Here’s How Not to Bail on Your Workout When the Air Quality Outside Is Poor

Because of Canadian wildfires, New York City is engulfed in haze seen from the Empire State Building observatory, June. 7, 2023.
New York City is engulfed in haze seen from the Empire State Building observatory, June. 7, 2023. Thick, smoky air from Canadian wildfires made for days of misery in New York City and across the U.S. Northeast this week. (Yuki Iwamura/AP Photo File)

Depending on where you live, you may be used to poor air quality throughout the seasons. Whether that is because of increased allergens, smoke from wildfires or hot/humid city pollution, consider staying inside to work out. With wind patterns blowing smoke from Canadian wildfires over the East Coast of the United States recently, millions of people have been affected. Here is how we adjusted on the fly:

Our regular workout was to be done on an outdoor track, with an open water swim immediately afterward:

Push-up/Squat Pyramid 1-10, with 100-meter runs between + a one-mile easy run.

Run 400-meter intervals (total 10 x 400)

  • Run 400 meters in 2 minutes*
  • Run 400 meters in 1:50*
  • Run 400 meters in 1:40*
  • Run 400 meters in 1:30*
  • Run 400 meters in 1:20*
  • Run 400 fast as you can ... remaining 4 x 400 done at goal mile timed run pace.

* Walk 100 meters between each set.

Walking lunges 400 meters

Push-up/Squat Reverse Pyramid 11-20 with 200-meter fast run between sets

Warmup swim 500 meters (no fins)

Swim with fins 2,000 meters or more; see what you can do in 40 minutes of swimming with fins.

Our impromptu answer was to go indoors at a local community center that has an indoor basketball court, gym and pool. We rearranged the above accordingly:

The push-up/squat pyramid was done on the basketball court, and we ran from one end to the other between progressive push-ups and squat sets: 1 pushup/1 squat, run court down and back; 2 push-ups/2 squats, run ... up to sets 10/10.

Then we went to the treadmills, but some did the math and concluded that a 400-meter run around the basketball court was five times around the perimeter of the court. Each set was a little faster than the previous set by 10 seconds, which was easy on the treadmill, but the folks running the basketball court had a difficult time with the faster-paced sets and ending goal-pace sets, too. This running progression was much easier on the treadmill until the fast-as-you-can set.

For the walking lunges, instead of walking once around a 400-meter track, we walked around the basketball court five times to complete that segment.

We continued the pyramid as we started it and did the pushup/squat pyramid on the court again, this time continuing upward from set Nos. 11-20. This totals 210 push-ups/210 squats when completed.

The swim in the indoor pool was a nice option, though we are practicing swimming straight in the open water to practice for more open-water competitions.

Though it is nice to be outside during these types of workouts, sometimes it just makes sense to go inside a building. Whether it's smog, smoke or high pollen counts, getting inside can help you avoid particulates from getting into your lungs and aggravating them seriously. Hopefully, the fires will be out or the wind patterns will change soon, and this is not an issue for millions hundreds of miles away from the fires.

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you're looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to

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