The 6 a.m. sky is pitch black with no hint of morning light. After a half-mile warm-up, we meet under an awning of a neighborhood building. Ivonne DePauli, the head trainer and owner of Seattle’s Fresh Air Fitness, leads us through 36 minutes of heart-pumping, breath-blasting exercises. We stay mostly dry, venturing into the wet air for certain reps and running drills during the last 12 minutes. The only time we take shelter inside for an entire session is if we are facing a brutal winter storm.
Otherwise, come wind or rain or chill, it’s the great outdoors for us.
I find gyms loathsome, and being in the classically gray Pacific Northwest winter deepens my appreciation for our landscape. So exercising in any kind of weather works for me.
You may be surprised to find that, with the right gear, sport and mindset, it works for you, too.
“Up until I worked out outside, I despised working out,” says Jessica Matsui, instructor and owner of Jessie’s Fit Club, a Madrona Beach-area boot camp. “I wanted to bring my yellow umbrella the first time I worked out in the rain, so I was amazed at how much I enjoyed exercising outdoors. It’s empowering.”
Read on for information on four sports that will keep you happily sweating outside all winter long.
Because, let’s face it, you’ll be toughing it out anyway
Some boot camps retreat indoors for the rainiest months, but others stay outside no matter the weather (Green Lake-based Seattle Weight Loss Booty Camp is one).
The best way to find an outdoor boot camp is through word-of-mouth or via flyers at community centers, coffee shops and athletic stores. Ask yourself if you want a big class or a small, intimate group, and make sure all instructors are certified.
“Test out boot camps before committing. You might be willing to drive farther or consider a different time to be with an instructor that really inspires you to exercise,” says DePauli.
You’ll definitely stay warm
“The hardest part about any run — no matter what the weather outside looks like — is getting out the front door,” says athletic trainer Loka Murphy. Murphy defeats this issue by running with the Seattle Green Lake Running Group (SGLRG), a free
group with scheduled runs every day of the week. “Everyone is welcome. As long as a person is consistent and sticks around, they will end up with more running buddies than they know what to do with.”
Most running stores also have running groups. Fitness trainer Andrea Becker, who also runs Ballard Area Runners (BAR), says Rainshadow Running is her favorite trail-running group. Seattle High Heel Running Group is an all-female trail-running group. If you can’t find an area group, post your running partner needs on a neighborhood message board.
Murphy points out that no matter how cold it is, you'll regret wearing too many layers. Use headlamps or knuckle lights and wear bright, reflective clothing when running in the dark.
“Having a running buddy or a group greatly reduces one’s chances of problems that might occur for someone that is on her own,” says Murphy. Plus, chatting with other runners takes the focus off the weather.
Gutting it out on a still winter lake is so picturesque, right?
“There are people [who] will say that winter is the best time for rowing,” says Jeannie Cziesla, office manager at Lake Washington Rowing Club (LWRC). “There is very little boat traffic. It’s quiet, it’s peaceful, it’s stunning. You will catch some beautiful skies, and sometimes the water is like glass.”
Rowing clubs in the greater Seattle area include LWRC, Sammamish Rowing Association, Lake Union Crew, Pocock Rowing Center, Everett Rowing Association, and North Cascades Crew on Lake Stevens. The Seattle Parks Department offers rowing classes at Green Lake and Mount Baker Community Center. Although most rowing classes are offered outside of the winter season, many instructors at rowing clubs offer private lessons year-round. (LWRC offers a Rowing for Moms class that begins in April).
Wear layered and high-visibility or reflective clothing and pogies on your hands, and make sure your boat has lights. Don a shorty life vest if you are rowing alone, but it’s best to row in groups, says Cziesla.
Rowing is a sport that can carry you into your elder years, adds Cziesla. “The oldest rower at LWRC is in his 90s. I started rowing at age 40.”
Flying this fast, the rain will seem invisible.
“We like to say in Seattle that there is no bad weather, there is just bad gear,” says Sara Rigel, team leader of LUNA Chix Seattle cycling, a group with weekly rides for all women riders between April and October. For winter riding groups, Rigel suggests Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance, which has a ride calendar on its website, and Cascade Bicycle Club, which offers more than 1,000 volunteer-led rides.
As with all rainy-season sports, be prepared. Rigel suggests a waterproof, breathable jacket, waterproof pants for the worst days, and waterproof or soft-shell, water-resistant gloves. Make sure your core is warm, and think about neoprene or GORE-TEX® covers for your shoes, too. Layers and vented jackets are essential. Invest in fenders and you won’t spray yourself or other bikers.
Use lights and reflective clothing, and know that rain makes things act differently. For example, white road paint is slippery when wet. Find road and wet-weather riding tips on Cascade Bicycle Club’s blog.
Writer, editor, and writing coach Nancy Schatz Alton is finishing the last draft of her memoir and is co-author of two holistic health care guides: The Healthy Back Book and The Healthy Knees Book. She lives in Seattle with her husband and two elementary-age daughters.
More fitness options to keep you moving this winter
Of course there are many more ways to elevate your heart rate while outside. Leave the city behind for skiing, snowshoeing and sledding, or join the Mountaineers for a winter hike. Get out on the water in a canoe, kayak or paddleboard. Rental places include Sail Sand Point; Seattle Outrigger Canoe Club; Northwest Outdoor Center; Alki Kayak Tours; Moss Bay Rowing, Kayaking, Sailing and Paddle Board Center; Tacoma’s Foss Harbor Marina; and the University of Washington’s Waterfront Activities Center.
Still, there’s no award for braving the elements in the name of exercise. Did you know that Ballard’s Olympic Health Club is undergoing a remodel that members are already enjoying? Work out at one of the many low-priced Anytime Fitness gyms. Take a new class in a tried-and-true exercise method such as yoga or Pilates. Or jump out of your comfort zone and sign up for some of the latest fitness-fad classes: Pound, Cardio Tennis, The Bar Method ™, MixxedFit™, Seattle Punk Rock Aerobics, and aerial yoga. Lastly, check out the Underdog Sports Leagues; maybe dodgeball is your answer to winter health fitness.