When you’ve got the opportunity to be in nature, BE IN NATURE!
I admit that I have an unfair advantage relative to most of the world, especially other city dwellers.
Golden Gate Park and Ocean Beach are outdoor gems and most people won’t have access to anything like them. To have a great inner city park, sure. To have a beach, sure. To have an inner city park with dirt paths for trail running that connects with a beach… not so likely.
As a professional personal trainer, of course I want you to come into the gym. Heck, my livelihood depends on it. And while I do advocate using heart rate based interval training for cardio, nature calls and I heed it’s call. So should you.
Trail running is a great and real tool for reducing stress.
Much like the way meditation reduces stress by rewiring the brain, viewing natural environments does the same. Brain mapping studies show that when viewing natural scenes, the portions of the brain associated with emotional stability and empathy are more active. But when viewing urban scenes, there is increased activation of the amygdala, the part of the brain associated with the “fight or flight” response. Honestly, is that at all surprising to you?
The Japanese version of natural therapy is shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing, and in Germany they call it Kneipp therapy. By having patients simply walk through woodland areas or do exercises in natural clearings, doctors find that their patients display reduced blood pressure, lower pulse rates and lower cortisol levels.
And in case you don’t constantly talk to and read stuff written by personal trainers, cortisol is the bad boy among our hormones, a prime suspect in excessive belly fat. You don’t want belly fat, do you??
So while aerobic exercise is vital and heart rate based zone training is a very effective way to go about it, there is also something to be said about environment. While you’re running, do you think your mind will receive more benefit from looking at Judge Judy berate some fool on a tiny LCD television or from the scene on the right?
You can even do some cross training, right there on your dirt path.
Remember when you were a kid and running wasn’t exercise, it was just fun? You’d run around for a while, jump on things, throw things and basically be “primal”. (I really can’t stand that term!) When you’re in a gym, running on a treadmill you don’t really have the opportunity to have FUN. It’s work. And yes, sometimes it has to be done and sometimes there is no other option. If the choice is treadmill or continuing to sit on your duff, there’s no choice. Go hit the treadmill!
But trail running opens up random possibilities for fun. Fun that makes your body work.
Along the path, I came upon these long logs. Let the games begin! The log in the front was used for log flipping, flipping the log end over end. Total body strength and conditioning. The I rolled the logs in the background to put space between them so I could hop over them in succession. I also ran along the length of the logs and hopped on to the next one for a little balance and agility.
There were other fallen logs that were even larger that I used for jump up exercises and longer ones that were a greater challenge for balance. I spiked the heart rate a couple of times, then got right back to the trail running. I was a workout, but it was play. Winds up I hadn’t even gotten to the REAL workout part of the run.
Have you ever run in sand? It ain’t so easy!
How about running in sand on an incline? Yikes!
At the end of the dirt trails in Golden Gate Park there is the Great Highway, across the street from which is Ocean Beach. Ocean Beach has these great sand dunes which are excellent to sit on while looking out at the ocean and having a glass of wine. (Always Leave No Trace!) You know what else the dunes are great for?
Whipping your ass!
I entered the dunes here, which is at the Great Highway and Lincoln Way and I charged hard. Running uphill in sand obviously isn’t easy. Sand moves! I got to the top of the dune and ran along the dunes until my lungs were burning then stopped to take a breather. I looked over to my left and saw that I was at Judah Ave. For those of you who live in or near San Francisco, you know what that means.
I had run a grand total of two blocks. And I’m not ashamed of that!
Those were the two hardest blocks of running I’ve ever done! With my heart rate highly elevated and my lungs burning, I just started laughing. Once I had recovered, I decided to take whipping my own ass a little further and I did hill sprints up and down the dunes. That was really fun and really hard. Forget the Lyon St. steps. Head out to Ocean Beach and run the dunes! Steps are so nice and evenly spaces and solid. Sand, oh heck no! It’s like running on a treadmill that doesn’t want you on it.
So while I entirely in favor of “hitting the gym”, hit nature, too.
Like I said, please do come to the gym. There’s certainly things you can do inside that you can’t do outside. Ok… you could if you were insane and took a barbell set to the beach just to do deadlifts. And don’t even think about taking a piece of GYROTONIC® equipment to the beach. What a pointless waste of effort that would be.
But nature has it’s privileges. And as long as I’m living so close to such great areas of nature, treadmill… you’re dead to me. Trail running… you had me at trail.