Cardio Training Tips For The Great Outdoors

Cardio Training Tips For The Great Outdoors

Summer is always around one corner or another; even when it feels like it’s the dead of winter. After all, summer is only ever 8 months away at the most. But perhaps we should qualify that by saying that becoming prepared for summer and its many outdoor opportunities and fun-filled days, is something that pays off rapidly, no matter what the season. Before you know it, the preparations that you make for summer in crisp weather, are soon leading into hot, sunny days with zero cloud cover. Each year, we find ourselves asking, “Where did the time go?”

It’s never too early – or too late – to get in touch with summer’s many activities, or in shape for them. Many activities that we can enjoy as a part of a season of sun shining for 12 + hours daily can be enjoyed in one form or another all year long. And that isn’t only for those lucky enough to live in hot climates, such as L.A. or San Diego, that’s for just about everyone! In fact, the time we spend training in these activities during seasons outside of summer, only make our participation in them during the summer months, all the more rewarding. The key is, that it may take us folks with four definite seasons a little extra creativity to come up with the perfect training tool or activity to both enjoy in the moment and prepare us for summer fun!

So what does everyone like to do in summer? Well, if you’re an active person, hiking or trail running is high on the list, as is biking and swimming. These take a certain amount of strength, but mostly they require endurance, which makes them a great way to get outside and get some sun and cardio at the same time.

You may not be able to do all of these exercises where you live, but go ahead and pick one that you may be able to do and run (no pun intended) with it. Trust us, exercising outdoors beats the panties off doing cardio in some sweaty gym next to a 300lb. housewife.

Outdoor Cardiovascular Activities

Many of you who are out of shape may consider the simple act of pounding tent poles into the ground at a campsite a cardiovascular activity, but we can assure you it isn’t! However, if you’re anything like us, you have to start someplace, and maybe pounding tent poles is all you’ve been motivated to do for the past 5 years. Just think if you brought along a pair of hiking boots or a bicycle… life might become even more exciting!


Since cycling can encompass more than one type, we broke this category in half and devoted equal time to mountain biking and road cycling. Each requires different equipment. People engage in them for very different reasons, but choosing either can provide innumerable benefits to those seeking cardiovascular fitness.

Mountain Biking

The mountain bike is the weekend warrior’s finest tool. Mountain bikes can run anywhere from 9 for a basic model (purchased at a membership warehouse) that includes no front fork shocks, and a heavier steel frame, all the way to ,500 for a model imported from Europe that highlights a lightweight aluminum frame, shocks, a suspension seat for position and comfort and the highest quality gears and sprockets. It’s the difference between hideous tasting margarine and triple cream gourmet butter, and it all depends upon your budget and how intensely you want to focus on the sport.

Does each do the job of taking you from garage to trail? You bet. Though, you might require carpel tunnel surgery for your wrists after riding the model without suspension over a period of years and miles.

Places to Go: The great thing is, mountain biking offers something for just about everyone from the youngest rider to the grayest of seniors. For the adventurous, many ski areas in the central part of the U.S. and some on the East and West coasts will offer summer programs and passes for mountain biking along the many trails within a ski area. Snowboard terrain parks, complete with half pipes, are opened up to adventurous (read: young and fearless) folks who want to ride mountain bikes and BMX cycles down a course of rails and obstacles. For those more cerebrally adventurous folks, portions of Lewis and Clark Trails from North Dakota across into Oregon are opened up in the summer for those wanting sane, leisurely, historic rides across gentle hills and valleys.

Equipment needed:

Mountain bike, helmet, and cycling shoes if you forgo toe baskets. A good flat kit,

Calories burned:

Recreational riding ~ between 10-15 calories per minute

Hardcore trail riding ~ between 15-22 calories per minute


Anyone can get on a mountain bike and ride without instruction, the ability to commune with nature, by engaging physically, mentally and emotionally.


Bone, soft tissue and internal injuries at one time or another are likely. Death on trails with trees and rocks is always a possibility, even with good equipment. Ride according to ability at all times.


Burns body fat, strengthens leg muscles, improves balance and dexterity

THINK: Circuit training on wheels

Mountain Biking Capital of the U.S.: Moab, Utah

Most Intriguing Mountain Biking Trip:

206 mile, week long, Hut-to-Hut travel from Telluride, Colorado to Moab, Utah, for more information:

Road Cycling

Touring bikes are the antithesis of the mountain bike. They are much lighter in total weight, typically feature an aluminum frame these days, and are much more expensive to own and maintain because of the quality of gearing. Whereas most people would probably just store their mountain bikes in the garage all year, without having cleaned the mud off, touring bikes specifically designed for road cycling require maintenance and up-keep; the least of which is cleaning dirt off a frame! Road cycling, however, provides the purest of cardio advantages, whereas mountain biking can often make heart rates fluctuate too severely during actual trail riding to provide consistent fat burning benefits.


Prices for adequate touring cycles start at around 0 for a very basic, heavier model with no bells and whistles, an uncomfortable “saddle” and gears that will eventually break without too much prompting, all the way up to 00 for an entry level world class cycle. If you plan on cycling religiously, it pays to pay in the upper range. That range would likely start at 00 for a reliable road bike you can take out and ride between 50 and 100 miles, 5 days per week.

Equipment needed:

A good quality road bike, a flat kit, helmet, biker shorts with butt padding for long rides, a quality saddle that doesn’t compromise genitalia, a map or GPS device, and a heart rate monitor.

Calories burned:

20-25 per minute on extended rides, depending upon speed.


Because you’re riding on pavement, the need to worry about changes in terrain is usually non-existent. You can keep a steady pace and burn fat at a rate set by you on your heart rate monitor. Road access is much easier to come by than trail access, so you can literally ride anywhere.


The initial investment is high for those who aren’t sure. Not investing in a good bike can cause you to formulate an opinion of road cycling you might not otherwise form with superior equipment. You run the risk of getting hit by a car, or the injuries you sustain from constant strain can require rehab.


Burns fat, allows the person to see the world from a bike, builds great quads, hamstrings and calves because feet are attached and part of pedal. Can produce elite cardiovascular conditioning with half the stress of running.

Cycling Capital of North America:

Montreal, Canada

Most Intriguing Cycling Event:

Montreal Bike Fest’s “Tour de I’lle” and “Un Tour la Nuit” in Montreal, Canada – a carnival of cyclery held in early June each year, where 45,000 folks peddle through the streets of Montreal; both during the day and on night rides through the city. For more information, contact either:


Hiking/Trail Running

We lumped these together because they are, after all, the total package of logical progression from sometime weekend warrior to elite athletic runner. Start with hiking and if you want more than beautiful scenery and gently inclined trails, pick up the pace and start running.


The great thing about hiking is that you can do it anywhere. And the best part is, it usually costs nothing. You can hike across the K-Mart parking lot over to the local A&P or you can hike a famous national forest trail in search of mountain goats and shortness of breath. Dizzying and exhilarating is how anyone might describe serious hiking, however. And there is a difference. Walking is walking and hiking is hiking. The difference is, there is usually a trail involved in hiking, and the terrain can change on a moment’s notice. That’s the excitement and unknown element inherent in hiking that makes it so appealing to well over 1 million people in the U.S. each year. And while that’s still a lot of sedentary folk left behind, more and more people are getting into hiking as a way of life – either seasonally or year ‘round – in order to improve their level of fitness and to help them commune with nature.

The great thing is, there’s a hike for practically anyone of any age and physical condition. There are flat trails that are one mile or less – something along the lines of the Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanical Gardens – to Glacier National Park just outside of Kalispell, Montana, where trails can lead hikers for hundreds of miles, to the HardCore outback of Montana’s Bob Marshall Wilderness where it’s wild and wooly and a man could get lost for an eternity without supplies and a good GPS device. Any way you choose to go, hiking can provide you with exercise, and plenty of exposure to the wonders of nature.

Equipment needed:

Your two good legs, comfortable clothes (such as pants w/ zip off legs), a pair of wool socks, hiking boots (broken in), as much water as you can carry

Calories burned:

10-18 per minute, depending upon the trail pitch and pace of hiker.


Anyone can put one foot in front of the other. It usually costs nothing apart from the initial investment into quality gear. Can stop and take photographs of wildlife that might never come into your own backyard. Brings families closer together.


You must always carry at least water, along with survival food, a good First-aid kit, and something for cover and additional warmth. A navigational device is always advised.


Burns fat in a steady stream, and put less stress on joints than running or cycling. Has been known to calm jangled nerves from stressful jobs.

America’s Most Intriguing Hikes:

Glacier National Park (Be Grizzly Bear aware prior to endeavoring this area) anyplace in the Colorado Rockies.

Trail Running

Trail running is the next step after hiking. Other than the initial investment in gear, it too costs nothing to engage in. However, because it is a move toward taking fitness just a little more seriously and nature a little less seriously, the costs can be seen in other areas, such as injury.

By nature of the activity itself, trail running doesn’t allow for leisurely hours of loping across trails because it can be quickly brutal on joints, winding, a stress on the heart muscle (unless you’re in fantastic shape to start), and tedious for overall balance. But trail running can take you through an area much more rapidly and can help you increase your cardiovascular health ten-fold compared to the occasional weekend leisure hike.

So what if you live in an area where hills and valleys and mountaintops are hard to come by? Don’t worry, there are plenty of forested trails, bloom-speckled meadows, or trails that run alongside a lake or river in almost any city, that make trail running possible for anyone. But if you want the challenges of the Rocky Mountains in Minnesota, for example, you may want to strap on a pack full of rocks to give yourself the added resistance of extra weight to take the place of inclines and steeps. Get your balance long before you choose that option though. For those in totally urban areas, run streets, hills, stairs and across railroad yards or something more industrial to give yourself the thrill of ever-changing terrain. Make sure you condition yourself with regular runs first, and then work on lateral strength in the gym to ensure knee and ankle safety out on the trail.

Equipment needed:

A good pair of trail-specific shoes, made by Nike, New Balance, Saucony or a host of other reliable manufacturers. Comfortable, breathable clothes.

In the off-season, use balance disks to improve your proprioception and balance on trail.

Calories burned:

18-25 calories per minute, depending upon pace and difficulty of trail.


Anyone can do it – well almost anyone. Just equip yourself well and prepare with strength training and endurance work in the gym during the winter. Burn an incredible number of calories – more than normal jogging – and improves muscular condition in lower body rapidly.


Can open person up to severe lateral joint injuries, can cause severe injury, or in some cases, death, depending upon fall. No helmets, armor or padding are worn as in rollerblading or other high-speed sports performed on changing terrain.


Can improve cardiovascular fitness rapidly.

Best Trail Running Terrain:

The Golden Triangle (along the California coast) between Monterey and San Francisco; flanked inland by the Silicon Valley.


The great thing about swimming is, it is a versatile sport at the very least. If you live in an urban area anywhere east of Arizona, and west of Florida, you can swim, indoors, all year long and train for the day when you can leave the city on weekends and go swim in a natural body of water. If you’re lucky enough to live in southern California, or sunny Florida, you rarely have to wait because you can dive into the ocean between Malibu and San Diego or Fort Lauderdale and the Keys, almost any time of the year (okay, maybe with a few wetsuit days in there) and paddle on top of the waves to your heart’s content.

Usually, it’s easier to learn to swim and build endurance in a pool. The water’s not murky, it’s calm, it’s set up into lanes, and there’s a clock on the wall to tell you how far you’ve swum in a certain amount of time. With training, it’s the way to go. But when summer hits, it’s time to test your swimming acumen in open waters, so to speak, by taking your game on the road and diving into a lake, river or ocean. Open water can be frightening to some people, but just as you built a certain comfort level in a chlorinated pool, so too can you build your comfort level in an open body of natural water.

If you’re interested in eventually competing in either triathlons or mini-triathlons, you’ll have to take your act out of the pool and plunge into a lake or ocean sooner or later anyhow, so summer is a great time to get used to that. Besides, becoming a strong, confident swimmer is an invaluable resource for many reasons, including if you go boating, water skiing or surfing. Taking a life-saving course is a great way to test your abilities in the water and a good way to ensure that you can protect yourself and others in a pinch.

Life Saving Course:

– at the local YMCA

Cost of Pool membership:

-/ month; lake swimming: free

Calories burned:

25 per minute

Equipment needed:

Swim trunks (), goggles () if you need them, swim cap () for pool. Optional: Heart rate monitor


It’s a free activity if you swim in rivers, lakes, or the ocean. It’s a great way to shrug off stress and get into great cardiovascular condition.


You can drown if you don’t know what you’re doing in natural bodies of water, such as oceans or rivers. Know current or tidal patterns prior to getting feet wet. Chlorine is hard on skin and hair.


You can improve your heart’s condition and lose body fat rapidly once you develop the ability to pace yourself in a swim. It provides a lot of fun and escape from extremely hot temperatures in the summer. It allows you to endeavor water sports with confidence.

Dane Fletcher is the world’s most prolific bodybuilding and fitness expert and is currently the executive editor for If you are looking for more bodybuilding tips or information on weight training, or supplementation, please visit, the bodybuilding and fitness authority site with hundreds of articles available FREE to help you meet your goals.

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