By Michael Scholtz, M.A., Best Life fitness expert
We recently offered some tips on getting a fun workout in by sea (check out Adventurous Water Workouts). Now, we’re highlighting some challenging fitness outings for those who are land-locked or simply don’t have their sea legs.
Remember, before jumping in, you should consider signing up for a beginner class in your prospective sport. An experienced instructor can help you get acquainted and comfortable with the skills, physical demands and equipment that are required. A fringe benefit is that your instructor will know the best local places and even exciting destinations to enjoy your sport. You’ll be surprised how accessible and fun to learn these “extreme” sports can be. Ready to hit the ground running? Here are four extreme land-based sports and what you’ll need to know to get started:
What it is: An off-road version of cycling that can range from dirt roads to gnarly trails with roots, logs, steep climbs and drops to navigate. Mountain bikes are designed to be more stable, to provide more traction on slippery surfaces, and to take the punishment delivered by the bumps and grinds of the trail. That’s mostly due to the fact that they have bigger, wider tires, which act as shock absorbers, and knobs that can increase traction. Most off-road bikes also have front suspension, though more and more bikes that provide suspension on both the front and the rear are now available and affordable.
Workout facts: Mountain biking demands endurance and power in your legs and core. It will also help you build tremendous upper body strength and power as you become a more advanced rider. Your balance and bike-handling skills will also be tested in slick, bumpy and/or steep conditions. An hour of shredding the trails will burn about 600 calories*.
• Helmet. This should be purchased from a bike shop and approved by American Society for Testing and Materials, CSA International or Snell, three groups that provide safety standards for sports headgear and helmets.
• Gloves. These will help protect your hands from blisters and scrapes.
• Mountain bike. Again, this should be purchased from a real bicycle shop, not a department store.
• Seat-bag repair kit. It fits under your saddle and should contain an inner tube patch kit, extra tube, tire irons for changing a flat, multi-tool (various wrenches in a compact form) and a small pump or CO2 device (for filling tires without pumping).
• Shoes. You can wear hiking shoes or boots, cycling shoes, which have a stiffer sole and narrower profile that allow you to slip into toe clips (more on these below), or cycling shoes with cleats on the bottom that click into compatible pedals.
• Specific pedals. In most cases, mountain bikes come with flat pedals, which allow you to ride in regular shoes (use a hiking boot or shoe for protection). You can also buy toe clips, metal cages you can slip your shoes into that attach to your pedals (hiking boots won’t fit so you’ll have to use shoes specifically made for cycling). Upper-end models typically don’t come with pedals; experienced cyclists have special cycling cleats and specific pedals they fit into that they can attach to the bike.
Stay-Safe Strategies: Take classes at your local shop to learn how to use your tools; many times these are free. Be sure to maintain your bike. Routinely check the tightness of bolts, the condition of your cables and chain and the pressure in your tires. Also check for any cracks in joints when you clean your bike and get it checked at a shop at least once a year (during regular servicing). Know your route, including where it goes, how long it is and how technically demanding it is. Always wear your helmet and ride with a partner in case you suffer an injury or get lost.
What it is: There are many types of climbing workouts—the most obvious dividing line is indoor versus outdoor. Most experienced climbers will tell you that natural rock and the inherent beauty that comes with being outside makes outdoor climbing better, but indoor climbing is a fantastic way to get instruction and practice techniques. And many of the same styles that are used outdoors, such as bouldering (scrambling on rocks low enough to jump off of and that don’t require ropes) and free climbing (not relying on your equipment to hold your weight), can be brought into the gym.
Workout facts: It might seem that upper body strength is essential, and while it does come into play, a good climber will rely on her balance, leg strength and core much more than her arms. That’s because grip strength is the first to fatigue and these other elements will allow you to finish your climb safely. An hour of continuous climbing can burn up to 900 calories.
• Belay device. This metal clip is used to secure the rope of the climber.
• Climbing shoes. The fit has to be just right because you’re relying on your feet for stability and balance. There’s little room for error in fit because there can’t be any slippage. Ideally, you should go to a footwear or department store just to get your feet measured; then go to the climbing equipment specialist with those measurements.
• Harness. This belt-like device goes around your waist and thighs and hooks up to your rope
• Helmet. Look for a climbing helmet certified by one these organizations: Union Internationale des Associations d’ Alpinisme, American Society for Testing and Materials or the European Committee for Standardization. And for more advanced and specialized gear options as well as more information on climbing, check out ABC-of-Rock Climbing.
• Rope. You’ll use this to secure yourself when you climb; it’s what will connect you to the rock, your climbing partner, or to your belayer on the ground.
Stay-Safe Strategies: Be sure to maintain your equipment; any wear and tear or fraying could compromise your safety. When climbing, make sure the rope is clear of your gear and arms/feet at all times. Never let the rope loop on anything—ever. Be aware of what’s below you as you climb. You need to be aware if there’s a sharp rock, bolt (inserted permanently on some routes) or other obstruction in your path in case you fall.
What it is: It’s a cross between skiing and surfing. Most ski resorts are now open to “riding” (as avid snowboarders call it) in addition to traditional skiing. And many areas now have terrain parks specifically for advanced snowboarders (and freestyle skiers) who can perform different stunts and tricks.
Workout facts: Balance is crucial, and your most important strength comes from your core. Lower body strength, endurance and power will also come into play, as will the need for upper body strength and flexibility, which will come in handy for preventing a fall, getting up from a fall and not hurting yourself during a fall. An hour of carving turns will burn about 500 calories.
• Goggles or sunglasses. These will help protect your eyes and help you see clearly.
• Helmet. Snowboarding Helmets should have a European Committee for Standardization, American Society for Testing and Materials or Snell RS-98 certification. Look for the sticker!
• Several layers of clothing. Your first should be something that wicks moisture, like polypropylene underwear. Your second layer is the insulation layer, typically a fleece or down jacket or sweater. And your top layer is a shell, a windproof, water-repellant jacket.
• Snowboard with bindings and a leash. You can choose from three different types of boards: Freestyle, freeride or Alpine; ask the retailer what type they’d recommend for you. The leash will keep the board attached to you in case you fall.
• Snowboard Boots. Different from ski boots, snowboard boots are soft-sided, similar to a hiking or snow boot.
• Ski or Waterproof Gloves. These will keep your hands warm.
Stay-Safe Strategies: Make sure you ride under control on slopes that fit your ability. Use the safety leash, so you don’t lose your board should you fall. And make predictable turns and maneuvers so that other skiers and riders can avoid you if they’re passing.
What it is: The term trail running could apply to most any form of off-road running, but many times it involves running on trails that are steep and technical (meaning, loaded with obstacles, such as rocks, logs and mud). For this reason, a good trail run can range from a full-out run to hiking as fast as possible up and down impossibly steep slopes, through boulder fields or ankle-deep mud.
Workout facts: Endurance is key because the speeds are not nearly as fast as road or track running. In fact, trail races can be up to 100 miles long! Of course, you don’t have to tackle anything close to that distance to get a fantastic cardio workout that also builds lower leg, thigh and hip strength, and works your balance and agility. An hour on the trail will burn about 650 calories.
• Hat. It will offer protection from the sun or rain.
• Headlamp. This is helpful if you’re up early or out late. Remember, it’s darker in the forest than out on the streets.
• Shoes. Look for the same fit and style as a regular running sneaker, but in an off-road version with a studded outsole and durable upper.
• Waist pack or backpack. You’ll need a place to stash your water bottles (some backpacks have an internal “bladder” and hose to drink from), energy gels and first-aid kit.
Stay-Safe Strategies: Run with a partner and/or tell someone your planned route in case you get lost or injured. You’ll probably also want to take a map of the area where you’ll be running or GPS, and pack a cell phone just to be safe. Finally, bring along some extra clothes and food if you’ll be out for an extended period and/or far enough away from safety that you couldn’t shout for help and be heard.
* Calorie-burn estimates are based on a 150-pound person.