Jim Steel Summertime Outdoor Training Article

Summertime Outdoor Training

Getting back to the basics with summertime outdoor training

Ah, summertime. The best time to train outside. When the weather starts to heat up, I immediately begin thinking about getting out on my back deck in the humidity and sun to get a training session in. There is something about the sunshine and the heat and humidity that calls to me to get out there. I absolutely love training in that weather, and the hotter the better. I think it all started when I was a kid and my father would have wood for me to chop or a dirt pile to move in the summer. I just loved that challenge of fighting through a challenge in the heat. With all the talk these days about resilience and grit and all that, I guess I was developing those things without labeling it. To me, it was just fun. When I began to train for football in high school, I would run in the heat of the day around 2 pm every afternoon, going up and down the dirt bike trails in the woods near my house. Those runs cemented my love for summer training, giving me that feeling that you get when you are done and your bandana is soaked with sweat and the sweat is stinging your eyes and your lungs are searching for breath. Back then I used to get the  garden hose out when I was finished running and sit in a lawn chair and alternate drinking from it and spraying it all over myself. In fact, I still do that to this day on occasion.

If you are not acclimated to the heat or have never done these types of workouts, be smart. Start slowly and with super short sessions. Over time, you will adjust and thrive.

So, with my love for training in the heat, I figured I’d write 5 different workouts that I have done myself that I think will give you a kick ass hot weather session.

Sled Pushes
These are also known as Prowler pushes. Years ago, the Prowler was the only game in town, developed by Williams Strength out of South Carolina. Now, there are plenty of other Prowler type sleds to push. I even saw a push sled that is collapsible. The beauty of the push sled is that you can tailor it to your current fitness level. You can walk with it, jog with it or run with it. I used to have the football team at the University of Pennsylvania push it on the artificial turf in the heat. Now, that is brutal, because the sled doesn’t move very fast on the turf, and although you are trying to run with it, you aren’t able to, and the leg and lung burn is outstanding. One year, I took the sled to the beach with me on vacation, and every morning, I would go to a local schoolyard and push it on the asphalt basketball court. No going to the beach until you punish yourself with sled pushes on the asphalt and gravel. You may get some soreness initially when pushing it, but most of the time, you won’t feel it much the next day. You will, however, get a great workout no matter how you choose to train with it. Start off slowly, because cardiovascular -wise, it will whip your butt if you aren’t ready for it. It really doesn't “hit” you until you stop pushing it, and then your body tries very hard to regain normal breathing. In addition, it is a great way to finish a free weight workout. As soon as you get done with the weights, go right to the pushes. Most of the sleds have the ability to add weight plates to the poles for added resistance. Some days, make the weight light and run with it. On other days, load up the weight and push as hard as you can, trying to run with it, but you won't be able to because of the poundage. You can make the rest periods longer or shorter depending on your fitness goals. Strength? Full rest. Trying to up your cardio fitness? Lighter and shorten the rest periods.

Weighted Vest Training
The weighted vest is a great tool for training. With a weighted vest, you can walk, hike, run, etc. Just like the sled push, you can tailor the training to fit your needs. This morning, I went for a 30 minute walk with a 20 pound vest on. This is just another way of adding intensity to the walk. Last week, I used the 20 pound vest to shadow box, performing 10, 2 minute rounds. More on that workout later. In addition to added weight when walking or running, it adds resistance to squats and push-ups, chin ups and dips. A great way to use it is to run or walk for a specific distance, and then stop and do squats or push-ups for some reps, and then continue with the run or walk. You could walk for 2 minutes and then do the exercises or walk a specific number of steps and then do the exercises. For example, walk 200 steps, and then stop and do 20 push-ups, walk 200 steps and do 15 squats and continue, adding exercises as the workout goes on.

Hill/Stadium Steps Running or Walking
This is a killer cardio workout and will make your legs and lungs burn like fire. A hill that is at least 20 yards long is best for an optimal session, but any hill will do. I always sprinted up the hill and walked down. My personal rule was that I had to do at least 10 hills for it to “count” as a workout. My hill was around 30 yards long. If you are just starting off, limit the number of reps while running or begin by walking and gradually add some jogging in over time and then progress to running the hill. If there are no hills available, running high school or college stadium steps will do. When I was at Penn, I ran the stadium at various points in my training cycle, hitting every other step and walking quickly down. Just like with the hill running, I had a personal rule that as soon as you reach the bottom, you must go back up right away. Feel free to add a weighted vest for more brutality.

Playground Training
When I would go on vacation when I was younger, and couldn't see myself paying $20.00 a day to lift weights at a gym, I would look around for a playground where I could perform dips and chin-ups. I would do dips on the top of the sliding board and chins on the monkey bars. With this training, be creative. Try dips to failure, chins to failure, and 10 burpees. Rest a minute or two and get after it again. This is also another place where a weighted vest can come in handy for added resistance.

Bas Rutten MMA Workout
In my opinion (as well as many Tier One Special Operators that I know), this is simply the best outside training that you can do, because it offers so much variety and isn't as tough on your body as running. I believe it was around 1999 when I first discovered these cassette tapes (now they have it streaming on Basrutten.com). Rutten offers 4 different instructional tapes, with all of them lasting around 30 minutes. There is a boxing tape, an all-around workout tape (with curls and abs and neck exercises), a Thai boxing tape and an all-around fighting tape. I have done them all and have taught them to every team that I have ever coached. The beauty of these tapes is that you can perform them by yourself or with a partner. For example, with the boxing tape, you can simply shadow box, or you can perform the tape on a heavy bag. If you have a partner, they can hold punch mitts for you. The Thai boxing tape can be done alone, using kicks or knees to the air, and can also be done with a partner holding Thai pads. That one is particularly brutal, with every punch combination followed by a kick. If you do this for 2 or 3 minute rounds with maximum intensity and with Thai pads, you will find out what you are made of real fast. I believe that I would do 2-3, 2 minute rounds to begin and I would be smoked as hell. If you have a good partner to hold these pads, and feed you the punches and kicks, this training will make a man or woman out of you. I love these workouts because if you have equipment, great, but if you don't, just turn it on and go. They are convenient. I sometimes stop at a parking lot or a park, put the tapes on in my truck, and get a session in. When I am at home, I do the workout on my back deck where it is extra hot and get in 10, 2 minute rounds or 7, 3 minute rounds. All of the rounds have a minute break between them. The other day, I had a really good one: I did 10, 2 minute rounds of shadow boxing with a 20 pound weighted vest on and did 20 push-ups during the rest period. This was a challenging session. It was the type of workout where that little voice in your head is saying, “You have 4 more rounds to do, can you make it?” That’s the “inner pu--y” that my Special forces friend talks about. It's messing with you and you have to beat that voice into submission. So, I beat it down and made it through. And afterwards, when I could breathe again, I felt so exhilarated. After those types of sessions, everything invariably goes right for the rest of the day. Make sure to go as hard as you can on these tapes. I have had beginners say to me, “ I just did 10 rounds!” and they are barely sweating. You should be dying by the end of the sessions.

Cross Country Running
This was my favorite way to train for football in the summertime back in high school and college. I would alternate days of cross country running with straight ahead sprints. Where I grew up in Maryland, we had a hundred or so acres of woods in my backyard that extended across a road. On the other side of the road, there were trails made by years of folks riding dirt bikes back there. I had a few different courses that I would run; one had a hill that was steep (affectionately named “throw up hill”) but was around forty yards, and the other course had a hill that was longer, around 60 yards, but less steep. Each run would take me around 20 minutes. The beauty of it was that there were a few straight a ways but most of the courses had hills of various sizes, so there was very little time to coast. I also liked the challenge of the terrain; rocks dotted the paths and sand and loose dirt were on the hills. This made me focus intently, which added to the enjoyment of the runs. I got in great shape for football following this type of program, and also got faster. One of the keys for me was that it was never boring. I would see deer, squirrels, Pileated woodpeckers, and various rabbits and squirrels and sometimes I would tumble down a hill or turn my ankle. I figured that this type of training was getting me in shape but was also making me tougher as a human. If you can find a trail like I had, by all means, get in the woods. 

Get outside and train, get uncomfortable in the heat of the day and push yourself, and you will get addicted just like I did!


About The Author
Jim Steel has been immersed in athletics and the Iron Game for most of his life. He has been a college football player and coach, powerlifter, Muay Thai fighter and is currently a competitive bodybuilder. In 1999, Steel was named Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coordinator at the University of Pennsylvania, and moved up to Head Strength and Conditioning Coordinator in 2004. He is the owner of the blog basbarbell.com, and is a motivational speaker, frequent podcast guest and the author of two books,  Basbarbell Book of Programs and Steel Reflections.  Steel is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist with the National Strength and Conditioning Association.