Utilize the great outdoors to improve your athletic skills

If you use the outdoors to work on your athletic skills, you could get a much better workout than you would at the gym. Outdoors is endless, in urban areas or wilderness. The gym doesn’t offer much movement. Even with treadmills, you’re making the same motion over and over again. There is no athletic sport where you mostly stand in one place.

There’s a saying known by nearly all coaches: “It’s not practice that makes perfect, it’s perfect practice that makes perfect.” There are so many options when you take your training outside. Learn to look for artifacts that allow you to work on the movements you need for your favorite sports.

For example, the low cement barriers in parking lots are usually evenly spaced. You can walk slowly or briskly along them. You can run, jumping from one barrier to another instead of just taking a large step or stepping down between them.

Another way to improve your balance in an urban area is to walk or run along a curb. Keep your feet inside the narrow strip of the curb as you go. As it gets easier to hold without stepping onto the sidewalk, pick up the pace a little. This will put balance and foot precision into your muscle memory.

For the action athlete, benches and picnic tables make great hard-core exercises. Start slowly, using just benches, so you get a feel for the effort required. Start with a sidewalk that has benches every 50 feet or so. Jog towards the bench and, without breaking stride, lift one leg to get yourself onto the bench. Run one or two steps and jog off the bench, landing with ankles, knees and hips flexed to absorb the shock. Once you’ve memorized the precision of the movement involved, start running to, up, on and off each bench. Continue running after your flexed landing. Time yourself to see if you can increase the speed. But always make sure you don’t go too fast for your developing skills. This is risky training; so you don’t want to risk injury.

After you’ve got the benches wired, start an even more vigorous exercise. Go to a park that has picnic tables with attached benches. Run towards them, jumping on the bench with one foot, on the table with the other, take one or two running steps one the table, then one step onto the bench on the other side, then down to the ground — again, keeping your hip, knee and ankle joints flexed. Never land without flexing.

If you live near some forest groves or wilderness trails, make them part of your workout as well. Think of it as going for a hike — with diversions. If you come across a fallen tree, get up onto it and walk the length of the tree. Look for thin tree trunks that will bear your weight. This is almost like the urban curb exercise, except it does a more thorough job of honing your balance. There’s no sidewalk on the other side to save your skin if you lose your footing.

Try a version of ‘quick feet’ while in the woods. Look for a ‘stone garden,’ a swath filled with small boulders and stones that won’t roll when you step on them. Walk over them first to make sure the rocks are secure. Then try it a little faster. But again, make sure you’ve got the moves down correctly. Practice on the stones for several hikes before doing it at speed.

Now get your entire body into the workout. Find a short but steep hill and sprint up it, stopping every minute or so to fall flat and do pushups for 30 seconds. When you get so out of breath that you’re gasping for air, lower your speed and the frequency of the pushups.

By the time it gets too cold to take your workout outdoors, you’ll be amazed at how much your athletic skills have improved.


Wina Sturgeon is the editor of the online magazine Adventure Sports Weekly