Summer is the perfect time to try a fun new outdoor workout routine.
I'm the first to say I love the gym. But sometimes getting outside to take in nature and feel the sun on your skin trumps a stuffy and usually overpacked gym.
I always found it tough to split my time between structured workouts and my favorite outdoor activities, until I realized that those outdoor activities were actually adding to my fitness , not taking away from it. Doing a CrossFit workout and going mountain biking in the same day never ends well for my legs, anyway.
I always like to ask people, "How do you use your fitness?" It gets them thinking about what their time in the gym amounts to outside of the gym. Here are four ways I like to use my fitness that are great for the summer weather.
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Main muscles worked: Quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, core, calves
Where: Designated mountain biking trails only
How to get started: Rent a mountain bike to see if you like it; consider buying your own if you'll go often
If you want a serious leg workout, look no further than mountain biking. From beginner trails to double-black diamonds, there's a mountain biking challenge for every fitness and skill level.
Steep hills, challenging switchbacks and a variety of obstacles (rock hopping or skinny bridges, anyone?) will engage muscles you didn't even know you had. Your whole body will work hard, but your legs take the brunt of it.
Mountain biking isn't just a strength workout, though. It doubles as an intense cardio workout for both your aerobic and anaerobic endurance. Don't forget your helmet!
Main muscles worked: Full body, but especially fingers, forearms and obliques
Where: State and national parks, hiking trails, outdoor climbing parks
How to get started: Research online for nearby climbing areas, try out an indoor gym, rent or buy proper gear, hire a guide or join a group
Want to feel like a kid climbing a jungle gym again? Try rock climbing. Though it can sound intimidating, climbing isn't hard for beginners, especially if you start at an indoor climbing gym or take an outdoor climbing class to get the basics.
There are various forms of climbing, but the most common for beginners are bouldering and free climbing. Bouldering involves climbing short routes on actual boulders (or indoor rock walls) that are 15 feet tall and shorter without a harness or rope. For this, you only need climbing shoes and chalk: Pads are provided at gyms, but you'll need to bring your own for outdoor climbing.
Free climbing, also called lead or top-rope climbing, requires a harness that connects you to a rope, climbing shoes and often a helmet to scale routes around 20 feet and taller. All types of climbing are an excellent form of exercise that work your entire body from your fingers to your toes. Your fingers and forearms will especially feel sore afterwards.
Plus, each route you climb (also called "problems" in bouldering) also works your brain because it's a mental puzzle to figure out how to move your body to reach the top.
Regardless of which type of climbing you're interested in, it's extremely important that you do not climb outside alone as a beginner. Go with a group of people who are well-versed in safe climbing practices, or start at an indoor climbing gym where instructors can show you the (literal and figurative) ropes.
Main muscles worked: Arms, shoulders, upper back, core
Where: Any natural body of water without vessel restrictions, weather permitting
How to get started: Check your city for rentals, routes and tours
Choose a vessel and get out on the water: Paddleboards, kayaks and canoes all make for a fun and tough way to explore lakes, rivers, canals, bays and other bodies of water.
After just a few minutes of paddling, you'll feel the burn in your arms, shoulders and back. You may also feel it in your core and hip flexors due to the stabilization needed to keep your vessel steady.
If you're new to paddling, consider attending a guided tour. Not only will your tour guide direct you through the channels and drop cool nature facts, but they'll be able to give you tips for good paddling form, depending on the type of boat you're in.
On the other hand, if you're feeling extra adventurous and up for a challenge, try open-water paddling. The ocean is not forgiving!
Just be sure to check the weather before you go to avoid dangerous conditions and surprises in intensity level. One time, I went kayaking in Key Largo as a summer storm was coming in, and the wind blew so furiously I ended up spinning donuts in my kayak because I couldn't straighten the boat against the wind. Talk about a workout.
Main muscles worked: Full body
Where: Any body of water designated for snorkeling (usually off of a shore or sandbar, or deepwater with a guide)
How to get started: Research local operations near your city to find gear rentals, self-guided snorkeling areas and guided tours
Before you scoff, know that snorkeling is surprisingly hard -- especially if you take a boat past the breakers and swim in the real waves.
Whether you stick to calm waters or brave the deep end, snorkeling is a great form of physical activity that engages all of your muscles from head to toe. Literally. The last time I went snorkeling, my toes and the arches of my feet got sore from kicking my legs with fins on.
In addition to the obvious movements (your arms and legs moving to propel you through the water), your core also gets a good workout. Gliding through the water, making turns to look at sea life and hovering in the water all require core control and stability. Don't be surprised if your abs feel sore after!
Just like with other water activities, check the weather before you go. Most rental and tour companies won't lend out gear or schedule excursions if the weather is bad or could get bad.
Main muscles worked: Full body
Where: Any outdoor area where exercise is permitted
How to get started: Research basic yoga poses or download a beginner-friendly yoga mat and take your mat to the park!
Yoga can be as tough or as easy as you want to make it. That's why it's such a great choice for summer workouts: It's versatile, so you can adapt to however you feel on a given day.
To add an extra element of wellness to your yoga practice, try taking it outside. Sunshine and fresh air can make the whole thing feel even more zen. Check your city's guidelines and regulations for outdoor fitness in parks before you roll out your mat.
Don't forget to wear sunscreen if you try outdoor yoga or any of these outdoor summer workout ideas.