Test your true fitness level
When you’re fit and female, there’s no reason you have to relegate yourself to the gym for exercise. Like anything else, following the same old workout routine can get stale … fast! Want to take a risk and try something new, something adventurous and exciting, something to make you feel 15 again? Even better, some of the fun, exciting sports you can do outdoors have the same (if not better) health benefits than your regular fitness program. So get off that treadmill and forget the stair-stepper for now: It’s time to try out four challenging adventures that will test your mettle–surfing, rock climbing, mountain biking and wakeboarding.
Harness the ocean’s energy as you conquer killer waves
I like most adrenalin sports, surfing has been touted throughout history as a man’s sport. Even Gidget wasn’t portrayed as a bronzed hardbody with a 9-foot board under her arm. Times have changed, and surfing has taken off as both a fitness activity and a lifestyle that women (or wahines, the Hawaiian word used to refer to female surfers) are strongly embracing.
Surfing is a great sport for women because it involves an entire lifestyle that’s healthy and gets you outdoors with a minimal amount of equipment to lug around. The thing a lot of people don’t realize is what a great workout surfing is. Some of my instructors look like they spend six days a week in the gym, but all they do for exercise is surf.
Surfing isn’t an easy sport, but those who stick with it will find it as rewarding as they do challenging. The internal “Stoke” you feel from catching that first wave to the external strength you gain from surfing is what encourages more and more women to try it each year. To better prepare yourself for surfing, I recommend swimming laps a few times a week if you have access to a pool.
If you can’t get to a pool, I suggest focusing on both upper-body strength and agility. Upper-body strength and good cardiovascular training will help you catch that first wave quicker. In particular, I recommend two things to help condition your body: sprints with two minutes of rest in between and an exercise called the pop-up. This entails lying facedown and extending the upper half of your body upward by pushing on the floor and fully extending your arms. As quickly as you can, pop up to your feet, standing sideways. Use your arms to help you pop to your feet, which should be under your shoulders as you rise. This might feel awkward the first few times you try it, but if you do this 20 times a day, once you get on a board you’ll only need to find your balance in order to catch that first ride.
Enhance your agility and flexibility with this Spiderwoman approach to fitness
One of the best things about rock climbing is that it’s accessible to anyone, and a lot safer than you might imagine. As opposed to traditional “aid” climbing/mountaineering that you’ve probably seen in movies like “K2” and “Vertical Limit,” “sport” climbing requires little in the way of equipment and can be done safely almost anywhere, both indoors and out. Indoor climbing gyms that offer introductory courses can be found nationwide. Areas where outdoor sport climbing is all the rage include Boulder, Colorado; Joshua Tree, California; Smith Rocks, Oregon; and the Adirondacks in New York.
Women can become strong climbers because they tend to have a better strength-to-weight ratio, as well as greater agility and flexibility, than most men. In climbing it’s important to have strength in both your arms and legs, making this one of the more balanced of our four sports. Surprisingly, most climbers say that leg strength is especially important because good climbing technique begins with foot placement and leg strength to propel your bodyweight upward, using arms as the secondary source of strength and power. Strong hands are also important and can make the difference when meeting the crux of the climb. The nice thing about building up hand muscles is that you can do this anywhere–in traffic, in a meeting, waiting in line. All you need for hand strength is a stress ball. Look for one that has a lot of resistance and try to spend 20 minutes 2-3 times a day squeezing it.
Rock climbing is pretty technical, but don’t let the techno-geeks or lingo speak scare you. Climbing is the kind of sport that looks intimidating from afar, but really is fairly simple. After I took an indoor orientation class for first-timers, which included instruction on preparing the rope harness and belay techniques, muscle memory kicked in fast. Climbing a route takes a level of concentration I haven’t had to call on when exercising for a long time! It’s a great way to build trust in your body’s abilities and push your limits. Admission and equipment rental are minimal.
Test every facet of fitness and focus you’ve developed in the gym
Mountain biking is a great way to incorporate all of your fitness into one activity. When you spend time in the gym, you work hard to develop cardio and muscle tone, and mountain biking uses every facet. Legs get used pedaling, upper body is worked out from handlebars, and the trail in front of you keeps your cardio up.
Equipped with beefier tires and front and/or rear suspension to absorb off-road terrain, mountain bikes allow you to venture off the beaten path. Think of it like taking your bike on a hike–mountain biking allows you to go the distance in nature and, more often than not, it’s a wild ride. Mountain bike trails vary from flat dirt roads to steep, rock-laden single tracks (meaning the trail is only slightly wider than your bike tires) with sharp switchbacks. Mountain bike gearing is much more versatile, with very low gears, that are easy to pedal so you can “spin” up steeper climbs ranging up to higher gears for speedy descents.
Mountain biking is a very demanding sport that requires a high level of cardiovascular fitness and muscle power, both in the lower body for pedaling and the upper body for balance and steering. Abdominal strength is key for absorbing rugged terrain balance, steering and navigating steep downhills, particularly when standing on the pedials is required. It is both aerobic and anaerobic, depending on the terrain, trail length and difficulty. One thing’s for sure: It ain’t no walk in the park.
One of the most important things to think about before you jump on a bike is balance and conditioning. Ask yourself these questions: What am I doing for flexibility? What am I doing for aerobic conditioning? What am doing for strength? Preparation is the key to staying strong and not getting injured in a sport like mountain biking.”
Feeling up to the challenge? Making sure you have proper bike fit is very important. And when you’re just, learning, it’s really important to know how to spin in easy gears as often as you can. This will help keep you in an aerobic state and give you the best workout, but will also protect your knees from excessive wear and tear. Indoorcycling classes are an excellent way to mimic the intervals that will happen naturally on off-road terrain. But the best way to get in shape for mountain biking is to just do it.
Got boal and a board? You’ll feel muscles you never knew you had.
this sport has only two disadvantages. First, you must have access to a boat to try it out. Second, it’s really, really fun, so once you try it, you’ll feel the need to buy a boat so you can keep going. Unlike the other sports mentioned here, wakeboarding requires motorized machinery, but it’s one of the most physically challenging sports. After a day of wakeboarding, you’ll feel like every muscle in your body has been trained. The combination of needing to keep perfect balance while staying behind the boat in the wake requires an incredible amount of full-body muscle control.
If you have proper instruction and a good driver, wakeboarding is easy to learn. Women are often better learners than men when it comes wakeboarding because they don’t fight the boat, which means they get up faster.
Arm strength is important in wakeboarding, because like water-skiing you’re pulled behind a boat and every movement you make is centered on your arms and upper body reacting to the boat.
Get a grip on your body’s true abilities with sport climbing, which anyone can do safely almost anywhere.