The MAD Outdoors

Updated: Oct 17, 2019

“I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, 

I found, was really going in.” – John Muir

With Coach Ryan Muñoz on Strawberry Hill

Located in the middle of Stow Lake in Golden Gate Park, Strawberry Hill is one of MAD Strength and Conditioning Coach Ryan Munoz's favorite places to workout in nature.

In This Edition

- Coach Ryan Muñoz works out on Strawberry Hill in Golden Gate Park

- An overview of some of Strawberry Hill’s more interesting features

- “The Five Amazing Benefits of Outdoor Exercise”

- Learn about Japanese “forest bathing” or shinrin-yoku in “Forest Bathing” Is Great for Your Health. Here’s How You Do It.”

In this edition of “The MAD Outdoors,” MAD Strength and Conditioning Coach Ryan Muñoz describes the benefits of working out at one of his favorite S.F. nature spots, Strawberry Hill in Golden Gate Park. Next TMO provides a brief overview of some of Strawberry Hill’s more interesting features. Then TMO links to a couple of articles which discuss some of the different health benefits of spending time in nature. “The Five Amazing Benefits of Outdoor Exercise,” and ‘“Forest Bathing” Is Great for Your Health. Here’s How You Do It.’

Strength and Conditioning Coach Ryan Muñoz is MAD's Long Term Athletic Development guru and also an outdoor exercise enthusiast himself.

However, this edition of TMO begins with someone who is familiar with the additional benefits of exercising outdoors and with how simply spending time in nature can enhance one’s health and well-being both immediately and long term. MAD Strength and Conditioning Coach Ryan Muñoz has a B.S. in Kinesiology and a M.S. in Exercise Physiology, and he is MAD’s resident expert on Long Term Athletic Development, the topic on which he wrote his master’s thesis. 

MAD Strength and Conditioning Coach Ryan Muñoz working out prospective N.B.A. players at the 2019 Portsmouth Invitational Tournament.

In addition to his academic instruction, Coach Muñoz has plenty of experience coaching in a variety of sports and training athletes covering a wide range of ages and skill levels, from middle schoolers and high schoolers to D1 and professional athletes. This past spring and summer, Muñoz administered drills at the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament and the N.B.A.’s Combines in Chicago, and he oversaw the entire Champaign, Illinois site for the N.C.A.A.’s first College Basketball Academy

Workout stations along fitness trails are becoming more common in parks and forests as the added benefits of exercising outdoors become more well known. Coach Muñoz and his fellow MAD coaches like to train athletes outdoors whenever the opportunity arises.

Ultimately, Long Term Athletic Development equates to life-long health and wellness, and Coach Muñoz encourages athletes to take their training outside as often as possible because he considers regularly spending time in nature to be an important component in achieving these ends. However, despite all his credentials and coaching experience, his greatest bona fides when it comes to the salutary effects of getting outside, are his own personal experience. Muñoz walks the talk venturing outdoors in order to train usually a couple of times per week. Below, MAD’s Strength and Conditioning Coach shares his routine at one of his favorite open air, workout venues in San Francisco, Strawberry Hill in Golden Gate Park.


Hitting the Trails on Strawberry Hill

By Coach Ryan Munoz, B.S., M.S., C.S.C.S

This perch on Strawberry Hill overlooks Stow Lake's Rustic Bridge which connects the level trail on the far side with the sloping trails pictured in the foreground.

In this issue of MAD Times, “The MAD Outdoors” is on location at Strawberry Hill in Golden Gate Park. Strawberry Hill is located in the center of Stow Lake, just west of the De Young Museum and the Japanese Tea Garden. Strawberry is a great outdoor workout location for many reasons. The most obvious being the incredible natural setting to view during one’s workout. 

Early birds like Coach Muñoz are rewarded with vistas such as this as the sun rises over the San Francisco skyline.

Strawberry has many different trails going up and down the hill to allow for variance in workouts. Steep and shorter trails, of which Strawberry has plenty, are excellent for improving speed and power. If endurance training is the goal, you’ve also got options. The main trail is about .25 mile of steady uphill grade. This is excellent for tempo runs and improving speed endurance. 

Above the footbridge which crosses the falls is a reservoir and a level area with soft ground where Coach Muñoz likes to stretch.

Why are hill and trail workouts beneficial? Trails provide a softer landing surface than asphalt to sprint and run on which will preserve joints of the lower extremity in the long run. They also have small differences in consistency and stability which can help improve the strength of the stabilizing muscles of the ankle and foot. 

Coach Muñoz works on his hill sprints as he approaches the summit and the old observatory ruins.

Hill sprints in general are great for improving speed and technique. Running up an incline places our bodies in a natural acceleration position (forward lean). Hill sprints also teach proper hip drive (high heel, toe and knee) without over striding. When sprinting up trails, focus on short explosive bursts uphill followed by an easy walk down the hill to recover. 

After warming up and stretching, Coach Muñoz takes a selfie and catches the first rays of the morning sun just peeking over the footbridge.

Personally, I enjoy getting out to strawberry early in the morning. A quick 10 minute warm up, hitting sprints up the grades for 20-30 minutes, then stretch and take in the scenery.


Like these young athletes from Stuart Hall, on weekdays, during after school hours, many local high school track and cross country teams train on the Strawberry Hill trails.

Coach Muñoz is not the only one who enjoys exercising on Strawberry Hill. During the week, in the after school hours, it is common to find high school track and cross country teams training on the hill and around Stow Lake. The path around the lake is a level, paved trail measuring just over a mile, and there is about another 1 ½ miles of dirt trails on Strawberry Hill which range from rolling paths to short, steep grades. Runners who wish to avoid the pavement can confine themselves to the hill’s dirt paths. Those who do not mind the pavement can combine the two trails for a scenic 2+ mile loop.

In addition to the level area at the top of the falls, among the Sweeney Observatory ruins, at the Strawberry Hill summit, there is more soft, level ground for stretching and other floor exercises.

There are level areas at the top of the hill, the site of the old observatory, and at the top of the falls next to the small reservoir. Both areas offer soft ground on which to stretch and perform other floor exercises. Coach Muñoz likes to warm up on the level ground overlooking the fall’s upper bridge. 

Under the willows near the shore of Stow Lake, Western Pond Turtles sun themselves on a log protruding from the water as a mallard looks on.

Whether someone wants to work out or simply enjoy spending time outdoors, Strawberry Hill offers plenty of natural beauty. In addition to all the greenery on the hill and around the lake, squirrels, ducks, geese, seagulls, cormorants, and Western Pond Turtles abound. It is not unusual to spy an occasional Snowy Egret or Great Blue Heron, and like all parks in San Francisco these days, keep an eye out for coyotes.  

Above the bushes and through the pines, stunning views from Strawberry Hill are still to be had like this vista of the Golden Gate's towers rising above the Presidio with the Marin Headlands in the background.

Strawberry Hill also boasts some pleasant architectural features. The two arched bridges and the log cabin structures add to the setting’s rustic feel. The two foot bridges crossing the waterfall with the Golden Gate Pavilion sitting at its base magically transport the viewer inside an Asian landscape painting. Atop Strawberry Hill, the ruins of the old observatory lend the site an air of mystery and remind visitors that there are still views to be enjoyed from Strawberry’s summit even if now you have to look between the trees.

Horse drawn carriages deliver visitors to the newly completed Sweeney Observatory in 1894, which use to stand on the site of the ruins atop Strawberry Hill.

Rising to a height of 430 feet, Strawberry Hill is the highest point in Golden Gate Park and it was designed as the sight of Sweeney Observatory, a formal vista point from which turn of the century San Franciscans enjoyed the local sights. Unfortunately, the observatory was destroyed in the 1906 earthquake and fire, and the ruins are all that remain, that and the Lady of Stow Lake, a ghost who has purportedly haunted the hill since the 1890’s. 

Named after Collis P. Huntington, one of The Big Four, at 110 feet high, Huntington Falls are the tallest in Golden Gate Park.

At 110 feet, Huntington Falls are the tallest falls in the park and are named for Collis P. Huntington, one of The Big Four and a prominent San Franciscan who financed their construction. Near the base of the falls, sits the Golden Gate Pavilion, a pleasant spot to visit and sit for a while. A relative newcomer to Strawberry Hill, this Chinese peace pagoda was a gift from San Francisco’s sister city Taipei in 1976.

A gift from San Francisco's sister city Taipei, the Golden Gate Pavilion peace pagoda sits at the bottom of Strawberry Hill, on the shore of Stow Lake, near the base of Huntington Falls.

If one is looking for more adventure, but not much more, boats are available to rent for a leisurely paddle around Stow Lake. As a matter of fact, Strawberry Hill is centrally located so a trip there to enjoy the outdoors can be combined with the appreciation of other pursuits such as art, culture, science, or more nature. Directly opposite the hill sit the De Young Museum, the Japanese Tea Garden, and the Strybing Arboretum, and just beyond those lie the California Academy of Sciences and the Conservatory of Flowers. There are plenty of places to eat within the Park in and around the base of the hill, and the shops and restaurants around 9th & Irving offer an even wider menu selection just a brief stroll away. 

Outdoor enthusiasts can also soak up some nature by paddling or peddling around Stow Lake which circles Strawberry Hill.

By car, Strawberry Hill is easily accessible off Park Presidio Blvd. or 19th Ave. From the north you can turn onto Stow Lake Dr. from John F. Kennedy Dr. just opposite the Doughboy Meadow. From the south, you can enter Stow Lake Dr. across from the arboretum. Stow Lake Dr. is one way in a clockwise direction, and during the week there is usually plenty of parking to be had around the lake.

At the east end of Stow Lake, a secluded set of stairs leads from Strawberry Hill and the lake down to a trail that runs behind the Japanese Tea Garden and the De Young Museum.

If you decide to make it a totally green experience and take public transportation, you have plenty of options. Muni’s 7 Haight/Noriega and 29 Sunset both stop at 19th and Lincoln Way. The 5 Fulton stops at Fulton and Presidio Blvd., and the 28 19th Ave. stops at both locations. Remember, on weekends all you need to do is get to Golden Gate Park, and the free shuttle will take you the rest of the way. On Saturdays and Sundays, Golden Gate Park’s free shuttle runs from McClaren Lodge on Stanyan St., to the Beach Chalet on the Great Highway between 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. In both directions, the shuttle stops right at the intersection of John F. Kennedy Dr. and Stow Lake Dr. Golden Gate Park’s free shuttle link: .

On weekends and holidays, the free Golden Gate Park Shuttle runs the length of the park from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. stopping at convenient intervals.

However you may choose to enjoy it, Strawberry Hill provides another golden opportunity to get out and enjoy nature within the city limits.


The Five Amazing Benefits of Outdoor Exercise

January 27, 2017

Primal Play

The first article, “The Five Amazing Benefits of Outdoor Exercise,” was posted on the  website Primal Play on January 27, 2017. Unfortunately, the website does not cite an author. The article lists what it’s author believes are the five most profound benefits of outdoor exercise. The discussion of each benefit is just technical enough to make it interesting and just short enough to make it readable. For those who desire more detailed explanations, the article is very well footnoted listing all its sources.


“Forest Bathing” Is Great for Your Health. Here’s How You Do It.”

By Dr. Qing Li

May 1, 2018

Time Magazine

The second article, “Forest Bathing” Is Great for Your Health. Here’s How You Do It.,” addresses some interesting health benefits of simply being in nature, in forests to be more specific. It describes the Japanese practice of shinrin-yoku or “forest bathing.” Just as people sunbathe in the U.S., in Japan, people also flock to the forests to soak up all the goodness the woodlands have to offer. The article was posted on TIME’s website on May 1, 2018.  Its author Dr. Qing Li is one of the foremost authorities on “forest bathing,” and he has written a book titled Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness.


Rules, Regulations, Recommendations & Guidelines

It always pays to read the signs and heed their warnings. The National Parks Service has posted this sign on the Great Highway at Ocean Beach.

Finally, when one ventures out into the wilds, it is good to go equipped with some safety guidelines so we have linked to the California Department of Parks and Recreation’s page on Hiking Safety . In addition to the State Park’s safety rules, we have a few suggestions of our own.

1. Always check the weather before you go out into nature. The difference between being prepared for weather conditions and not being prepared ranges from a pleasant adventure, to a miserable outing, and even a disaster.

2. Be on the lookout for signs or bulletin boards where directions, warnings, and rules are posted. When you find any of these, read them.

3. Obey all rules and heed all warnings. Most accidents that occur outdoors result from a failure to do so.

3. Live by the universal rule of the great outdoors: Leave it better than you found it! Many people pick up a set number of pieces of trash each time they visit nature. They view this as a gesture of respect and gratitude for mother nature - a way of giving back. This would not be a bad habit to adopt.

That’s it for the rules and information. Now it’s time to get up and get out into nature. So be safe, have fun, and let us know how it goes. In the words of the great naturalist John Muir, “In every walk with nature, one receives far more than one seeks."

Murray Athletic Development

Go out to go within!