Exercising Outside? Don’t Make These 11 Common Mistakes
One of the best parts about warmer seasons is the opportunity to do more outside — especially when it comes to exercise. And there are more perks to moving your workout outdoors than the beautiful scenery and fresh air. “Exercising outside can push you to go further distances by focusing on landmarks or simply because you get lost in your surroundings,” Brooke Taylor, creator of the TF Ignite Program and Taylored Fitness NY LTD, said in an interview with The Cheat Sheet.
If you’re ready to take your workout outdoors, keep in mind these guidelines and preparations that are different than your pre-gym routine. Here are a few precautions you should take before lacing up your sneakers.
1. Not properly warming up
Just because the great outdoors is not filled with warm-up and stretching equipment like your gym doesn’t mean you should forgo it altogether. Lacing up your shoes and heading straight for the park is not a smart idea. “In a gym setting, you’ll often find people rolling out before their workouts, which breaks up all the adhesions in the body,” Taylor explained. “But outside, people forget, which can lead to injury.” The same goes for when you complete your workout — it’s time to stretch and cool down.
2. Forgetting to vary your workouts
It’s easy to repeat your routine when you’re exercising outdoors, whether it’s weight workouts, running, jumping, walking, biking, etc. We are creatures of habit, after all. But when you do this, your body responds by using the same muscles over and over again, which could lead to a muscular imbalance and even injury. The key is to incorporate variation, so you get more out of your sweat session. “If you’re going to dedicate three days outdoors, follow that up with three days of hitting the weights at your gym,” Taylor suggested. “You can also purchase some bands, TRX system, or other small equipment to work your backside.”
3. Not drinking enough water before, during, and after
You know how important it is to guzzle down water at the gym. In fact, your go-to machines probably have designated holders for your water bottle. But when you’re exercising outside, sipping water or a sports drink is less convenient, which is bad news. “Hydration is critical before any workout, but especially when training outside due to the external conditions of heat, sun, and humidity,” Chris Ryan, C.S.C.S., a physical trainer and founder of Chris Ryan Fitness said in an interview with The Cheat Sheet. “The trick is to start hydrating before your workout to ‘pre-cool’ your body before heading outside.”
Drinking 10 to 20 ounces of cold water an hour before your workout will be instrumental in seeing you through a great sweat session. And, of course, drink water throughout your workout too.
4. Skipping your post-workout snack or meal
When you’re exercising in the heat and humidity, you might notice a dip in your appetite — so much so that you might not want to eat even hours after an outdoor workout. Try not to let this happen, as not eating after a workout can lead to rebound hunger and binge eating later in the day,” Roger Adams, Ph.D. and fitness expert, told us.
Additionally, post-workout nutrition is key for recovery and optimizing your workout. “Be sure to eat a small amount of carbs and protein within 30 minutes of finishing your outdoor workout,” Adams said. This gives your body what it needs to recover and will keep you from raiding the vending machine later on.
5. Not wearing sunscreen
As you probably already know, sunburns can be incredibly painful, but they also significantly increase your risk of skin cancer. This means you shouldn’t be outside without wearing sunscreen, especially when you’re exercising. “A good option is to wear a sport sunscreen that applies on smoothly and adheres to you even during your sweatiest workouts,” Ryan said.
Remember that sunscreen is not just for the warmer summer months either. “If you’re skiing in the mountains, the combination of the sun’s reflection off the snow and altitude offer the perfect combination for a bad sunburn.” Be smart and apply a sporty sunscreen every time you head outdoors.
6. Not wearing mosquito repellent
Outdoor workouts can bring on more challenges than just the sun and heat. Mosquitos are serious business, especially in the south, and any humid environment. “Mosquitos can carry deadly diseases and lead to painful bites,” Adams warned. “Keep some bug spray in your car or gym bag and apply before starting your workout.” Don’t forget to reapply during your training, too, especially if you sweat a lot.
7. Working out in the heat of day
Even though it gets dark later in the day during spring and summer, it’s important to strategically time when you’re heading out to exercise. “Start your workout too late or too early and you may be starting or finishing in the dark,” Ryan said.
In addition, the hours of 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. are when the sun is the strongest, so you should try your best to avoid this period of time. “Working out in the heat of the day can lead to an early exit from your training,” Adams explained. Word of advice: Wake up early and get your outdoor workout in before the sun comes up.
8. Not wearing the right apparel
There’s a reason athletic apparel is a multibillion-dollar industry — most of the items are essential to completing a safe and effective workout, and even more so if you’re exercising outdoors. “The regular gym workout shoe may not provide enough stability to train on the uneven surfaces of the outdoors,” Adams warned. “Look for a trail-type running shoe to improve traction and stability when encountering uneven surfaces during exercise.”
When it comes to clothing, fabric plays a big role. “Lightweight fabrics help you move easier and offer sweat wicking materials, while heavier materials, like thick cotton sweatshirts, get heavier with sweat and restrict movement,” Ryan said.
9. Not protecting your eyes
Whether it’s wearing a hat or visor or rocking a pair of athletic sunglasses, it’s important to keep your peepers protected when exercising outdoors. And we’re not just talking about avoiding sunlight. “Sunglasses help keep your eyes from squinting, which keeps your facial muscles relaxed and shoulders loose,” Ryan explained. “When your face is tight, the rest of your body gets tight from the shoulders and neck on down, so your performance levels will go down.” Opt for a sporty, lightweight pair that won’t slip when you get sweaty to optimize the benefits of wearing them in the first place.
If you’d rather wear a hat or visor, select one that’s lightweight and light in color. Baseball caps tend to work well. “This kind blocks the sun and helps keep you cooler by helping you sweat quicker,” Ryan said.
10. Not wearing enough layers of clothing
While you may want to stay cool when working out outside, especially during the summer, wearing less clothing and exposing too much skin can be a huge mistake. “This might not only lead to increased chances of sunburn and excessive bug bites, but if your outdoor workouts are like mine, you may get down and dirty in the grass and dirt,” Adams said.
You don’t want legs and arms totally exposed to all the grass while doing those burpees and pop-ups, so keep your skin covered as much as possible to prevent irritation, painful grass burns, and encountering unknown critters hiding in the grass.
11. Not paying attention to your environment
It’s easier to stay focused when you’re working out in a controlled environment like a gym. But when you’re working out outside, there are unlimited distractions — from stop signs to driving cars and even pedestrians. “If you don’t pay attention to maps, you may get lost on your next trail run or hike,” Ryan warned. “Also, pay attention to simple things, like surfaces and the ground in front of you, so you don’t trip on a tree root or step on broken glass.”
If you’re lucky enough to train at the beach, pay attention to the tidal conditions too. They change constantly and can gobble up your sandy beach before you’ve finished your warm-up.
[Editor’s note: This story was originally published April 24, 2017]