F. Scott Schafer/FITNESS MagazineBy Cristina Goyanes
Fall is prime time for fresh-air fun, so let's move. To look like a natural, not a newbie, as you hit the trail, court, road, or lake, follow our oops-proof guide.
Related: Best Road Trip Ever: Active Vacations Across the Country
Take a Hike
Play Nice with Mother Nature: When you're tramping where the wild things are, it's best to practice this do-not-disturb policy.
• Say hello. The sound of snapping twigs got you spooked? Stop, listen, and look to size up the situation, says Kary Sommers, a field instructor and marketing manager for the National Outdoor Leadership School. "Then call out 'Hello,'" she advises, to scare off any skittish creatures. "Most animals are more scared of you than you are of them and will probably run away when they hear or see you," says Rebecca Bear, an outdoor programs and outreach manager for REI.
• Try not to be a home wrecker. "Don't urinate in the bushes," Sommers says. "You could disturb a bee's nest or anger an animal who lives there." Better to find a clear patch.
• Leave no trace. Pack up any rubbish, including used toilet paper -- put that in a ziplock baggie -- to toss in the trash later.
How to Pimp Your Backpack: If you're trimming a fat pack for a simple day hike, here are 10 key items that you don't want to leave lying on your living room floor, according to outdoor pro Bear.
• Sun protection (sunglasses and sunscreen)
• Food (one and a half pounds -- like seeds, nuts, dried fruit, and dry-cured meats -- per person)
• Water (32 ounces per person)
• Extra layers (especially rain gear)
• First aid kit
How Not to Look Like a Poseur: In the woods, what separates the women from the girls is who can make it home using an old-school compass when the reception on her GPS gadget goes poof. Grab a map and practice how to be the former, Bear advises.
• Step 1: Mark your map. Plot out a short jaunt in your local park with a starting point (A) and an endpoint (B). Now, study the map to pick a path. The best route is rarely a straight line, but let's assume that here it is.
• Step 2: Pull out your compass. Align the straight edge of the compass on the map along the line you wish to follow from point A to point B.
• Step 3: Find true north. Keep the compass steady atop the map and turn the compass dial until its north mark is aligned with north on the map. (Look for the mini compass printed on the map to be sure).
• Step 4: Place the compass in your palm. Hold it so that the needle is pointing north and the arrow printed on the compass base is pointing away from you. You are now facing in the direction you will go.
For more detailed how-to videos, go to rei.com and click the Learn tab.
Get Going: Check out trails.com for hikes near you. Don't have a hiking buddy but are reluctant to go solo? Alltrails.com offers group trips nationwide that you can join to make your adventure more social; the service also allows you to filter routes by location and difficulty. Get extra familiar with your chosen trail by cross-referencing it at nwf.org/naturefind, which also provides info on the best and most popular paths near you.
Related: Top Trail Running Tips for Beginners
Be a Tennis Ace
Bring Your A-Game: Venus Williams reveals how you can rule the court.
• Go in for a tune-up. Whether you're just dusting off that racquet you bought last year or hitting the courts with it each weekend, it may be time to take 'er in to be restrung. "You should get your racket strung once every two to four months or every 15 times that you play," says Williams, who recommends Wilson Synthetic Gut Extreme strings ($4, amazon.com).
• Polish your serve. "Having a high ball toss in front of you is key, as is having a fluid motion," she says. To watch how it's done, go to essentialtennis.com for free online videos.
• Stand in the sweet spot. After you serve, stand in the center of the baseline -- on or just behind the line. "Being on the baseline allows you the flexibility to move side to side and forward toward the net," Williams says. "Don't hang too far back," she warns of a common rookie mistake, "so that you can't come in and be aggressive."
Dodge Tennis Elbow: Surprise -- despite its name, this bummer strain begins with the wrist. We consulted Jennifer Solomon, MD, a team physician for the United States Tennis Association (USTA), on how to save your game.
• Master a proper hold. Grip the handle as if you were giving it a light handshake (leave a finger's width or so of wiggle room in your grasp). When you grip too firmly, you're forced to use your wrist muscles to control all the action.
• Do a postmatch stretch. Dr. Solomon's go-to soother: Extend your dominant arm -- the one you hold the racket with -- in front of you, palm down. Use your other hand to pull the fingertips down and toward you so that the palm is facing your body. Hold for 30 seconds. Repeat 10 times.
• Ice your elbow. If your elbow starts to feel sore or tender while doing everyday activities like turning a doorknob, ice the area for 20 minutes and do the stretch. If the pain persists, see a doc.
How Not to Look Like a Poseur: When it comes to courtside fashion, white minis have given way to everything from capris to catsuits. And sweatbands? You won't catch many in-the-know pros wearing the 1970s Bjorn Borg variety; Williams opts for a visor from her Eleven by Venus line. But there's one accessory a true player would never toss. "I wear wristbands to keep the sweat off my hands," Williams says. Yours can double as something to dab your brow with.
Get Going: Whether you're a novice or the next Serena, you can easily find your ideal opponent at tennisround.com. This website helps connect players of all levels (the site has 16,000-plus registered members) and find courts in more than 2,200 U.S. cities. If you need a hand with selecting the right partner, let the site's new Flex League program suggest a suitable player for you. Looking for a league? Find one near you on the USTA website, usta.com/adult-tennis/usta-league.
Go for a Spin
Ride Without Getting Saddle Sore: Carmen Small, a road-cycling pro with Team Specialized-Lululemon, will save your butt.
• Pad your cheeks... Invest in padded bike shorts. A pair with the just-right level of cushioning should not make you walk like a cowboy before you've even mounted.
• ...not your seat. You may be tempted to also top off your bike seat with one of those seemingly comfy gel-filled covers, but they can shift underneath you and distribute your weight unevenly. That's a recipe for rubbing and chafing.
• Adjust your saddle. Make sure your bike seat is parallel to the ground. If the nose is tilted downward, you may slide forward, giving your cheeks an even narrower pad as well as forcing you to push against the handlebars to stay in place.
Be Queen of the Hill: Yes, there's a science to getting over the hump without huffing and puffing.
• Step 1: Start shifting before the slope. Select an easier gear (one with less resistance) as you approach, says Kelli Emmett, a pro off-road racer and Liv/Giant ambassador. "If you wait until you're already on the hill, you'll lose momentum," she says.
• Step 2: Pedal between shifts. Shift one gear at a time, taking a full pedal stroke between each shift. This makes for a smoother, energy-saving transition.
• Step 3: Put some oomph into it. Pro riders often rise from the saddle to apply more body weight to each stroke on climbs. If you can steer steadily when you're not seated, the extra leverage will give you more push power.
How Not to Look Like a Poseur: Beware the chain-ring tattoo -- the grease marks that you can get when your front gears rub up against your right calf. "It's not only a dead giveaway that you're a novice, but the rubbing can easily cut you," says Emmett. Play it safe by always putting your left foot, which is farthest from the chain ring, down to stop, leaving your right foot on the pedal. And tight-and-bright spandex with the allover logos can scream "I'm trying too hard." Stick with a cute "kit" -- cyclist lingo for "outfit" -- that's understated.
Get Going: Pick your desired distance, then find a course at mapmyride.com or download the app to have your cell phone's GPS act as your copilot. Looking to pick up speed or bike-handling skills? Ride in a group. Inquire at your local bike shop or consider joining a chapter of Team Luna Chix (teamlunachix.com). The girl-power program, sponsored by Luna Bar, helps connect active women of all ages and fitness levels who love to road or mountain bike, so that they never have to train alone and can learn from and encourage one another -- all while raising money for a good cause, the Breast Cancer Fund.
Related: We Dare You: One Reader Rocks Serena Williams' Tennis Style
Row Your Boat
Avoid Catching a Crab: Pro paddler Emily Jackson shares how to stroke, not choke, in a canoe.
• Row to your toes. To begin your stroke, put the blade of your paddle in the water alongside your toes. (A kayaker, by contrast, goes "tip to hip," meaning the blade enters the water toward the tip of the kayak and is pulled as far back as your hips.)
• Be superficial. Submerge only about three-quarters of the blade during the stroke, especially if the water is shallow. "Catching a crab" is rowerspeak for when the blade gets stuck in the water -- it can catch on sand or rocks or even get caught in an unruly undercurrent -- and acts like a brake as you get its handle in your gut.
• Crank it! Don't just sit there as if you're slicing bread -- put your entire core into each stroke. As you pull back the paddle, rotate your torso in the direction of the stroke to amp the power behind it. Pull the blade out once it's alongside your hips.
Get a Grip: Seasoned paddlers have calluses on their palms, making them semi-impervious to blisters. Here's help for the rest of us to avoid this collateral damage.
• Loosen up. "The trick is not to hold the paddle too tightly," says Martina Wegman, a whitewater-kayaking pro. If you do, not only will your hands tire too quickly when you're white-knuckling, but the friction against your skin will be increased.
• Swipe away sweat. Clammy palms are ripe for blisters, so wipe them dry from time to time with your bandanna or any dry corner of your outfit. You can also coat your palms with GhostGrip ($8, ghostgrip.com), an antislip antiperspirant that Wegman swears by.
• Leave the bling at home. Rowers shouldn't put a ring on it, Wegman says. Calluses form where a ring and paddle hit, and the skin below the band gets rubbed raw.
How Not to Look Like a Poseur: So you don't have calluses -- that's not a sign that you're a newbie. But the running sneakers? Real boaters know better than to choose shoes that soak up water and go all slippery when wet. Boat shoes are called boat shoes for a reason, people! Jackson wears Sperry Top-Sider SON-R Sounders ($90, sperrytopsider.com) because they have the telltale zigzag treads that funnel away water when you step on soggy surfaces.
Get Going: Go to paddling.net/launches for a listing of all the nearby places (almost 20,000 are in the database) where you can push off in your kayak or canoe. No boat of your own? Call the location -- a lake marina, say -- ahead of time to see if you can rent equipment. Or take an intro class at the REI Outdoor School (rei.com/outdoorschool), which offers paddling courses in 14 cities nationwide.
More from FITNESS Magazine:
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F. Scott Schafer/FITNESS MagazineBy Cristina Goyanes