It’s summer, but it might not feel like summer. Oh, sure, the temperature outside is quite warm. The days are longer. The kids are out of school (though they have been for four months now). But the State Fair is canceled. There are no concerts in the parks. Fourth of July plans are up in the air. Somehow our carefree summer days seem to have been taken hostage by the dang coronavirus.
But one thing you can still do? You can get outside and enjoy nature. Summer is a great time to get out of the gym (well, provided they have opened back up) and work out outdoors, but certain precautions are in order. From dealing with excessive heat to what necessities you’ll need to do your chosen sport, we run down how to stay safe while working out outside.
Run With It
From area parks to the American River Parkway to the numerous tree-lined city streets, Sacramento offers an abundance of places to run.
The decomposed granite you find at parks such as McKinley Park, Curtis Park and Land Park, as well as along the American River Bike Trail, offer less stress on your body than the less–forgiving pavement. If you aren’t near such a trail and if the road is wide enough, you can run on the asphalt—in the bike lane—but always facing traffic. “You should never be going in the same direction as cars or bikes because you want to see them,” says Rich Hanna, owner of Capital Road Race Management. If you are on a narrow street with traffic and no bike lane, Hanna says the concrete sidewalk is your safer option. “Although a harder surface than asphalt, the sidewalk is also a better option than running on a highly slanted road. You are much less likely to get injured on a flatter surface than a cambered surface.”
If you are going to run—or do any sort of workout—outside in the summer, give your body time to get used to the heat.
“It takes at least two weeks for your body to acclimate to warmer weather,” says Hanna. Wear microfiber clothing, including a hat to keep the sun off your face, and avoid cotton. “It won’t wick away the moisture, so you will chafe and stay hot,” he notes. Find a shady course and hydrate before, during and after your workout. “You want to drink before you are thirsty,” Hanna points out. And consider carrying an electrolyte drink such as Gatorade in addition to water, especially if you will be outside longer than 90 minutes or if the weather is especially hot. “The more you sweat, the more electrolytes you need,” says Hanna.
With proper preparation, you can run in the heat; however, poor air quality is another story. “If air quality is bad, you are doing diminishing returns. It’s worse than really hot weather,” says Hanna.
Spinning Your Wheels
Did you know that indoor and outdoor cycling deliver many of the same benefits?
“Both work your quads, your glutes, your hamstrings and get your heart rate up,” says Ann Vezey, corporate group exercise director for Spare Time Sports Clubs.
But there are some key differences.
“Inside you can control your climb, but outside you can’t control it. There is no turning that hill off,” she says. As with running, when cycling outdoors you have to be mindful of the terrain—including potholes and speed bumps—and the traffic.
Keeping that in mind, there’s no reason to shun the outdoors; just ride prepared.
Vezey says it’s important to make sure your bike is in good condition—a yearly tune–up is a good idea—and that it fits your body. An improper fit can lead to injuries in the knees, hips and back.
In addition to a helmet, gloves and cycling shoes (“they are made for biking—you use more of your upper legs and hips instead of your feet”), Vezey recommends a heart rate monitor to ensure you are not working too hard in the heat. Other essentials for a smooth summer ride: two water bottle holders, a first–aid kit and a padded seat or padded bike shorts to help prevent chafing and make you “more comfy in the tushy,” she says. And if you are cycling at night (or even during the day on city streets), a flashing bike light is a must, according to Vezey. Finally, carry a spare tire tube (most will fit under your bike) and know how to change it, she says. “It should take less than 10 minutes to do, and it’s not that hard.”
Make a Splash
Pool, lake or river (if you dare), swimming can be a great way to get in a workout on a hot summer day (or night).
“It is actually quite refreshing if it is 100 degrees outside and you can jump in the lake or the pool to work out,” says Tiffiny Ferrell, swim coach for Total Body Fitness.
The good news about swimming is that most anyone can do it. “I never see any detriment to swimming, other than people’s fear of drowning,” says Ferrell. She does recommend that everyone take swimming lessons, especially if they did not do so as a child. “Swimming is very technical. The more efficient you are in your stroke, the more you are going to feel comfortable in the water and the more you are going to enjoy it,” she says. “Even if you are not going to swim for exercise, I think everyone should take swim lessons.”
A swimsuit, cap and goggles are universal swimming must-haves, but if you are swimming in open water, you might want to consider a wet suit. “People like wet suits because of the buoyancy. That helps people in overcoming the fear of drowning because you kind of have a floatation device,” says Ferrell. She also recommends wearing a brightly colored swim cap—“something that is going to alert others and boats that you are out there,” she says. Finally, Ferrell recommends swimming with a friend, especially when in open water, or at least letting someone know where you are.
For Ferrell, touting the many benefits of swimming is easy. “Not only is swimming good for cardio, it is easier on your joints and it can be good for your mental health. It can calm you. You can just be. You don’t have to talk to anybody, and you can just swim away your stress.”
Go Climb a Rock
Once considered a fringe sport, climbing, including its subset, bouldering, is growing more mainstream. Case in point: It was going to make its Summer Olympics debut this year.
“It’s one of the fastest–growing sports in the world,” says Carlo Traversi, owner of The Boulder Field in Sacramento.
You don’t have to be an Olympic–caliber athlete to enjoy climbing, but if you are new to the sport, Traversi recommends partnering up with a more experienced climber or learning the ropes—sorry, pun intended—at a climbing gym first. “It’s good to come into the gym if you don’t have any experience, because you will learn a lot about how to be safe while climbing,” says Traversi, adding that some gyms offer outdoor expeditions.
Once you’re ready to head outdoors, you’ll need climbing shoes and a crash pad—don’t let the name scare you—to put down on the ground for bouldering. If you’re climbing bigger rocks, you’ll need ropes, a harness and someone to belay you.
Depending on the time of day or how long you’ll be out, you might also consider bringing sunscreen, water and food, and dressing in layers to prepare for changing weather conditions. “It’s similar to a day of hiking in terms of your needs,” Traversi says.
Whatever level you’re at, you’ll get a full-body workout, according to Traversi. “You’re using your arms, your legs, your core. It’s anaerobic and aerobic. It’s a good combination of everything,” he says. It also engages your mind. “It’s a lot of problem solving. You are trying to find a way to get to the top, so you kinda forget you are working out. I like climbing because I am having fun. It doesn’t feel like I am working out.”
Call of the Wild
The beauty of outdoor workouts is just that: You’re outdoors. However, it’s important to remember that you’re in nature, so you need to be aware of poisonous plants, other inhabitants and the elements.
“Poison oak is prevalent throughout this entire area,” says Mike Howard, sector superintendent for the Auburn State Recreation Area. “Having an awareness of what it looks like can help people prevent touching it or keep their distance from it.”
Many an outdoor enthusiast has seen a rattlesnake or two when out on the area’s trails, but don’t let them keep you away.
“Rattlesnakes are usually kind enough to warn people,” Howard says, referring to their rattle, “and if you are on a trail, it is pretty easy to see them.”
Ticks are another reason to stay on trail. “Ticks will stay on the leaves of a branch just waiting for a host to walk by,” says Howard. His advice: Stay on the trail and check yourself when you get home.
And while mountain lion and bear sightings are rare, according to Howard, your best line of defense if you do see one is to “get big, yell and back away slowly.” Do not run and do not crouch down. “They crouch down before they attack, so if you crouch down, they may think you are a threat,” he says.
This may go without saying but it bears repeating: If you’re swimming in open water (without a wet suit), wear a life jacket. “People universally underestimate what very cold fast water can do to a person,” says Howard. “The cheap orange life jackets are really good and will keep you afloat.”
Finally, keep in mind that it’s fire season, especially in remote areas. Howard advises people hiking in remote places to have a plan in case of a fire. “Plan A is fleeing. Plan B is getting down into a river bar where there is no vegetation and where they can get into the river,” he says. “That is something people should be thinking about when we are in fire season.”