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April 24, 2020

Staying healthy and happy in the days of the Coronavirus is not exactly easy. Some days, my greatest accomplishment is changing from my ‘night’ sweatpants into my ‘day’ sweatpants.

Now, of course, you can still work out from home—the internet is full of videos of astonishingly buff dudes who have a freakish love of body-weight exercises. But for those of us who despise pushups in the living room, the stay-at-home buff bod seems awfully far away. For me, there’s only been one way I’ve been staying healthy and sane—getting in a quick, safe, outdoor workout.

Provided you can socially distance and follow official state health guidelines, squeezing an outdoor workout into your quarantine routine can be a positive shift for your mood and health. Safety is key, here. It may not be healthy or smart for you to exercise outside where you are. Be cautious and stay at least six feet from other folks.

But whether you have to wait until things are back to normal, or you’re lucky enough that you can safely go outside now, here are a few ideas for outdoor workouts.

The Benefits of an Outdoor Workout
  • Price.   Between bodyweight exercises and a pair of running shoes, you can get into astonishingly good shape for almost nothing. Granted, you’ll need discipline—and even more than that, shamelessness. You may have to be ok with being that guy who does squats in the park (and right now, with a mask on too). But remember, everyone is just jealous that your butt is becoming so powerful.
  • Sunlight.   Getting sunlight will make you feel a little less like a vampire. Combine vitamin D with the endorphins of a good workout and you may find your runner’s high boosted to levels you only thought possible with less-than-legal substances.
  • Beauty.   Not to go all Walden, but it’s easy to forget our human need for nature. Working out next to a nice tree sounds quaint, but being around nature has been scientifically proven to make us feel happier and more relaxed. In our quest to better our bodies, we often forget to take care of our minds.
Outdoor Workout Ideas
Jogging

The obvious one. Running is either a brilliant, life-affirming activity (give me my endorphins!), or medieval torture, depending on who you ask. But the truth is that human beings are actually among the best endurance runners of the animal kingdom.

The biggest mistake new runners make is running in beat up, old shoes.

Our two-legged gait is remarkably efficient—look at the local people of the Kalahari desert. To hunt antelope, these bushmen simply jog after them—for days—until the antelope collapses from exhaustion. So you can probably survive a fifteen minute jog to earn yourself a beer. Just make sure your shoes are up to par! The biggest mistake new runners make is running in beat up, old shoes—a recipe for knee pain and shin splints. Your first two weeks of running are the hardest you’ll ever face—there’s no reason to make it any worse.

Hiking

Like any good sport, hiking has infinite depth. Whether you’re hungover, glaring at the sun, working up an appetite for burrito lunch, or going on an ultralite trail run up a mountain pass, there’s a whole world for you to explore.

If you’re going on an unfamiliar trail, a good rule of thumb is to know when sunset is so you can turn around and get back before dark.

But do your research on where you’re going and bring more water than you think you need. If you’re going on an unfamiliar trail, a good rule of thumb is to know when sunset is so you can turn around and get back before dark. Plenty of people get into trouble… even on easy trails.

Kayaking

Kayaking is a low-impact aerobic activity. So, while you may not burn as many calories per hour kayaking as you would running or cycling, you’ll be strengthening your body without hurting your joints and tendons. The upper body workout is incredible and will help build your core greatly.

The peace and calm of being out on the water are worth it.

That said, be sure your stroke and form is strong as hunching over can hurt your back. While this activity is highly dependent on where you are—and how expensive the kayaks are—the peace and calm of being out on the water are worth it. Provided you don’t get smushed by waves.

Road Cycling or Mountain Biking

Cycling of any kind is a terrific workout—whether it’s toodling around on your old beater or spending $10K on a racing bike, dressing up in one of those vaguely prophylactic bodysuits and dodging cars on the freeway.

A mellow cycling ride can help you stretch out, while an intense one can leave you collapsed on the couch.

Cycling is low-impact and builds your legs, hamstrings and core. A mellow cycling ride can help you stretch out, while an intense one can leave you collapsed on the couch. But, provided your form and bike are decent—and you don’t crash into anything—you won’t injure yourself easily. Similarly, mountain biking can be either peaceful and relaxing or a blistering high-speed adventure. A local fire road is like a walk in the woods whereas a gnarly single track is like throwing yourself down a rocky chute. Just be careful! There’s a reason the most common mountain biking injury is nothing less than a broken collarbone.

Surfing

If you ask me (and you did, because you’re still reading), the best part of surfing isn’t surfing. Now, I may just be saying that because I have the balance of a three-legged narcoleptic goat, but sitting on your board, past the breakers, waiting for a good wave is a great way to relax.

There’s a reason most expert surfers look pretty darn good doing it.

Plus, paddling out is great for your arms and back. There’s a reason most expert surfers look pretty darn good doing it.

In summary, if you’re lucky enough to live in a place where you can safely and easily exercise outside, then you should take advantage of it. Adding fresh air, beauty and sunlight to your weekly workouts will benefit your body and mind. Even when the world is back to normal, being in the natural world for even a few minutes may benefit you more than even the toughest Orange Theory class.