Get out; work out

5 off-the-beaten-path ideas for fitness this summer 5 off-the-beaten-path ideas for fitness this summer

Vicky Hallett, Margaret Ely and Lenny Bernstein / The Washington Post /

Published Jun 27, 2013 at 05:00AM

The spring rains may let up any day now, and then you’ll be able to exercise outdoors again. If you’ve forgotten during the dreary winter and wet spring, that’s where the sun shines, breezes blow and birds chirp. Also where drivers come around corners without looking and holes in the outfield grass grab and twist your ankles.

“You find yourself when you are outside the comfort zone,” said Jimmy Minardi, an athletic coach based in Aspen, Colo., and Santa Barbara, Calif., who is writing a book about the benefits of outdoor exercise. “You are constantly surveying your environment and adapting to it. Adapting to change is a primal need.”

Confronting an uncontrolled environment — heat, hills, head winds and uneven pavement, for example — provides a tougher workout than a comparable routine indoors, and stimulates the senses. Outdoor workouts have been associated with stronger feelings of revitalization, more energy and less tension than indoor exercise.

“You find joy outside,” Minardi said.

You’ll also find vitamin D from sunlight, which helps you absorb calcium and promotes bone growth.

With warmer weather arriving today, remember that acclimating to heat can take 10 to 14 days of exposure and exercise, according to the American Council on Exercise. Once that happens, you’ll produce more cooling sweat and lose fewer electrolytes, according to the group.

And, of course, don’t forget to hydrate adequately. Trust your thirst. It won’t steer you wrong.

You might soon find yourself out there running, cycling or playing kickball, soccer or softball. But here are a few nontraditional ways to salute the sun, and one way to avoid it, while getting your summer workout.

Hit (the roof of) the gym

At a recent cycling class at Vida Fitness in Washington, Alexx Zamudio, 33, group fitness program director, had an important question for his students: “Did you put your suntan lotion on?” Muscles weren’t the only body parts that had the potential to burn during this 90-minute session on the gym’s roof deck, which is where he’s planning to spend a good chunk of his summer.

Outdoor classes keep members interested in the gym during a traditionally slow period, and also are a perk for Zamudio, who prefers exercising in nature. In addition to using the deck for cycling, he’s also taking advantage of it to host Zumba under the stars. And he always takes his early morning boot camps over to the nearby Meridian Hill Park.

“My boss has told me, ‘I hardly ever see you here,’” Zamudio said, joking about his out-and-about exercise schedule. That’s because Zamudio is convinced the change of scenery can do a body good. “You’re not looking at mirrors. The next thing you realize is that class is over and you’ve burned 1,000 calories.”

John Murray, 45, is already a fan. “Being outdoors makes the class go by so quickly. The idea of being inside is so claustrophobic. And you don’t have to worry about getting hit by a car or wearing a helmet.”

Take a working vacation

Noelle Corley, 39, had a lot she wanted to do when she was in Virginia Beach, Va., in June — dash through fire, scale walls, crawl through mud. Taking part in a Tough Mudder might not be the typical vacation itinerary, but it’s how Corley, a Defense Department employee, prefers to unwind.

“Some people think I’m off my rocker, but it’s rewarding,” said Corley, a Manassas, Va., resident who leads two teams devoted to adventure races. When she’s not off at an event, she spends weekends taking obstacle race training at the Urban Evolution gym in Manassas, or hiking and beefing up her wilderness survival skills in nearby parks.

Corley retired from the armed forces with joint injuries, so it’s a point of pride that she’s able to participate in these sorts of events at all. Her obsession isn’t competing, but completing. And with help from teammates, she’s convinced that anything’s possible: “If you tell me I can’t do it, I’m going to find a way I can.”

Once she reaches the finish line of that Tough Mudder, she’ll still have some time to hang out with her husband and 9-year-old son on the beach.

See where you live by water

Nardi Hobler, 65, was sitting in a hair salon on Capitol Hill when she overheard a conversation about rowing. It was the spark she needed to sign up for a course with the Capital Rowing Club, based on the Anacostia River in Washington, D.C..

“Going to the gym is just such a bore,” Hobler said.

Hobler has been athletic all her life, as a runner, inline skater and tennis player. But the former Missouri resident said moving to Washington prompted her to try something new.

“I just thought, ‘It’s time to do this,’” Hobler said. “It’s totally body — totally body and mind. It engages your mind, just like tennis. You have to be there.”

Robert Brady, 31, who coaches Learn to Row and intermediate novice courses for the Capital Rowing Club, said there are several reasons some people never think to try rowing.

“It’s different than basketball and soccer where you can just get a group and go play,” Brady said. To go rowing, “you need a coach. You need good weather conditions.”

Fundamentals are taught indoors on an erg machine, which also comes in handy in the colder months, Hobler said, before rowers move onto the water in the spring and summer.

“You cannot just get into a boat and learn to row,” she said.

Get a grip

Weather permitting, David Giacomin, of Silver Spring, Md., will be climbing one of the biggest and most technically difficult mountains in the contiguous 48 states on July 11. By moonlight.

Giacomin, 41, is chairman of the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club’s Mountaineering Section, and one of nine members who will tackle Washington’s Mount Rainier this summer. The peak is 14,410 feet above sea level.

Weather is volatile on the mountain, Giacomin said, and the sun opens some of the glaciers during daytime. Most of the group’s ascent will be done at night.

Giacomin began Alpine climbing 10 years ago and rock-climbing three years ago. When he is not scaling mountains, he climbs in the Washington, D.C., area, including at the Carderock Recreation Area along the C&O Canal.

“A lot of people who climb outdoors look at the gym as their strength training program, and then take that outside,” Giacomin said. “My objective is to not climb on plastic.” The beauty of nature, he said, and the chance to push himself mentally and physically are what drive him to outdoor climbing and mountaineering.

“Big Alpine climbing is all mental,” he said. “The body can go a lot farther than you think. You’re using less holds on much steeper terrain, and the consequences of falling are much more.”

Escape the elements

Not everyone will be heading outdoors this summer. For Molly Crawford, 19, of Germantown, Md., summer is a lot like winter — and spring, and fall. She’ll be at Cabin John Ice Rink in Rockville, Md., teaching kids at a summer camp how to skate, then spending two to three hours a day practicing her own figure skating.

Crawford has devoted herself to skating since she was about 6, spending hours honing her routine and competing in local and regional contests. Her brother Bobby, 21, and sister Maddy, 13, do the same. So the rink is pretty much a second home for her family.

“I started so young, it was how my life always was,” she said. “I enjoy it. But there are definitely days when I wish I could have a day off and do some of the summer things.”

During the summer camps, Crawford does get outside with her students. And when the temperatures rise, the skating rink sees an influx of people trying to beat the heat. Some just come inside to cool off for a few minutes, with no intention of taking the ice.

“It’s cooler in here,” she said. “There aren’t any bugs.”

Crawford, who is home-schooled, is heading to Fordham University this fall, and she hopes to continue skating there. She also is eager to explore New York and add variety to her life.

“I think I’ve not quite realized I’ve missed the outdoor experience,” she said.