Natural Fitness using Trees
Back to the subject of functional fitness, there is another great training accessory
out there pretty much everywhere you look (unless you live in N. Texas or the desert):
Here in the hill country, there is a tree that is far and away the best exercise
tree I have ever seen. It is the Ashe juniper (aka mountain cedar). The bark is
smooth, you can climb on the branches without worrying about hurting the tree, it
smells great,and it’s usually growing in a way that creates superlative exercise
opportunities. That is, often you can find mature trees with branches that offset
from each other in a way that makes it ideal for climbing and working through functional
Start by stretching and getting used to the tree you’ll be using
So here’s a way to use trees for some natural, functional exercises that will get
you more in tune with your own body, its strengths and its limitations or weaknesses
that need work:
Step 1: Find a tree (or even better, a grove of them) that has at least a
few branches that will:
- Easily support your weight
- Are close enough together to allow movement between the two using at least your
- Are close to other branches above them that will also easily support your weight
- Has bark that is not too rough for your hands. You’ll build up calluses with any
of these types of workouts, and all bark is rough to some degree, but some bark
is much rougher than other bark. To test it out, grab a hold of a branch or two
and support your own body weight. Move around a little and shift hand positions.
If your hands are bleeding already, it’s probably too rough. But seriously, you
can tell after less than a minute if the bark will be too rough to use. The other
alternative is of course to wear gloves. If you’re wearing gloves, try to use thin
gloves that are tight and form-fitting. Nylon will get ripped up on bark in a hurry.
My favorite is buckskin or thin cowhide, but they don’t fit as tightly as synthetic
fibers, so you have to be careful and take that into account. It’s no fun to fall
from a bad position because you aren’t paying attention to your true grip (not the
grip your gloves have), and your gloves come off.
Side to side hopping… first to one side…
Side to side hopping… first to one side…
…then the other
Start slowly. Use the branches and tree trunk to stretch a little bit first. Get
a gradual idea of what kinds of movement you’ll be able to do, using the structures
at hand. Go from stretching to putting more weight into it, and try out some movements.
Here are a few ideas to get started, but this is a chance to see what your own weaknesses
are and what you need to work on:
1) Slow, high resistance movement, like slow pullups, or slow “walk-ups” where you
hang with your hands and slowly walk your feet up the side of the tree.
Tree pullups. Vary where you put your feet and hands
2) Side-to-Side hopping. If you have a tree with lower branches on either side,
you can use those to hop from side to side while hanging from one or both arms.
3) Mountain Climbers: Hands down this beats the mountain climbers that you can find
in gyms. You need about 3 or 4 limbs to climb for this though. Step up one limb
at a time, then step back down. The more varied the distance between limbs, the
Tree Mtn. Climbers – Tougher than at the gym
4) One-hand Reaches: You need one branch that’s at least a few feet higher than
another one for this. Hang from one hand, feet either on the ground or rested in
the crook of a low branch. Hang the other hand down toward the ground, body turned
slightly sideways. Now, using core muscles, pull and twist your body up to the point
that you can grab the higher branch with the hand that was hanging down.
5) Inverted and High Resistance Sit-ups: If there’s a spot to sit and brace your
legs, or even hang upside down with your legs very firmly braced, you can do both
sit-ups and back arches with a lot more resistance than you will get on the ground,
plus better extension.
Tree sit-ups…. Brutal!
Great stuff… and a lot cheaper than buying a bunch of equipment for a boring workout with no real variety or functional application. There are literally dozens of exercises you can come up with at any given tree that fits the qualities described above. Using some imagination and internal awareness in creating these exercises will also get you a lot more in tune with what your own muscle groups need. Happy tree hunting!