Starting a new sport can be scary. There are seemingly endless piles of gear to wrangle, unintelligible jargon, and the fear that you won't be able to keep up. But many outdoor sports don't require joining a giant group, and they can be fantastic fitness options throughout the summer months.
But where to start? This bottom-line guide provides a little gear knowledge, tips on where and how to get going, and exercises that will help you prepare your body for the movements you'll be doing in your first forays.
Plus: Discover the easiest, healthiest way to lose weight--Run Your Butt Off!
What to Wear: If upgrading from beach cruiser to road bike, you'll need cycling shoes that clip into your new pedals. For a proper fit, visit a local bike shop--as a bonus, they can install the clip-in pedals on your bike, attach the cleats on your bike shoes, and give you tips on clipping in.
Starting Point: If you're trying clip-in bike shoes for the first time, try starting on grass, not cement. Clip your shoe into one pedal, and then start pedaling. As you get going, clip your other foot into its pedal. When you try to unclip, twist the heel of one foot down and away from the bike frame to unhook. This is where you may be glad you're on grass--if you fail to unclip, you could wind up landing on your hip. It's a much softer landing on grass than asphalt.
Beginner Tip: "The majority of people only focus on the downstroke of the pedal stroke," says Dan Ownes, owner of Hyper Fit Training in Wall, NJ, and cycling coach for Full Throttle Endurance, a New York City-basedtriathlon. "Realistically, you should also be pulling up on the pedal." By doing this, you'll use more of your total-body power--keep your pushing muscles fresher--and move faster.
Prepare Your Body: You might think it's all about your legs, but core strength is most important on the bike, says Ownes. To help his athletes build it, he suggests a move called "stir the pot." To do it, prop yourself on a stability ball in plank position--elbows on the ball, feet on the floor, and your body forming a straight line from head to toes. Maintain this rigid body line as you move your elbows beneath your shoulders to rotate the ball in a small counterclockwise circle beneath your chest (your hands will look as if they're stirring a pot). Give it all you've got, take a rest, and then do the same number of circles in a clockwise rotation.
What to Wear: Get dressed to get wet. While an experienced flatwater kayaker can stay dry, you'll probably paddle a few gallons of water onto your shoulders and head the first time you hit the river. Cotton shirts can get heavy and chafe your skin, especially around your shoulders. Wicking fabric or a surfing rash guard can keep your skin safe.
Starting Point: River and whitewater kayaking are a blast, but you'll have more fun if you're used to sitting in the boat and paddling. To get a taste for the sport in a less stressful environment, opt for flatwater kayaking on a calm river. And you won't have to vacation to practice: Boats and paddles are often available for rent on rivers near major metro areas including Chicago, Boston, Washington, DC, and New York.
Beginner Tip: For more efficient paddling, get your grip width right. To achieve this, hold the paddle with both hands and place it on top of your head. Then, slide your hands apart or together until your elbows form angles that are just a little shy of 90 degrees. And remember, there is a right-side-up: When you hold the paddle with your arms straight out in front of you, the longer edge of the right paddle should be on top--in many cases, the brand name of the paddle will then be right-side-up.
Prepare Your Body: To paddle correctly, you'll want to rotate through your thoracic (middle) spine, not your lower back. But many of us are tight through this area. To open up your mid-back, try this lunge and throw from Ali Gelani, a personal trainer in Washington, DC. To do it, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, arms straight out in front of you. Take a large lunge step forward with your right leg, descending as you step until your knees form 90-degree angles. At the bottom of the lunge, twist your torso to the right so that your arms spin and point over your right hip. Twist back to the start, and press back to standing. Now lunge with your left leg, twisting to your left at the bottom of the move.
What to Wear: Whether you visit a local climbing gym or go outdoors with a guide, you'll rent climbing shoes to help you scale the wall. They should fit tight: Climbing shoes are made from pliable rubber that will stretch as you climb, and the snugger they are, the better they'll grip. Don't give them a thumb's width at the toe as you would with running shoes; pick a pair that fits just right, maybe even a little tight.
Starting Point: If you haven't climbed before, get a feel for the gripping and maneuvering without the heights during an indoor bouldering session. Bouldering is smaller-scale rock climbing--literally climbing boulders, when done outdoors--and many gyms have areas where climbers can practice these skills without being tied onto a rope. Once you feel confident finding your balance on these lower climbs, you'll be better prepared to tie in with a guide and scale the complete wall.
Beginner Tip: Climbing photos and movie snippets are often hands-only, but beginners will want to focus on their legs: Rather than trying to pull yourself up the wall, which fatigues your limited grip and pulling strength, try to step up and push through your legs to get higher. Use your hands for balance on most holds, saving your grip for when you can't find a good foothold.
Prepare Your Body: Rock climbers do pullups--lots of them. To add some grip work to your chinups, grab a towel and try this variation from Jeremy Frisch, owner and director of Achieve Performance Training in Clinton, Mass. Drape a towel over one side of the bar, and grab it with one hand so it forms a loop just below the bar. Grab the bar with your other hand as you normally would for a pullup. Hanging in this way, perform pullups, though you may not be able to do than a few. Then switch arms and repeat.
What to Wear: Plenty of sunscreen. You'll obviously be in a wet situation and could wind up in the water. But if all goes well, you'll stay relatively dry and exposed to the sun for a long time. Protect your skin.
Starting Point: As with kayaking, flat water is a great place to start; you can get the hang of the board without navigating waves and boat wakes. Many of the same locations that rent kayaks will also have SUP gear. Ask them about larger boards for beginners. The larger your board, the more buoyant and balanced you'll be, and the more leeway you'll have for early balance battles.
Beginner Tip: When you first climb on your board, get a feel for the balance of paddling by riding on your knees. Once you've got the hang of steering and can stay afloat easily, slowly stand up. You'll have an easier time standing when the board is in motion than you will at a standstill.
Prepare Your Body: Don't be surprised if your middle is sore after your first session--Paddleboarding involves lots of core stability. To prepare your body to twist through your middle back--not your lumbar spine--stabilize your lower back and trunk with a cable core press, says Jared Meachem, fitness services director at Sky Fitness & Wellbeing in Tulsa, Okla.
To do it, stand with a cable at waist level on your right. Pull the cable out and hold it against the front of your chest with both hands, knees slightly bent. The cable should be taut. Hold your core tight. Maintaining this body position, press the cable straight out away from your chest--the cable will try to rotate you towards the station. Resist this rotation. Return the handle to your chest, and repeat.
What to Wear: Your guide will likely provide you with head lamps, a helmet, and maybe even gloves. So find shoes, like boots, that won't easily slip, and go with clothes and shoes you're all right ruining. Caves are muddy, dirty messes. Many caving guides will tell you that any gear you wear into the cave will be caving gear--and only caving gear--from that day forward.
Starting Point: Unlike many of the sports on this list, you'll need a guide for obvious safety reasons. Often, daily deal coupons are offered for caving, but don't just get swept up by a low price. Use Yelp or another similar service to find a highly rated and well-reviewed guide that's also affordable.
Beginner Tip: Bring a sweatshirt. Even if you're caving in the summer, you're going underground. It's cold down there!
Prepare Your Body: Even beginning caving will involve lots of squeezing though tight spaces and crawling, so practice those all-fours movements. Bonus: It's fantastic core work. Try this GI crawl that Frisch uses with his athletes: To do it, assume a forearm plank position, with your forearms on the floor and your body stretched straight behind you. Keeping your stomach on the floor, bring your right knee up to meet your right elbow as your extend your left arm forward. Crawl forward in this way, alternating your arms and legs.