Now that the horrific winter of 2013–14 is squarely in the rearview, you’re probably itching to spend as much time outside as possible. So put that gym membership on hold—or get off your couch (hey, no judgment)—and take advantage of the best of the zillions of pulse-quickening options that various clubs, parks, and organizations are offering in the Chicago area this summer.

Exercising in a leafy or watery environment is way more fun than using the stair climber, and it can be better for your health. In 2013, researchers at the University of Essex in England concluded from the scientific literature that exercising in green space increases how often people work out, improves their mental health more than exercising inside, and, most interestingly, makes workouts feel easier, which means exercisers are more likely to jack up the intensity and get better fat-busting, muscle-toning results.

To whittle down the hundreds of choices for outdoor group exercise in the city and suburbs, I focused on activities that are trending right now and that suit a variety of ages and fitness levels: standup paddleboarding, outdoor yoga, high-intensity boot camps, social running clubs, and kayaking. Then I consulted experts to narrow the offerings and locations. Here are their recommendations—augmented with the information you’ll need to find the classes, meet-ups, and competitions that will keep you moving through August.

SUP thumb

Standup Paddleboarding

Cardio, strength, and balance

Outdoor Yoga thumb

Outdoor Yoga

Strength and balance

High-Intensity Boot Camps thumb

High-Intensity Boot Camps

Cardio and strength

Kayaking thumb


Cardio, strength, and balance