Great Summer Workouts

Reviewed by Matthew Hoffman, MD on March 12, 2009
From the WebMD Archives

Ah, summer! The great outdoors beckons with warm weather and longer days. Make the most of the season by turning your tired indoor fitness routine into creative outdoor workouts wherever you live or vacation.

To get started, WebMD asked exercise physiologists to share their summer workout tips. Whether you're at the lake, in the mountains, on the beach, or at the pool, here's how to stay fit this summer.

Fitness at the Lake

Taking the family to the lake this summer? Great. Water is a perfect place to exercise in the heat and humidity of summer. Swimming is an obvious choice, says Patrick Ayres, MS, exercise physiologist at Lifestyle Management in Bloomington, Minn.

"Swimming or treading water is a great way to work the cardiovascular system," he says. "Lots of people go to the lake and get motor boats," he says. "If you are boating, go out to an area, stop the boat and anchor, and do some swimming."

Don't get caught up in the idea that the exercise has to be a consistent 30 minutes, says Ayres. "Recreational activities can also be exercise," he says, and doing something is better than nothing. Ten minutes or so a few times throughout the day will add up.

Kelli Calabrese, MS, an exercise physiologist, fitness author, and owner of Calabrese Consulting in Long Valley, N.J., recommends canoeing for an all-over body workout. Many lakeside facilities offer rentals and lessons, she says.

If you're unsure of your ability or if it's been a while since you've been in a canoe, Calabrese advises taking lessons. Just learning will be a workout in itself.

"It's great for the shoulders," she says, "but it's also great core, great obliques, and great back work." In addition, she says, the legs work as stabilizers.

Be conscious of muscle balance, she says. Don't always turn the canoe in the same direction. If you're circling the lake, reverse the circle. Row on alternate sides of the boat, or use a longer, double-sided paddle, which makes balancing even easier.

And enjoy the ride. "It's different, it's fun and it's a great way to see the lake, from a canoe," says Calabrese. "It feels good just to be out in nature and listen to the sounds of the water."

If you have no access to a canoe or boat, you have other options. Jesse Pittsley, exercise physiologist and program director for the exercise science department at Winston-Salem State University in North Carolina, knows the lake scene well.

"My parents live on a lake," he says. "We have a rocky beach by my parents' dock. We go out waist deep and grab around for rocks at the bottom of the lake and see if we can throw them to the shore."

This friendly family competition becomes a workout for the shoulders and abdominals (particularly the obliques). Before you know it, you're exercising and burning calories.

Working Out in the Mountains

Want a whole-body workout in rocky and mountainous terrain? Try pole hiking, says Calabrese.

What you'll need are a set of aluminum, rubber-tipped poles and a good pair of hiking shoes. The poles costs between $70 and $100 and are sold at some sporting goods stores or at

Using the poles allows you to involve the upper body in activity that normally works mainly the legs and glutes, says Calabrese. "You move with quicker, smaller steps, your arms are pumping and it's almost like race-walking," she says. "The upper body motion really gets the heart rate going. It's a great way to add some intensity to your hiking."

It's also great for a beginner because using the poles reduces stress on the knees and distributes the body's weight more evenly.

The mountains are a great summer workout location because it's usually shadier and cooler in hilly terrain. Since you'll be gaining altitude, you may notice a drop in temperature as you climb. In desert climates such as Tucson, Ariz., where summers can be scorching, many people make the 40-minute drive up Mt. Lemmon to escape the 100-degree temperatures in the city. Then they hike in the 70-degree shade of pine trees.

Wherever your mountains are, exploring them is a great way to take a workout outdoors. Ayres says to bite off little chunks of the mountain, power walking for a specific amount of time, then resting and repeating.

"It can be a way of doing natural intervals," says Ayres, when you push the body, then rest alternately.

In Winston-Salem, N.C., Pittsley hikes in the Appalachian Mountains.

Take a picnic lunch, he says, and hike until you find a view somewhere to spread out, near a pretty steep incline. Relax and have lunch, he says, taking in the view and the scents and sounds of nature. Once you've rested and digested, use the incline to challenge yourself.

"Walk up with strong, bold steps and then walk down slow for recovery," Pittsley says.

Repeat this 10 times and you've got yourself a nice workout, he promises. Compare it to running the bleachers at the local football field. (If you never ran bleachers, chances are someone you knew boasted about doing it.)

If you've got a mountain bike, many areas have miles of dirt trails great for the fat, nubby tires of a mountain bike. Even moderate trail cycling is a great whole-body workout that doesn't feel like exercise.

Exercise on the Beach

If you're going to the beach this summer, says Ayres, pack a mask and some fins and snorkel. "It's not going to be this high-end cardiovascular workout," he says, but it does keep the body moving. "You're using big muscle groups and the fins add increased resistance. It's great work for the back extensors, the lower limbs, and the trunk."

See who can find the most interesting, colorful sea life or other underwater treasures. Venture a bit further out so you take more effort to get back to the boat or shore.

If getting in the water is not your thing, put up a net and get a friendly game of volleyball going. Or throw the Frisbee or a football around. Throw far and go long, you'll be surprised how winded you can get.

How about building a sand castle? Can that be a workout? Pittsley says you don't have to build one, just start moving the sand around the beach.

Start kneeling with an empty bucket. Reach in front of you and dig out a full bucket of sand and twist to toss it behind you, alternating sides for a great oblique workout. You may not feel it then, but you may be sore the next morning, so don't overdo it.

No buckets? Try getting on your feet.

Walking in the soft sand of the beach alone is a workout, says Calabrese. "Sand gives you the extra resistance that you wouldn't have on a treadmill or on asphalt," she says. "You can do it barefooted and you'll feel a great workout in your feet, shins, and calves."

Ayres agrees. "Beach walking is great for ankle stability," he says. "Eighty percent of ankle sprains are rolling out of the ankle because the lateral ankle is weak. I don't have a client daily that I don't do strength training where we're standing on one leg."

One-legged stork stands in the sand improve balance and ankle stability, says Ayres.

If the spirit moves you, Calabrese says, you can create a great strength workout with just you, a beach towel, and of course, some sunscreen. Alternate walking, jogging, and sprinting to work the lower body and get the heart rate elevated.

"The beach can be so tranquil and yet so energizing. Start out by walking, and all of a sudden you get the energy from the earth and you start to jog a little."

Calabrese then suggests either doing walking lunges or stationary lunges the length of your beach towel. Work the upper body with pushups and reverse planks and the abdominals with crunches on the towel.

The peaceful mood of the ocean's edge is a great time to stretch as well, she says. "Finish with some stretching, deep breathing, and meditation," she says, "taking time to close your eyes and feel the ocean mist and smell the salty air."

Poolside Fitness

The days of playing "Marco Polo" and doing cannonballs may be a distant memory, but you can still get a great workout in the pool.

Swimming is an obvious choice and an option many people use all year round in heated pools at health clubs. It's is an excellent, low-impact, whole-body workout.

But it's not very social, so if you're with the family, make it fun.

"Everybody's got floaties," says Pittsley. Any kind will do, but the smaller, the more work you'll have to do. For example, one of those long, skinny noodles is a great challenge.

Try putting it under your arms or holding it with your hands and doing flutter kicks while staying afloat, he says.

"The kicking works the quadriceps and hamstrings and a little bit of the glutes," says Pittsley.

Then try balancing the floatie on the lower body, either across the hips or between the legs, and work the shoulders, arms, and back trying to stay afloat. "These exercises can be used as a combination of cardiovascular and toning," says Pittlsey.

Compete with family and friends for time or distance. Have races with mid-torso power walking in the shallow end of the pool, says Ayres. Put your hands underwater and swing the arms with open hands to increase resistance.

Calabrese recommends water aerobics. Organized classes are great, but why not create your own? she says. Here's a sample routine to try:

  • Warm up by walking the perimeter of the pool, then jogging it. In the shallow end, do 90 seconds each of walking lunges, squats, and leg lifts to the front side and back, holding on to the edge. Finish working the lower body with flutter kicks holding the edge or using a kickboard. Then submerge to the neck and do chest presses, reverse flies, bicep curls, and arm circles to work the upper body.
  • "For the core," Calabrese says, "try floating prone [face down] and supine [face up] and keeping the body straight using only the arms and abs."
  • For muscle endurance, she says, "go to the deep end and tread water as long as you can for the finale." Tread just with the arms, then just with the legs, then with both.

The water is a good place for exercise beginners because of the low stress to the joints, say experts.

No matter where you choose to be this summer, all these outdoor activities, says Calabrese, bring you back to being a kid. "As adults, we go to the lake or beach and we just sit there. Let being outdoors bring back all those childhood memories of the fun vacations you had. You'll never regret the memories you create doing these activities as a family."

Show Sources

SOURCES: Patrick Ayres, MS, CSCS, EPC, exercise physiologist with Lifestyle Management, Bloomington, Minn. Kelli Calabrese MS, CSCS, exercise physiologist; co-author, Feminine Firm and Fit; owner, Calabrese Consulting, Long Valley, N.J. Jesse Pittsley, PhD, exercise physiologist; program director, exercise science department, Winston-Salem State University, Winston-Salem, N.C.

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