a treadmill, not just because of the coaching and the crack but because outdoor exercise is better. Physically and mentally, “green exercise”, the stuff we do in parks, gardens, beaches or forests, comes with the added benefits, like vitamin D and burning more calories. Even the swankiest gym with on-tap wheatgrass shots can’t deliver its benefits.

The truth is that green exercise is also more sustainable. Tying the laces and walking or running out the door trumps driving to a gym at every level. But it’s also true that most of the exercise we do outdoors is in the cardio category:  running, walking or cycling all of which is good but it’s not the whole story. This is where Brian Crooke comes in.

Resistance training

We all know the minimum cardio exercise recommended, Crooke says, but fewer of us know that the World Health Organisation also recommends resistance training to keep our joints and muscles working. Crooke is the founder of parkHIIT. Modelled on parkrun, it’s resistance training without the gym, or the need for any equipment. And the real beauty of it is that it’s free and, if his mission is fulfilled, coming to a green space in your neighbourhood soon.


Crooke did his first session in Ashtown in 2018 and has been rolling it out across parks in Dublin. You register online at: and rock up. We tried it recently on a misty Sunday morning. The repetitions, each set of three done for 30 seconds, have a warm down jog or a walk on the spot in between. It was super friendly, and a wake-up call to a whole new set of muscles (hello planks with shoulder taps), but it's also sociable, manageable for different fitness levels and a place to meet people and get up close and personal with a patch of grass.

As winter closes in initiatives like parkHIIT, can keep us outside where we’re happier and healthier. I’d love to see this rolled out as widely as parkruns. Share the buzz of the outdoor gym bunny vibe.

Catherine Cleary is the co-founder of Pocket Forests