A heightened dose of nature not only adds to the thrill of your outside play but sharpens your skills too.
If you've ever felt the delicious relief of raindrops in the middle of a hot, sticky run, you get a hint of how adding water can transform your usual outing and elevate your senses. Part of choosing the pavement over a treadmill or the bike path instead of Spin class is to get a dose of nature with your workout—and that's powerful, mood-boosting, stress-soothing stuff. (Here are 6 Reasons to Ditch the Treadmill and Take Your Run Outside.) So you really don't want to skip any opportunities to soak up the scenery—or derail your outdoor training—even if the weather is on the wetter side. All you have to do is open up to the amazing feeling of experiencing nature in its most refreshing form. "When you tell yourself that rain isn't a big deal, the whole idea of doing wet workouts feels easier and more fun," explains Kristen Dieffenbach, Ph.D., spokesperson for the Association for Applied Sport Psychology. We've got the benefits and how-tos that you need to amp up for a rainy run, hike, or bike ride so you never need—or want—to miss a chance for some outside play time, rain or, well, rain. But before you start running, check out the best waterproof running gear that will come in handy.
You Can Go Longer and Faster
When you exercise, your muscles naturally produce heat, which can increase your body temperature to upwards of 100 to 104 degrees, explains exercise physiologist Rebecca L. Stearns, Ph.D., at Korey Stringer Institute, University of Connecticut, which studies maximizing athletic performance and safety. Even just 2 degrees above normal and your performance can start to suffer because in order to cool down your body with sweat, some blood flow gets diverted from working muscles to your skin. But rainwater could act like a cooling system and prevent you from overheating. Minimizing your rise in body temperature during exercise allows you to work harder and more efficiently, and it reduces your risk for heat illness, explains Stearns. Recent research in the Journal of Sports Sciences found that when runners' faces were sprayed intermittently with cool water during a 5K run in the heat, they shaved at least 36 seconds off their regular time and they had 9 percent greater activation in their leg muscles.
You'll Feel like You Could Conquer Anything
"My coach calls rain rides 'toughness training,'" says Kate Courtney, a Red Bull professional mountain biker. "On the worst weather days, you can be sure that most people aren't out there getting after it, and the fact that I am really motivates me to keep going, and it gives me a huge sense of accomplishment once I'm done."
Think of crappy weather as an obstacle, says Dieffenbach. Once you finish your workout, you'll have a feeling of pride and satisfaction knowing that you overcame an added challenge. Plus, it can be the simple shift that keeps your go-to loop feeling fresh. "I tell myself that it will be an adventure, a new way to experience my regular trail routes," says pro ultra trail runner Gina Lucrezi, a Buff headwear ambassador. "Once I'm out, I'm really loving running through puddles."
It's Extremely Stress Relieving
Outdoor workouts are serious head-clearers, and rainy ones may rank as the best at making you feel Zen. "Nonthreatening sounds like a gentle rainfall can be relaxing and comforting," says Joshua M. Smyth, Ph.D., associate director of the Social Science Research Institute at Penn State University. "There's a nice quiet solitude that I've found—often there aren't many people out in the rain so it's extra peaceful—like you own the road, trail, or even world," says Katie Zaferes, an Olympian and professional triathlete with Roka. "It makes you appreciate the beauty of the nature that surrounds you." And that might be just what you need to take your mind off how hard you're working.
Your Body Learns to React Better
Changing up your workout environment (say from running on flat, dry pavement to wet, slippery pavement) will make you more assured and quick on your feet. That's because every time you ace a more demanding version of your routine, it can motivate you to step outside your comfort zone, says Dieffenbach. "Each time you do, you'll not only build your confidence but likely get better at the mechanics." Think of a baby learning to walk, she explains. He or she may learn on a hard-wood floor, and when faced with carpet, it can take some practice to adjust—but soon it becomes second nature. Her tip: Start off at a slightly slower pace than normal so you can watch out for manhole covers and rocks, which can be dicier in the rain. As you adapt to riding or running on slick roads and trails, your muscles will begin to anticipate the new challenge, says Dieffenbach.
Now for the flip-side: 15 Struggles of Running In the Rain