Try Some New Outdoor Activities This Fall

Although heading to the gym is a nice alternative to your fall workouts when the weather is truly miserable, sometimes just trying something new is enough to help you forget the shorter, darker days and keep you motivated. We challenge you to get out there and try some new outdoor activities this fall and winter and we just bet some of these may stay with you for life!

  • Snowshoeing: If you can walk, you can snowshoe. Equipment includes snowshoes and trekking poles and winter hiking clothing. A detailed gear list here takes the guess work out of it for you. This sport is easy to learn, inexpensive to start and is a great cardo workout. Rather than waste money on a set of snowshoes and poles that don’t work for you, try renting a few different types first. Most Nordic centers rent for about $10. Then when you are ready to purchase, you know what styles work for you. You can start out on relatively flat, close in hiking trails to gain comfort and confidence before you hit the backcountry. Any ski areas near you also have perfect snowshoeing trails nearby.
  • Snowboarding: Not just for gen-x’ers, this downhill sport is less expensive than skiing for either purchasing or renting. I recommend you start out with a lesson to get you over that beginner hump, but once you do, you will be amazed at how quickly you can pick this up. This post has some really valuable tips for beginners and helps to take the mystery out of it.
  • Orienteering: Learning to read maps and navigate by compass is not only a valuable backcountry skill, it is fun! You can take it into geocaching once you get hooked. There are club orienteering events for foot, ski and bike and Orienteering USA sanctions events all across the country. This one can get really addicting, try it!
  • Ice Fishing: There is no better reason to make that lovely rich thermos of hot chocolate and enjoy the crisp, winter weather than ice fishing. Combine this with winter hiking or snowshoeing and you have some cardio to go with that yummy fish dinner later!
  • Zorbing: One of the more extreme new sports out there, but ya gotta try this! Started in New Zealand in the mid-90’s, this is taking off worldwide. Basically, participants climb inside a huge inflatable ball and roll down a hill. These balls are double-walled and provide full protection for those strapped within. Some zorb locations also provide water based zorb opportunities…not suggested for winter zorbing, however.

So get out your winter workout gear and try something new, you may just have a hard time stopping once you have started!

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Outer Gear Shopping Tips for Snow Season

Snow season is just around the corner and with that comes great opportunities to hit the slopes, go snowshoeing, cross country skiing, or just have a good snowball fight. Regardless of your winter snow activities, take the time now to be sure you have the right gear for your sport. If you are warm and comfy, you will enjoy yourself longer and also keep yourself safe from hypothermia. Here are some outer gear shopping tips to keep you going long and strong in your winter outdoor activities.

  • Moisture-wicking base and middle layers: The trick with most active winter sports is temperature control as you heat up and begin to sweat and then start to cool down on the lift or at a resting point. A most critical feature of your inner-most layer and also your mid layer is wicking capability so that sweat is drawn away from your skin. If your clothing does not do this for you, you risk not just getting chilled, but hypothermia. It’s always a safe idea to bring extra base layers to change into and get the sweaty ones off your skin.
  • Multiple middle layers for less bulk: Make sure you can peel off layers as needed, rather than going for a single, bulkier middle layer. This allows for greater flexibility depending on the conditions and how much you begin to sweat.
  • Vents and zips for temperature control: These are critical features to have in your outer layer. Sometimes you start to really heat up, but taking off your waterproof and windproof outer layer is not necessarily wise. Look for jackets that have multiple vents at the critical spots such as arm pits and sides.
  • A lightweight, yet wind and waterproof shell: Manufacturers are coming out with amazingly light weight storm shells for tucking away in a pocket to have as an option for weather protection if needed.
  • Moisture-wicking head gear: Whether you prefer a hat, head band, baklava, or neck gaiter, go for moisture-wicking properties. Baklavas and neck gaiters offer some variety of ways to wear them and moderate your body temperature.
  • Gloves specific to your sport: Depending on your sport and personal preference, you need to decide if gloves or mittens are best for you. Dexterity and ease of use depend on if you need to access zippers or smaller pockets. Regardless, you want a glove or mitten that comes with liners for moisture absorption and the ability to wash so you don’t get “glove stink”. Other great features to look for such as wrist leashes to prevent lost gloves and touch screen sensor capabilities are nice for using your smartphone without having to take of your gloves.

Check out this in-depth glove and mitten review to help you consider the right options for your winter sport.

So don’t go for the bargain basement deals when it comes to your winter sports clothing. Find the right features for you and your sport and you will be comfy and active all winter long.

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Trail Running Safely

Trail running is growing in popularity just as hiking is. However, even the most experienced road runners will tell you that trail running can seem like an entirely different sport. One issue that is less of an issue with road running is personal safety due to the backcountry challenges as well as varying and challenging terrain. There is no need to shy away from trail running as long as you consider safety precautions and take care to implement them.

  • Good form translates to safety: On a typical run, you don’t need to worry about catching your toe on a root or rock when you tire at the end of your run on uneven and unpredictable terrain. It is a different story on the trail. Take care to lift your feet and shorten your stride. When running downhill, keep your center of balance lower and arms looser down at your sides for stability.
  • Let someone know where you are: Leave a note, send a text, or even post to social media. If you should need help, people need to know where to go.
  • Consider trail running shoes as opposed to regular runners: They are engineered for more support and the soles have traction designed for the trail environment.
  • Know your surroundings: This is not the time to wear ear buds. Be alert and oriented to the route. Trails tend to look similar and even on a trail you run frequently, it can be easy to take a wrong turn or miss a landmark. Be alert and take mental notes as you go along of particular trees or large boulders.
  • Know your route: study a map ahead of time and carry a copy with you, especially if you are trying a new trail system.
  • Adapt constantly: The trails change often and repeatedly, you cannot expect to hit your stride and rhythm as you do on road runs. It is a completely different beast and you need to adjust accordingly.
  • Be ready for the hills: they come steep and long and you may need to actually “power hike” some of the steeper ones instead of running.
  • Protect yourself with pepper spray or other easily carried form of personal protection.
  • Wear bright colors, especially if it is hunting season.
  • Utilize a fanny pack or small backpack for extra food and water just in case your 1 hr. run takes some unexpected turns and you are out longer. It needs to be big enough for a basic first aid kit or the 10 essentials.
  • Have your cell with you for safety: Better yet, download a running app and set it going not only to log your run, but as a safety back up if you should get lost.
  • Bears: although bear attacks on runners or hikers are extremely rare, it is a factor you should consider:
    • Bears would much rather run the other way, so making noise, clapping whooping hollering or blow a whistle to send teddy packing.
    • If you run with a do, keep it leashed since most dogs will aggravate an otherwise timid bear.
    • Bears are less likely to bother groups, so run with a buddy.
    • Avoid running trails at dawn or dusk when bears are more active.

By no means should this post discourage or frighten you from the wonderful world of trail running. Just take these tips into consideration and stay safe as you put on the miles in a wonderful and fresh new environment.

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Must-Have Gear for Wet Weather Workouts

For all you outdoor enthusiasts…and also fort those of you on the fence that need to know you can actually have fun slogging through the rainy season and still get in some outdoor workouts, we have some gear ideas and tips for you!

Making sure you are comfortable and safe is 80% of the game of wet weather workouts. When you are comfortable from feeling the worst effects of the weather conditions, you are able to relax and enjoy your run or other outdoor workout. But also, having some cool new gear to wear and use may be just the ticket to get you out there.

First of all think safety:

  • Before you even head out the door, make sure you know the forecast. This time of the year the conditions can change quickly. A good weather app for your phone is one of the most important pieces of high tech equipment for outdoor workouts. If a really bad cold front or lightening is coming, head to the gym or community center. Be safe!
  • Communicate: Your smartphone should be there for you in case of an emergency first and for your playlist second. Protect it with a water proof sleeve or even a baggie. Don’t head out the door with a low battery, so plan ahead.
  • Be visible: whether you are cycling, running, or power walking, have as much reflective strips on legs, arms, helmet as you can. You can even purchase a reflective construction vest to toss on over your workout gear and be assured of being seen. Reflective clothing is not enough, however. Cyclists should have lights on the front and back of your bike and even mount one on your helmet. Runners and walkers can wear headlamps sold at most sporting goods stores and even the hardware store
  • Get a grip: With your shoes, we mean. If your running shoes are getting worn and even smooth on the bottom, one step in the wrong direction on a wet surface can result in a bad fall and pulled muscles or even worse. The beginning of the wet season is just the time to start out with a fresh pair of shoes.
  • Be smart with layers: Starting from the outside in, have a nylon waterproof and windproof outer layer. In cold weather if you are soaked to the skin, you will lose body heat and chill quicker, putting yourself at risk for hypothermia. To allow for regulating your temperature, look for shells with arm pit zips and other ventilation options so you can adjust if you need to “breathe”
  • Top it off: a hat with a brim to keep from losing body heat through the top of your head and also for keeping rain out of your eyes for visibility.

Now think comfort:

  • Dry out your shoes when you are done by stuffing with crumpled up newspaper to help them hold their shape. Fight odors with these nifty little Stuffit’s, the antimicrobial drying inserts combat moisture and kill odor in shoes. Never put running or other shoes in the drier or in front of a heat vent. It can cause them to shrink and dry out of shape.

Consider your materials:

  • Polyester: Moisture-wicking, quick-drying polyester is marketed under a variety of names. Each has proprietary characteristics to enhance performance.
    • Merino wool:Its’ one of the best body temperature regulating materials for both cool and warm weather. Wool is also moisture-wicking and has fast-drying properties that are naturally antimicrobial and help fight bad odors.
    • Chafe-free seams:Look for flat or welded seams placed away from areas that could impede your stride or natural running motion.
    • Nylon:Quick-drying, moisture-wicking nylon is frequently used alone or blended with other fabrics and offers excellent durability in running shorts, pants and lightweight jackets.
    • Mesh vents:Many tops are augmented with cooling mesh panels for high-heat areas such as your back, underarms and sides.

There are all kinds of fun techie gadgets with GPS heart rate monitors, altimeters, barometers, and compasses to do a whole lot more than just tell the time. But make sure your first focus is safety and that your gadgets don’t distract you from being aware of your surroundings and changing conditions.

So get set with some of our suggestions and get on out there and have some fun this rainy season!

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Simple Tips for Improving Your Running Form

By Janet Luhrs,

Running is one of the simplest forms of exercises there is. Most likely it is the oldest! It takes very little “gear” and people of all shapes, sizes, and ages can run. There is no need to make it complicated and attaining good, efficient running form is simple to do.

If running is so simple, then why the need to work on proper form? The other end of the spectrum is poor technique. This can lead to inefficient form and injuries. If your form is poor, your runs can start to feel like a chore and stress injuries can increase. Even the best runners have room for improvement and work with technique coaches to clean things up.

No need for a high priced running coach today, we have some basic tips that you can consider on your own and you will likely see some changes in your runs as you focus on these.

  • Relaxed, yet focused posture: Lead with your chest and hips together, keeping your shoulders straight so they don’t roll inward. As you run, keep your torso straight, leaning very slightly forward to direct your body in a more aerodynamic motion. Straight shoulders allows for fuller, more open lungs.
  • Relax: Keeping your torso, shoulders and arms free of tension is key to efficient form and eases up stress on your joints.
  • Footstrike: While this topic alone can get complicated, keep it simple by being aware of how you land on each stride. Virtually all runners hit rear footstrike, md footstrike, or fore-footstrike. No one is the perfect position, but all three have their pros and cons. Make sure you area not landing on the outside or the inside edge of your foot.
  • Balanced stride: Your legs should not be over striding and reaching too far out in front of you to grab the ground. Your feet should strike the ground as they are under you, not in front. Knees should be flexing at a 90 degree angle once you are warmed up and into a good strong run.
  • Arm position: Your arms are there to counterbalance your leg strides. Keep them comfortable and fluid and not overly crossing your body. Take care not to over-pump your arms, thereby wasting valuable energy. Keep them at a 90 degree angle.

Start there focusing on these basics and you will see some improvement in your form and your endurance. You will take something that you already enjoy and make it that much better! If you want more detailed information on running form, check out this post…but keep it simple!

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Why Runners Need to do Strength Training

Like so many things, our running speed tends to slow down as we age. However, that might not be totally due to the speed at which our legs move and our bodies function. A New York Times article from last month presents the results from a study that shows it may be due at least in part to shorter strides and lessening use of the lower leg muscles.

“With each passing decade, the runners’ stride length and preferred speed dropped by about 20 percent. Meanwhile, runners older than about 40 displayed much less activation of and power in the muscles of their lower legs, especially those around the ankle and in the calf… These runners pushed off more weakly with each stride and did not rise as high into the air as younger runners, a change in form that accelerated as runners reached their 50s,” the article notes. “The older runners used their ankle muscles less but not other muscles more. Instead, they simply slowed down.”

While this study is very limited and an early look at this issue, it clearly shows that as we age, our strength and stride are affecting our running speed. Endurance athletes should incorporate strength training into their workout in balance with their long-distance running, cycling, etc. Here’s why…

  • Increases output of power, allowing you to last longer. We know that proper form allows you to move more efficiently, which extends your limits on movement and energy. Stronger muscles prevent your form from degrading and are more efficient at doing their jobs, which extends your endurance.
  • Reduces stress triggered by fatigue. Endurance runners all experience fatigue, and when it sets in, their posture can slip, putting stress on the neck, shoulders, hips, etc. However, if the runner has been training appropriate muscle groups for strength, he/she can maintain a more powerful posture and avoid that stress.
  • Develops better resistance to injury. Strength training improves your technique, posture, joint function, and bone density – all of which are strong contributing factors to your body’s resistance to injury, and its ability to recover.

For more on this subject, check out this in-depth article from Mark’s Daily Apple.

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Tips for Walking or Running Safely in Wet Weather

For those of us in the Pacific Northwest, running, walking or exercising in the rain is a given unless you plan to stay indoors 9 months out of the year. People who are new to outdoor workouts may not yet realize that some of your best workouts can occur in inclement or wet weather. The trick is to be prepared, consider your safety, and have appropriate gear.

We have some basic tips for you to consider and plan for to keep you active and moving all fall and winter long!

  • Layers: This standby is not only appropriate for the trail or the slopes. Insure that the innermost layer that touches your body is a wicking fabric that draws moisture and sweat away from your skin. A wind and water resistant jacket is helpful for your outer layer. Look for breathable options with zip vents for helping to regulate heat. If it is extremely cold, a middle, thermal layer is appropriate. While running in winter weather, I am prepared to peel off one of those layers as needed and tie around my waist.
  • Reflective clothing: This can be all out reflective jackets or shirts, or even just those with stripes or sections that have a reflective portion. It is amazing how these increase your visibility to motorists.
  • Be aware: I am constantly amazed (and at time startled) at how pedestrian walkers and runners forget how much more difficult it is for a motorist to see you than the other way around. Make eye contact at crosswalks and corners to be sure the driver really does know you are about to cross.
  • Get a grip: Make sure the soles of your running or walking shoes do not have worn tread and actually can give you some grip on slippery sidewalks. It is a small price to pay to invest in a new pair for the rainy season if they help prevent falls. Take extra precaution when taking corners or running on changing surfaces that may be more slippery than the last.
  • Communicate: Make sure someone from home knows which route you are taking and when you expect to be home. A simple text will do.
  • Warm up and cool down: This is especially critical in cooler weather. Nursing a pulled or torn muscle is not a fun way to spend your fall or winter.
  • Fuel up: Your body has to work extra to regulate your temperature and if you plan to head out on a long run or walk, make sure you are fueled adequately and not heading out on a completely empty stomach.

These are just some starters to keep you safe and out there on the road/track/trail through the colder and wetter months. If you have some wet weather running tips for us, please share, we would love to hear what works for you.

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Top Features for Your Fall and Winter Fitness Clothing

Outdoor workouts in the colder fall and winter months can be invigorating and offer refreshingly new settings and conditions. The colder temperatures and added rain or even snow can make for challenges, put a damper on a workout, or even post risks of injury. Having the right kind of winter fitness clothing can go a long way in increasing your comfort and keeping you in the game. Layering allows you to customize your comfort according to the changing conditions as well as your body temperatures.

  • Inner Layers: Cotton, while it is breathable and soft is usually one of the worst choices for cold and wet conditions. It doesn’t wick moisture away from your body and the moment you slow down or stop, you begin to chill. Cotton also traps sweat and can impede proper cooling of your body. The same issue occurs with cotton socks. However the result of trapped moisture usually is blisters in addition to the cold. Look instead for moisture wicking fabrics especially for the layers close to or immediately next to your skin. On the label, look for technical or performance fabrics such as polyester and Lycra. Smart wool or merino wool are great options for the colder regions. The “no cotton” rule applies to your undergarments as well, so check those before you head out into the elements.
  • For insulation or middle layers, fleece is one of the best materials on the active-wear market. Consider your activity as well as duration and make sure to pack along options for layering and removing layers as your activity level and body temperature changes. If you are running, make sure to keep an additional dry top to quickly change into in your car when your run ends. Natural fibers such as down and wool make wonderful insulation layers. The only drawback is they lose insulation factors as they get wet, so using these with an outer shell or on days when you know for sure there is no chance of encountering wet conditions is advised. Fleece options range from light weight such as Polartec 100 to heavier and wind resistance such as Polartec WindPro and Gore WindStopper.
  • Outer-Shell Layer: This one is for weather protection. If you are running in town and just encountering wet and a bit cool or cold temperatures, a lighter, water resistant shell is sufficient. Those with zip vents at the arm pits are especially nice for running to help regulate your temperature. Shells that are both water proof and breathable are the more expensive options, but allow for lighter weight and still offer waterproof protection for mountaineering, hiking, or skiing. Garments made with eVent and Gore-Tex are some of the best choices. Some shells come with a zip-in fleece layer which allows for more flexibility.

Although quality winter weather gear can be spendy, making the investment in your comfort and safety is worth it and well made products with a good warrantee will last you for years with proper care.

Stay warm and safe and keep on getting out there!

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Playgrounds for Seniors are Fun, Improve Health & Balance

I recently came across a Huffington Post article about a fantastic new concept for elderly peoples’ fitness… playgrounds! Apparently communities in Europe and Asia have begun to open playgrounds specifically designed with seniors in mind – meaning low-impact exercise equipment – and the trend has come to the U.S.

Playgrounds for seniors and parks that are designed for multi-generational consumers provide a fun, playful way to exercise important areas such as coordination and range of motion.

The low-impact equipment at these playgrounds is engineered to promote balance and flexibility – two important things that seniors consistently struggle to maintain or improve. Additionally (as you might expect), there are significant mental and social benefits to the playgrounds for seniors, as the parks often become community-gathering spots.

In partnership with the Humana Foundation, a company called KaBOOM! has constructed more than 50 multi-generational playgrounds across the U.S., serving both the elderly and the young. “Play is a great connector for adults and seniors and the children in their lives. In addition to the cognitive and physical benefits of play, it can also reduce stress in adults and is proven to help combat toxic stress in kids,” said Sarah Pinsky, KaBOOM!’s Director of Client Services.

Some of the most common equipment found at playgrounds for seniors include static or recumbent bicycles, striders, leg press machines, dexterity games, elliptical machines, steps, body flexors and ramped walking paths. “The best installations help to improve balance and minimize the risk of falls, build muscle strength and tone, extend your range of motion, and improve your manual dexterity,” noted a Senior Planet article about playgrounds for seniors.

A 2004 study of these playgrounds for seniors found that after three months of regular use (90 minutes per week) seniors aged 65 to 81 experienced improved balance, coordination and speed. They also were felt confident and empowered when faced with physical obstacles.

Would you exercise and play at a senior playground or multi-generational park in your neighborhood?

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Rainy Day Workouts

Sometimes even the toughest and most committed are just not in the mood to brave the elements after a long day at work. While a gym membership is a great perk, it is not always an option. There are some creative ways you can get in a good workout even on those days. Regardless of which rainy day workouts you decide to do, make sure it consists of balance between resistance training (for your legs, chest, arms, and shoulders), Core work, cardio, and flexibility.

Very little, if any gear or equipment is needed. You can incorporate jogging in place, burpees, various bodyweight exercises and jumping rope. Check out these Plyometrics for explosiveness and metabolism burning. Just keep moving!

  • Stadium climb. Most of us live not too far from a high school or even a college. Running the stairs under the stadium roof is a great way to punch up your heart rate. Just be really aware of differing stair treads and risers and of course, any slippery places where water might be collecting. You can use the bleacher benches for triceps dips, bench pushups, and v-sits for your abs.
  • Go Military! Workout, that is! These twenty minute workouts developed by are sure to get you in boot camp shape.
  • Since you are gaining altitude, try the stairs in your office building. It is amazing how quickly your heart rate climbs as you hit the stairs. Every other landing, stop and do some planks, crunches, and push-ups
  • Take it to your computer! There are an amazing choice of really great and full body workouts on YouTube. This HIIT Rainy Day Workout is not high on the Hollywood production bells and whistles, but it sure is effective and a challenge!

Remember to do a sufficient warm-up and cool down and drink plenty of water. After these rainy day workouts, you will be surprised at how much you have challenged yourself and kept pursuing fitness even on the wettest of days.

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