Hitting the (home) gym is great, but there’s just something restorative about working out outdoors. Whether it’s breathing in some fresh air, getting a much-needed dose of Vitamin D or just getting out of the house for awhile — heading outside can supercharge our body and mind.
But there are a few hazards that can make the outdoors not-so-great. Unpredictable temperatures, high humidity, tricky terrain and personal safety concerns can all throw a kink in our plans to get our sweat on outside.
OrthoCarolina Licensed Athletic Trainer Gregory Loeser says stress on your muscles and joints typically changes more based on your specific workout than the environment where you’re doing it. However, he also said external factors like uneven terrain, running downhill and longer-duration workouts can add unexpected orthopedic stress you won’t experience from jogging on the treadmill or throwing dumbells around the weight room.
Here are 10 tips for working out outdoors:
1. Check the weather first
The first step for outdoor workout safety happens long before you even take a step outside. Check the weather to know what to expect from Mother Nature during your sweat sesh.
“Extreme cold or heat can affect your body’s ability to workout efficiently and effectively,” Gregory says. “Picking the proper time of day in either climate could help — like the middle of a sunny day in colder climates or early/late in the day in hotter climates.”
And don’t forget to scroll down your weather app to find out the humidity and UV index as well.
“Increased humidity makes it harder for the body to dissipate heat, leading to potential heat-related illnesses,” Gregory says. “And overexposure to UV rays that lead to sunburn will accelerate the dehydration process, so drinking fluids and applying sunscreen can help manage those risks.”
One more tip: if you hear thunder, head inside.
“Working out in the rain is acceptable, but thunderstorms, driver visibility, and slippery terrain could all pose as safety risks,” Gregory says. “If there is a possibility of a thunderstorm, I would highly advise against exercising outdoors. If you are outside in a thunderstorm, seek shelter as soon as possible.”
2. Dress for (workout) success
Once you know the weather, you can dress appropriately for any conditions you may encounter. Chilly? Dress in light layers that you can easily shed as your body heats up. Conversely, if it’s a scorcher outside, you’ll need to choose materials that are lightweight and breathable.
And if your workout is going to last until after the sun goes down, Gregory suggests wearing reflective gear and a headlamp.
3. Plan your route ahead of time
Gregory says if you plan on going for a long route workout like jogging, walking, biking or rollerblading, it’s smart to plan your route ahead of time. Stick to well-lit areas with good visibility and proximity to roads or trails.
If you’re planning to head to an unfamiliar area, Gregory suggests consulting a crime mapping website for areas to avoid because of previous criminal activity.
4. Bring a friend (in person or virtually)
Planning your route in advance has the added benefit of letting you give friends and family members an approximate location of where you’ll be during your workout. Even better: use your smartwatch or phone to give them GPS update in realtime.
“For those who have a smartwatch or phone, the ‘share my location’ setting is an easy and effective way to help keep you safe when exercising outdoors in an unfamiliar location,” Gregory says.
The safest option? Bring a workout partner or two.
There’s safety in numbers, plus you’re much more likely not to flake on your workout if you know your crew is waiting for you.
5. Don’t skip the warm-up or cool-down
“It’s always good to warm up and utilize dynamic stretching to help stretch muscle in preparation for a workout,” Gregory says. “After a workout, it’s smart to incorporate a cool down and, if you have time, utilize longer-duration, static stretching.”
Gregory says warm-up and cool-down exercises don’t change based on the weather, but the amount of time dedicated to them should vary.
“In colder weather, you want to spend more time warming up your body before exercise because your environment will affect your body’s ability to increase its temperature,” he says. “In warmer weather, it is safer to spend more time on a cool-down to safely drop your body temperature, heart rate, blood pressure and respiration rate to resting levels.”
6. Keep the terrain in mind
If you pick a hilly area for your run, be careful heading downhill.
“Running downhill adds stress on joints due to gravity adding more weight to the joints with each stride,” Gregory says. “Running on an off-road trail, or grass, or maintained track may help reduce the stress on joints from stride impact, however, it does require muscles to provide more stability.”
7. Altitude changes things
Heading to higher ground for your workout? Mountain hikes may have beautiful scenery, but the altitude could be challenging.
“Elevation can affect your workout due to the decreased oxygen density in the air,” Gregory says. “Lack of oxygen supply can accelerate fatigue and affect cognitive function, so prepare to decrease the intensity of a workout or length of your hike.”
8. Hydrate often
If you aren’t picking up your water bottle until the first time you break a sweat, you’re waiting too long. Drink water before, during and after your workout to keep your body hydrated and ready to perform.
9. Be aware of your surroundings
It can be easy to zone out during a particularly good workout, but being aware of your surroundings is a crucial part of safety.
Gregory suggests playing music at a low volume, walking toward oncoming traffic (but when you’re biking or rollerblading, go in the same direction as traffic) and being cognizant when exercising near a busy street when it’s rainy or foggy, because driver visibility is lower.
10. Be prepared, not scared
A small amount of advance preparation can make it infinitely safer to exercise outdoors. That’s great, because our area has no shortage of gorgeous scenery, challenging terrain and quiet enclaves to sneak in an open-air workout
Gregory loves McAlpine Park, Freedom Park and Sugar Creek Greenway, but he suggests checking out the full list of public parks here.
What are some of your favorite ways to safely workout outdoors? Let us know in the comments!