When the skies open, most people run for cover. But some run for fun.
The benefits of exercising in the rain — whether you’re jogging, hiking or strength training — often outweigh the annoyances, experts say, if you’re strategic about both your workout and your mind-set.
Learning to move through obstacles, both mental and physical, is key to athletic training, said Trisha Steidl, a running coach for Olympic hopefuls in Washington State and the president of the Seattle Running Club. “Being out in nasty conditions is a fantastic way to get comfortable being uncomfortable.”
Whether you’re intrigued by the challenge of a wet workout or simply hoping to stick to your outdoor training plan no matter the forecast, here’s why — and how — to exercise in the rain.
Why you might work out in wet weather
There isn’t much scientific research specifically around exercising in the rain, but experts say a few benefits can be inferred. For starters, navigating a slick, sloshy path requires agility and focus, building strength and balance with muscles you don’t normally use, said Ben Fung, a physical therapist in San Diego who enjoys rucking (walking at a fast pace while wearing a weighted pack) in the rain.
“It’s not a controlled environment,” he said, which will better equip you for other physical challenges than if you only train in a gym.
Exercising with other people in crummy weather is also a great way to bond, said Ben Delaney, New York Road Runners’ director of training programs.
And no, working out in the rain doesn’t increase your odds of catching a cold, said Dr. Cindy Lin, a professor of sports medicine at University of Washington Medical Center: “To the contrary, there is evidence that moderate intensity exercise, whether in the rain or not, boosts our immune system.”
How to make the most of it
Wear the right gear.
Experts advise dressing in layers to help keep you warm and dry. Start with a base layer of moisture-wicking fabric to help sweat evaporate, said Jillian Sestoso, the head of outdoor expeditions for Outsiders, a New York-based social club that offers group hikes, runs and other activities. “My favorite base layer is merino wool, year round,” she said.
Top that with a water-repellent outer layer — ideally a jacket with a hood. The key is to find a garment that protects you from outside moisture (rain) while releasing the sweat your body produces, said Lex Overholt, a senior outerwear designer for REI.
If you’re going for an easy hike, where rain will be a bigger obstacle than sweat, a three-layer breathable rain jacket may be most comfortable, he added.
During more vigorous exercise, you’re probably better off wearing a lighter outer layer — a simple, water-resistant windbreaker can work fine. “Even with my best Gore-Tex rain jacket,” Mr. Overholt said, “if you’re sweating a ton in a rain jacket, it’s going to be pretty gross in there.” One of the most effective features for staying cool is pit zips, or zippers under your armpits.
Use a brimmed hat to keep water out of your eyes, and wear something brightly colored and reflective, so drivers can see you.
Choose shoes with textured soles for traction and avoid pairs with worn-down soles, which can lead to slips, Mr. Delaney said. (He suggested stuffing them with newspaper after a workout to help them dry out.)
While some experts recommended waterproof shoes, others said that water tends to pool inside them. All of the experts agreed that merino wool socks were the best way to keep your feet warm and comfortable.
Exercising in the rain can increase the risk of chafing, so the experts recommended covering parts of the body that tend to rub against each other (like your thighs) or fabric (like your heels) with a balm such as Body Glide before heading out.
Take advantage of your surroundings.
Experts advised ditching city streets for a park, if you can. “Trees are a natural umbrella,” Ms. Sestoso said.
Try to work out on paved surfaces, and avoid moving quickly on grass, mud or leaves, which can become slick. And consider the puddles as a natural obstacle course — moving around them can “increase your balance, increase your agility, and really work on some of those fast-twitch muscles fibers,” Dr. Fung said.
Don’t forget to drink fluids.
“When it’s raining outside, it’s much harder to assess the amount of sweat you’re giving off,” Mr. Nelson said. Make sure to drink fluids before, during and after a workout, he said, as you would in dryer weather. (But don’t overdo it.)
Know when to head inside.
“Stay indoors if there is a high risk of thunderstorms and lighting,” Ms. Sestoso said, or if there are high winds, which can down power lines and tree branches. She also recommended keeping a towel and dry change of clothes in your car, to warm up after your rainy adventure.