Oh, heck yes! It's been one doozy of a winter, but spring is finally here — and it's time to get outside and get active again.
But let's be realistic, here. The season may technically be spring, but there's a good chance we've still got some cold days and melted snow ahead of us. That's not going to keep us from heading outside, but we'd still like to keep our feet warm and dry and clothes unmuddied — thank you very much.
Here are 10 spring fitness tips to keep you comfortable while you exercise during the winter thaw.
1. Lighten up
Trade your winter parka in for a light, packable waterproof jacket and pants. You need full-body protection against splash-back when you run through puddles, and using lightweight, packable gear ensures that you won't leave it behind to cut weight and then end up wet and cold. You'll also stay dry if it rains, snows or pours freezing rain on you — all of which can happen in the shoulder season. Even better? Being waterproof from head to toe protects you from even the most inconsiderate of puddle-splashing drivers if your workout takes you anywhere near the road.
2. Let your footwear work for you
Abandon any thoughts of protecting your footwear from mud, slush and puddles. Let those shoes or boots sacrifice themselves to keep your feet dry — that's their job. Most waterproof boots or shoes have a waterproof bootie sewn into the body of the shoe. As long as this bootie isn't pierced and you don't step into water that's higher than its edge, your feet will stay warm and dry. If you think you might end up in over that level, which varies from shoe to shoe, you can extend your waterproof foot protection by using standard gaiters or shorter ankle gaiters. You can also sometimes get by with wearing waterproof pants that cinch down tightly over the tops of your shoes or boots. If temperatures aren't cold enough to pose a hazard to wet feet, you could also just toss on a pair of throwaway sneakers or water shoes, which are made of mesh that lets water in but also lets it drain right out again so you're not squishing around, and then splash away to your heart's content.
3. Expect the weather to change
It might be winter one day and spring the next, then flip back and forth a few times before it's done. Cope with the changing extremes by leaving room for layering underneath your waterproof jacket and pants. Check the forecast before you go and take extra layers if necessary, or even better yet, just leave an extra top and bottom layer or two in your vehicle or pack all the time. The extra air trapped between layers acts as insulation for your body, and as long as the layers are available, you can remove or add them to fine-tune your comfort.
4. Get a grip
Invest in a pair of ice grippers (like Yaktrax or Get-a-Grip) that slip on over your boots or shoes just in case you encounter water-slicked ice. Tuck them into your fanny pack or under the seat of your car so they're always nearby if you need them. Keep an extra-vigilant lookout for icy spots in areas where the snow has been packed down, then exposed to sun followed by shade. Slipping and getting hurt isn't a good way to start the spring season.
5. Stay prepared
Having a box in your car or a pack by the door always ready to go helps keep you organized and make sure that what you need is always available. There's nothing quite like leaving the house stoked for a workout only to realize that you left your warm hat, running shoes or ice grippers behind. Tuck your packable pants and jacket, an extra layer for top and bottom, extra socks, your ice grippers and your waterproof shoes with gaiters into the box or pack. If you happen to throw a bottle of water and an energy bar in there too, you'll be your own hero once that post-workout hunger and thirst set in. Also, work out a system for toting winter gear like skis or snowshoes before you leave the house. This means finding a way of strapping, tying, bungeeing or otherwise fastening them to the outside of your pack, not planning to carry them by hand if you hit a snowless spot on the trail. Some packs come ready-made with fancy doodads for toting extra gear on the exterior.
6. Remember the small things
It's easy to remember important workout gear, like your shoes or jacket, but there are a few small things that will optimize your spring fitness time. Sunglasses help shield your eyes from cold winds and spring sun all at the same time. Always have an extra pair of dry socks available. Always. Finding dry socks when you need them is just as good as finding a $20 bill in the pocket of your winter coat come next winter. And toss a plastic grocery bag or waterproof stuff sack in with your other gear to hold any wet or muddy gear separate from dry items.
7. Stay within your budget
If you're smart about your spring fitness shopping, you can get essential springtime outdoor gear — like waterproof or throwaway shoes, packable waterproof outerwear and ice grippers — for less than the cost of gas and a month's membership to the gym. That's not counting the free benefits of fresh air, sun and sky you get from working out outside.
8. Improvise if necessary
If money's too tight for spring fitness gear, you can still have fun in the mud on a budget. Use a garbage bag as your stay-dry poncho — poke or cut holes for your head and arms. Use plastic bags to keep your feet dry — slide sock-clad feet into a layer of plastic bag before donning your non-waterproof shoes. Your shoes will still get wet and muddy, but your feet won't, although be warned that they will collect sweat and condensation inside the bags. Make sure to give them a breather from time to time and change your socks frequently if you're on an extended outing. You can also make your own cheap studded shoes by putting short screws through the bottom of thrift store sneakers.
9. Take care of your spring fitness gear
Perhaps most important, take care of your spring fitness investments so they last. If your shoes or clothing are wet or muddy, rinse or wipe them clean and allow them to dry in a well-ventilated place so they won't mold or mildew. Lastly, protect anything waterproof — such as pack covers, outerwear or tent layers — from abrasion as much as possible to help prolong the life of the waterproof coating.
10. Have fun
Spring may present unpredictable weather, puddles and even a residual winter snow, but being prepared to brave the elements will make your outdoor spring workouts fun and effective.