Keep Fall Workouts Fun, Safe and Challenging

By: Nicholas Sgrignoli, MD

Fall is marked by shorter days and cooler temperatures. But it’s still the perfect time to get outdoors and continue your healthy workouts from spring and summer. Exercise is one of the best ways to alleviate the added stress we’re all feeling these days.

Here are some recommendations to ensure that your fall exercise regimen is safe and productive, whether you’re in it for the fun or looking to step up your performance goals.

Stay Visible

Darker mornings and earlier sunsets create a shorter daylight window for outdoor exercise. As a lot of training occurs at dawn or dusk, you need to be highly visible on the roads to vehicles. Bright, reflective clothing can help, along with a headlamp and clip-on lights. You want to be predictable for drivers, so try to make eye contact whenever possible and avoid darting movements. If you listen to music when you exercise, lower the volume to optimize awareness of your surroundings.

Time to Layer Up

Layering your workout gear is essential to adjust your body temperature as needed and avoid wetness from the elements and perspiration. The first layer should be a hydrophobic polyester fabric, not cotton, to wick moisture from the body. The middle layer can be a light or heavier layer, depending on outdoor temperatures. Wool or fleece are options, but not too heavy to avoid overheating. The outer layer should be a water-resistant and windproof shell. Avoid layering too tightly as trapped air between layers is one of the best insulators.

Seek Balanced Workouts

Alternating your exercise regimen can help reduce injury risk, improve performance and keep things interesting. It’s important to have a plan and think about your program holistically. One part should be cardiovascular which can include runs, bike rides, team and other sports. You can then spend time each week strength training. Focus on the core and larger muscle groups when strengthening. The third piece is balance and agility. Try using a BOSU ball or single-leg stances for balance and squats. This mix will help keep you well rounded to avoid overuse and acute injuries. It also lets you move conditioning indoors, when the weather turns.

Stay Hydrated

Just because temperatures are dropping doesn’t mean hydration is less important. Even in colder weather, your body needs to replenish fluids lost to exercise. A rule of thumb is to drink 20 ounces of water two to three hours before you work out, then eight to 16 ounces of cool fluids 15 to 30 minutes before heading outdoors. Also, drink water during and after exercise to replace lost fluids.

Take Virtual Events Seriously

Virtual events are a great way to gauge your performance and compete against friends when traditional events and races are limited. The Peloton phenomenon and fitness programs like Orange Theory blend fun, competition and rigorous exercise. We find that some people are undertrained to compete in virtual events, which creates injury risks. Real races include planned routes, rest stops and water breaks, none of which exist with virtual competitions. At HSS, we’re seeing more overuse injuries from those who are trying something new with outdoor workouts or pushing themselves too hard too soon. Train and plan for virtual events just as you would for real races.

Adjust Your Equipment

If you’re a bike rider, keep an eye on your tires, as cooler weather can impact air pressure. If you’re a runner or avid walker, swap out your footwear every 300-500 miles, checking treads for wear. With more wet leaves and slippery surfaces, you may consider using shoes with more tread.

Start Slowly and Adapt

Safe and effective warm-ups and cool-downs help wake up muscles, but avoid too much load. Slow jogging, side steps, slow squats and lunges help with lower extremities. Stay away from high-intensity, ballistic activities that can overfatigue muscles. Flexibility training after exercising helps stretch the main muscle groups. Don’t forget to incorporate a cool down into your workouts to return your heart rate and breathing to normal and prevent cramping.

As we eagerly get back to sport, it’s an ideal time to have fun and strive for peak performance. Exercise is integral to maintaining a healthy immune system. Just be realistic about your exercise goals and limits.



Nicholas Sgrignoli, MD, is an assistant attending physician at HSS Stamford, specializing in primary sports medicine.