One good thing about 2020
It dramatically enhanced our appreciation for exercising alfresco. Valley trails and nature preserves saw a surge in hikers, gym rats started pumping weights under the sun and spin classes moved to roofs and swimming pools. In this feature, we’ve corralled more than 50 ways to stay active outside.
When COVID-19 forced a statewide shutdown, gyms were hurting like a newbie on leg day. Fortunately, fitness nuts are flexible, and many businesses moved their equipment and workouts to their parking lots.
Gym Spotlight: TruHit
Mike Lauricella, owner of TruHit Fitness in North Phoenix, reworked the space surrounding his gym and brought in a swamp cooler, mister fans and spray bottles so people could keep cool while working up a sweat. Lauricella plans to continue the open-air workouts, and he’s also made pandemic-calibrated changes to the indoor space. He keeps the large garage doors open and installed a Big Ass Fan (that’s the actual brand) to encourage fresh air to flow inside. “So it’s almost like a covered patio more so than being in a gym,” he says. “This has been an amazing adventure, but I think we are managing to build an even better gym than before.” Six Valley locations. truhitfitness.com
5 More Plein-Air Pumps
1. Life Time Fitness
Bicycling on a roof is not generally recommended, but these are unprecedented times. To cope with closures, Life Time brought its cycling classes onto the roof. Locations in Phoenix, Goodyear, Tempe, Gilbert and North Scottsdale. lifetime.life
2. Bell Fitness
The West Valley fitness studio describes itself as a small group personal training community, rather than a gym. That means whether you join its walking group or its cardio and strength-training workouts in the parking lot, the focus will be on proper form and family-like support. 4850 N. Litchfield Rd., Litchfield Park, 623-536-2537, bellfitnessaz.com
Outside its fitness center in Arcadia Lite, AM offers metabolic-boosting interval training, strength building and full-body conditioning. 3031 E. Indian School Rd., Phoenix, 602-434-3704, mindbody.io/locations/bergamot-company
4. Camelback Village Racquet & Health Club
Alfresco cycle classes, boot camps and yoga have proven so popular, the club is considering making them a permanent part of its offerings. 4444 E. Camelback Rd., Phoenix, 602-840-6412, villageclubs.com
5. Ahwatukee Foothills YMCA and Desert Foothills YMCA
Both Scottsdale-based Ys offer several workouts under the blue sky, including cycling, strength building, high-intensity interval training, water fitness and yoga. valleyymca.org
Gyms by Type
The pandemic has been particularly hard on moms in lockdown with the little ’uns, but Fit4Mom offers beaucoup chances to move your booty with your baby. This “motherhood sisterhood” hosts its signature workouts – including Stroller Strides, Stroller Barre and Fit4Baby – in several local parks. Five Valley locations, fit4mom.com
Health experts recommend developing a routine to stave off the feeling that 2020 started a decade ago and time no longer exists. One prescription is Tempe’s Let’s Get Walking class – a one-hour walking, stretching, strengthening and toning class that meets once a week for nine weeks at Kiwanis Park. tempe.gov/play
For Physically Challenged
Having a disability doesn’t have to stop you from hiking, swimming, golfing, rock climbing, playing soccer or even dragon boating in Tempe Town Lake. Ability360 empowers individuals through adaptive sports and fitness programs, plus recreation therapy. 5031 E. Washington St., Phoenix, 602-386-4566, ability360.org
Some of the Valley’s best biking trails are tucked away on canals, washes, riverbanks and remote preserves, so many people are unaware of the excellent pedaling possibilities. In fact, Greater Phoenix is home to four cities deemed Bicycle Friendly Communities by the League of American Bicyclists, including two that boast gold-level status: Tempe and Scottsdale.
3 Stellar Bike Paths
Explore Tempe, Mesa, Gilbert and Scottsdale via these interlinked routes.
Rio Salado Pathway
Start: Find public parking at 2100 W. Rio Salado Pkwy.,Mesa; bike north under the 202 underpass to the pathway.
This Mesa-Tempe route makes for an easy-breezy cruise, thanks to a mostly flat path that’s wide enough to allow for socializing with your companions. Plus, there are no road crossings. Start from Riverview Park in Mesa and pedal west past herons and ospreys soaring above mesquite trees and cottonwoods. The view turns blue when you reach Tempe Town Lake, which offers plenty of venues for waterside refreshment. Cross the bridge at Priest Drive for riparian photo ops, then circle back and pedal over the pretty bridge at Tempe Center for the Arts.
Round-trip distance: 32 miles
Start: Park at Tempe Center for the Arts, 700 W. Rio Salado Pkwy., then bike over the pedestrian bridge and cruise east on the path past Scottsdale Road.
The greenbelt links various forms of urban greenery – parks, golf courses and the Indian Bend Wash – into a leisurely 15-mile jaunt. From Tempe, cruise north to the end point at 92nd Street and Shea Boulevard, where you can reward yourself with ice cream at Sweet Republic and refuel for the return journey.
Round-trip distance: 30 miles
Western Canal Path
Start: Park at the north playground parking lot at Kiwanis Park, 5223 S. Ash Ave., in Tempe. The path is just west of the lot.
For a pleasant ride that takes in three cities, a patchwork of parks and water birds galore, cycle a 12-mile stretch of this Valleywide canal route. From lake-strewn Kiwanis Park, the path curves south along the park’s western edge before heading due east. You’ll pedal past Mesa’s pocket parks and Gilbert’s charming Heritage District before spinning around the ponds at Gilbert’s Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch, where you can spot snowy egrets and green-winged teals.
Round-trip distance: 24 miles
4 More Biking Bonanzas
1. Desert Trails Bike Park
Want to ramp up your mountain biking and BMX skills – with the kids in tow? You’ll see parents and toddlers rolling along the bunny hills, daring kiddos doing big jumps off ramps, and daredevil teens tearing through the pump track. 2955 N. Recker Rd., Mesa
2. Maricopa County Parks and Recreation
In the scenic San Tan Mountains in Queen Creek, beginner and intermediate cyclists can hobnob and hone their technique on free guided mountain biking rides. More experienced bikers opt for the night rides, which amp up the adrenaline and the sensory experience. maricopacountyparks.net
3. The Velo Bike Shop
The shop hosts rides for all levels on Sunday mornings to South Mountain, and on Thursday evenings along the canal to Helton Brewing. 2317 N. 7th St., Phoenix, 602-759-8169, thevelo.com
4. Landis Cyclery
Landis organizes public peloton rides through Tempe and Downtown Phoenix two nights a week, and the finish line is always a bar. landiscyclery.com
When it comes to getting in step with your health, running groups and clubs in the Valley set the pace – especially in the prime, non-summer months of October through May.
Spotlight: Trail Running
Contrary to appearances, the November Project isn’t always about trail running, organizers say. The Valley-based fitness group favors location-focused workouts, implementing features in the environment. And, yes, said workouts often involve getting one’s heart rate up via rapid strides (i.e. running). Case in point: the steps at the Papago Park amphitheater, which add resistance while running. november-project.com
RUNNING PHD: The Running University
Many people seeking the proverbial “runner’s high” are quickly laid low with shin splints, popping patellas and other injuries. Lisa Pozzoni is on a mission to change that through The Running University. “It’s not running that causes pain, but how you run,” says Pozzoni, amaster instructor of ChiRunning, which emphasizes proper alignment and core strength. The Running University offers classes in beginner ChiRunning, ChiWalking, trail running and more, including several workshops for women only. The events are as much about fun and camaraderie as technique, Pozzoni says. “I want people to enjoy running and connect them with other like-minded runners so they can do this for the rest of their life.” 602-502-1859, therunninguniversity.com
5 Other Running Clubs
1. Surprise Running Club
It may be led by trail running world champion Keith Rieger, but the noncompetitive group is all about the Three Fs: fitness, friends and fun. Every week, SRC hosts a run and a circuit workout in Surprise, plus a trail run in the White Tank Mountains. surpriserunningclub.org
2. She Runs This Town
Started by a mom in Georgia who wanted to run with supportive and motivating women, it’s become a sensation, with 800 chapters around the globe. Visit sherunsthistown.com to find your nearest chapter and request membership.
3. Phoenix Free Soles
If your goal is to run a marathon, triathlon or other race, this club is focused on training for competitions while forming friendships. Lace up your kicks for twice-weekly runs at various locations. Send a message through phoenixfreesoles.com to learn how to join.
4. East Valley Runners
Going strong since 1980, EVR hosts frequent fun runs and training sessions around Mesa, Gilbert and Chandler. meetup.com/east-valley-runners
5. Aravaipa Running
The group organizes races along Arizona’s scenic cactus-studded trails, from Estrella Mountain Park in Goodyear to Cave Creek Regional Park and beyond. Each event offers a variety of distances, from a modest 4 miles to a muscle-ripping 100 miles. aravaiparunning.com
Spending time in nature reduces stress hormones and inflammation, decreases risk of depression and restores the ability to focus, according to more scientific studies than you can shake a stick at. Combine those benefits with the amygdala-shrinking and immune system-strengthening power of yoga, and you’ll basically be a tall glass of vitamin D and endorphins.
On Sunday mornings, as the sunrise shines halos around the saguaros, do tree pose at McDowell Sonoran Preserve during the new Yoga in the Preserve classes from Scottsdale Parks and Recreation. scottsdaleaz.gov
One Tribe Yoga in Tempe offers lakeside morning vinyasa classes in Kiwanis Park. 480-676-9642, onetribe.life
Northwest Valley Yoga House, a residential yoga space, hosts weekly sunset sessions with asana poses and meditation in Surrey Park. meetup.com/northwest-valley-yoga-house
Practice gentle hatha yoga overlooking Tempe Town Lake with a budget-friendly ($5) Yoga at the Marina class through Tempe Parks and Recreation. tempe.gov/play
Thursday Papago Jam meets weekly for free evening yoga, acroyoga, meditation, slacklining, flow arts and more in Papago Park, near College Avenue and Curry Road. facebook.com/groups/thursdaypapagojam
Nicole Anne Yoga allows yogis to find their Zen anywhere with private group yoga sessions outdoors or at home. 847-840-7277, nicoleanneyoga.com
Tennis and Pickleball
Tennis has always been a great workout (witness the Williams sisters’ thighs), but recent riffs on the game are revving up the fitness quotient. Take LiveBall, which is basically Sweatin’ to the Oldies crossed with Wimbledon, featuring multiple players volleying at high speed to a rockin’ soundtrack.
Tennis on Steroids
LiveBall Drill Tennis is the most popular adult program ever at Mesa Parks and Recreation, thanks to the “fun ’80s music, great instructors and fast-paced format,” says Meghan Houk, recreation programmer at Mesa Tennis Center (mesaparks.com). Meanwhile, Tempe Parks and Recreation is serving up Cardio Tennis, another aerobicized, musical version of the sport (tempe.gov/play).
Tennis on Sedatives
Pickleball – a mélange of tennis, badminton and pingpong – swings to a slower pace but still builds full-body strength. Top-rated open-air pickleball venues include Goodyear Community Park, G.R. Herberger Park and Rose Mofford Sports Complex in Phoenix and Tempe Sports Complex. Peruse places2play.org to find more outdoor courts near you.
Water Sports and WaterAerobics
Swimming pool workouts have become more sophisticated since the Splash Dance craze of the 1980s, and many modern exercise trends – from Tabata to Zumba – are now amphibious. And for an outdoor exercise platform, you can’t beat a paddleboard.
As it twists through the Tonto National Forest, the Salt River becomes a serene oasis where red-winged blackbirds soar and wild horses splash. Water levels vary seasonally, so if the river is low, head instead to stunning, mountain-crowned Saguaro Lake, a reservoir on the Salt. Ply the waters on a rented stand-up paddleboard from No Snow SUP in Mesa (480-220-5705, nosnowsup.com). Or rent a kayak from Redline in Mesa (evkayakrentals.com) or Saguaro Lake Guest Ranch, which offers a shuttle (480-984-2194, saguarolakeranch.com).
At Lake Pleasant, Go Paddle AZ (602-904-0519, gopaddleaz.com) rents kayaks and stand-up paddleboards, plus hosts vinyasa stand-up paddleboard yoga sessions, as does Desert Paddleboards (desertpaddleboards.com), recently recognized for its trash-removal efforts during group workouts at the Salt River.
SWIMMING SPOTLIGHT: The J
At outdoor heated pools, this community center in Scottsdale offers aqua Tabata and aqua cycling, which utilizes a hydrophilic stationary bike. “Ironically, the coronavirus is what made this aqua cycle class so popular, and our classes have been a socially distanced treat for all who participate,” instructor Rick German says. Aqua cycling is easy on the joints, builds muscle and core strength, boosts circulation and blazes through calories. “I have had riders from teenagers to octogenarians from all fitness levels participate,” German says. “Our consistent aquatic cyclers tell me their endurance levels have dramatically increased.” 12701 N. Scottsdale Rd., Scottsdale, 480-483-7121, vosjcc.org
2 More Cool Pools
1. Surprise Aquatic Center
Just 45 minutes of deep-water aerobics burns between 350 and 600 calories, and the buoyancy of the water cushions your joints like inflatable floaties. Choose between deep- and shallow-water aerobics at this West Valley pool. 15831 N. Bullard Ave., Surprise, 623-222-2500, surpriseaz.gov
2. Tone N’ Tai Chi
The meditative movements of tai chi balance your yang (tension) and yin (relaxation). Just add water resistance, and you’ll also carve curvy muscles. Scottsdale Parks and Recreation offers classes in a pool, plus deep- and shallow-water aerobics. scottsdaleaz.gov
Daily Driver Hikes
Sometimes we just want a nice, quad-burning walk that’s nearby and not too time-consuming. (We want those all the time, actually.) Here are four – one for each quadrant of the Valley.
Popular with Ahwatukee residents, the 2.4-mile Telegraph Pass Trail starts off paved and flat, then passes Hohokam petroglyphs before climbing into the dramatic massifs of South Mountain. At the top, you can detour to a stone lookout tower built by the Civilian Conservation Corps. Moderate, dog-friendly. 14251 S. Desert Foothills Pkwy., Phoenix
With elevation changes that resemble a healthy heart monitor and views of Kelly-green golf courses, the 3.5-mile Pinnacle Peak Trail is challenging on the thighs and easy on the eyes. Moderate, no dogs. 26802 N. 102nd Way, Scottsdale
Lookout Mountain Trail provides everything you need for a regular outdoor workout: a central Phoenix location, an achievable yet heart-pumping 1-mile hike with a 500-foot elevation gain, and the reward of panoramic views. Moderate, dog-friendly. 15600 N. 16th St., Phoenix
The Victory Steps at Verrado in Buckeye are a giant StairMaster formed by railroad ties, so even though the path is only 0.2 miles, it’s rated as difficult (and dogs aren’t allowed). Note that the parking lot near Verrado Way and Granite Bluff Drive fills up, and police vigorously enforce the “no street parking” rule. So if you can’t find a spot, head to nearby Skyline Regional Park, where the 3-mile Turnbuckle Trail is a scenic favorite. Moderate, dog-friendly. 2600 N. Watson Rd., Buckeye
Longer Scenic Hikes
For a day-trip-style hiking experience – and one that more fully immerses you in the fabled Sonoran wilderness – plan one of these near-Valley trail excursions.
Epic Water Views
There’s a trove of stunning hikes in the Superstition Wilderness, but it’s tough to beat Boulder Canyon Trail, with its jaw-dropping panorama of sheer cliffs rising above shimmering Canyon Lake. The full trek is 14.6 miles round trip, but the vistas are impressive the entire way, so many people just hike the first 3 to 5 miles. Difficult, dog-friendly. 16802 AZ 88, Apache Junction
Saguaro Forest Amble
As you hike Pass Mountain Trail in Mesa, the namesake mountain seems to watch over you like a giant with a ruddy rock face and chartreuse lichen freckles. The 7.4-mile loop gently undulates through a dense saguaro and cholla forest in Usery Mountain Regional Park, with views stretching across the East Valley. Moderate, dog-friendly. 3939 N. Usery Pass Rd., Mesa
Rugged Ramble + a Pie Chaser
The Black Canyon National Recreation Trail runs for about 80 miles, but the most scenic section through Agua Fria River Canyon is only 8 miles round trip. From the Black Canyon City Trailhead, head to the K-Mine trails for views of the river ribboning through a broad floodplain dotted with cottonwoods. Post-hike, treat yourself to pie from nearby Rock Springs Cafe. Easy, dog-friendly. Directions: arizonahiking.blogspot.com
Wild Card Workouts and Outdoor Activities
Being active and enjoying the outdoors isn’t always about elevated heart rates and massive perspiration.
Golfers who eschew riding in carts walk between 5 and 7 miles on the average 18-hole course. So don’t let skeptics tell you the sport doesn’t involve exercise. Here are three courses that received top walkability ratings from TheWalkingGolfer.com:
• Papago Golf Club is now home to the Arizona State University golf teams, and competitive college players always walk. So take your cue from the athletes and amble down fairways backdropped by the cinnamon-colored Papago Buttes. 5595 E. Karsten Way, Phoenix, 602-275-8428, papagogolfclub.com
• Many desert courses practically require trekking gear if you don’t take a cart. Not so with We-Ko-Pa’s Saguaro Course. This traditional track was designed with walkers in mind, with greens close to the following tees and a layout that hews closely to the contours of the Sonoran Desert. 18200 WeKoPa Way, Fort McDowell, 480-836-9000,
• If you’re looking for a shorter stroll (or if your foursome includes kiddos with little legs), Mountain Shadows’ par-3 course (pictured) is perfect for beginners and offers stunning views of Camelback Mountain. 5445 E. Lincoln Dr., Paradise Valley, 480-624-5433, mountainshadows.com
Angling is the sport for those of us who need a little “me time.” Or, in our new world order, for socializing with friends at a 6-foot distance. Surprise Community Park’s 5-acre lake lets you fish for rainbow trout, largemouth bass and sunfish, and you can find channel catfish and carp in the waters of the 40-mile Arizona Canal. surpriseaz.gov
The cowboys and cowgirls from Cave Creek Trail Rides will regale you with local mining history and facts about flora and fauna as you ride a gentle horse through Cave Creek Regional Park. Go whole hog and wear a cowboy hat, boots and chaps – included with your trip. 623-742-6700, cavecreektrailrides.com