Spring is the time for new opportunities. Days are getting longer, trees are budding, and those cool breezes are finally turning warm. Spring is an opportunity to revitalize ourselves and get back into action after winter’s long hibernation. With more opportunities for exercise and outdoor activity, spring is a great time to get off the couch and get back into shape and to get ready for our favorite summer activities. But getting ready for summer may take a little planning. Don’t just expect to turn off the video games, hop off the couch, and pick up where you left off last fall. A little preparation can help you to be more successful.
Take a lesson from the pros. Baseball’s spring training began in early February for an opening day on March 31st. Yes—even elite athletes plan on 6 or more weeks of training to get back in top shape for the coming season. Should we “normal” folks expect to recover from our winter off season quicker than these guys? Having a few target joints myself, I would expect even longer time to get back into shape. Jumping into a new sport or activity without preparing your body is a recipe for disaster. Well, maybe not disaster, but you’ll probably be more successful with a little spring training for yourself. So, here are a few tips to get going.
I know this may sound liked a canned liability disclaimer, but I am really serious. Getting checked out by your doctor or physical therapist (my bias, of course) is a good idea, especially if you have a bleeding disorder and any problem joints (or muscles). The pros have a training staff to check them out, so why should we require less? Physical therapists do more than just teach exercises—we can identify potential problems ahead of time, so you can not only avoid injury, but perform better as well. Polishing up an old problem before it becomes a new problem again is good preventative maintenance. This goes for young and old alike.
That time on the couch last winter may have done more damage than you think. With decreased use, muscles get tight, lose strength, and our endurance drops. Having a good, solid plan to follow will make sure all those problems are reversed in time for summer. I can almost guarantee that if you get off the couch this spring and head to the driving range and drive long balls for 2 hours, you will be sore. Being out-of-shape puts you at a higher risk for injury. Do you want to strain your back or pull a hamstring in the preseason, or do you want to compete intensely for the whole season? Take time to learn what muscles are tight and how to stretch them out in the best way, what muscles are weak and how you should strengthen them, and how to regain your skill and coordination.
Not only do different muscles and muscle groups in our bodies perform differently, muscle themselves have different types of fibers that behave differently. Some fibers contract quickly to give us speed and power (sprinting), some fibers perform more slowly but provide for long endurance (distance running) and some bridge the gap between these fiber types.
The different activities or exercise programs we participate in during the off season won’t necessarily help us when we resume last summer’s activities. For instance, swinging a baseball bat or driving a golf ball are intense movements that require a great deal of muscle power. Our muscles and connective tissues also act as big springs during these power activities. Those motions require exercises that stimulate them to prepare the muscle for that type of activity. Those activities place a high stretch on muscle fibers and can easily strain a muscle or ligament. In comparison, cardio exercise on an elliptical machine takes much more endurance, enhances those endurance muscle fibers, and places lighter loads on the muscles and ligaments. Doing this in the off-season is good for your heart, but doesn’t necessarily prepare your back and shoulders for the long drive. Doing the right exercises at the right intensity will help grow stronger muscles, tendons, and ligaments and will help you perform better—whether your activity of choice is baseball, golf, or mowing the lawn.
So, are you ready to start a new exercise program to get ready for summer? I hope you are. But first, let’s check out our equipment. I’ll be pulling my lawn mower out of storage soon. Should I sharpen the blade, change the oil, and clean the air filter, or should I just start it and go? Just like with my exercise equipment, I do a little maintenance first. Take a look at your shoes, for instance—are they more than 6 months old? Are they dirty and worn? Are the soles worn on one side more than the other? Do the heels or toes push out over the soles? If so, throw them out and start fresh. Shoes that don’t provide a good stable base for our feet contribute to ankle, knee, hip, and back pain and injuries.
So, as all of us cling to the earth as we hurdle at over 66,000 miles per hour toward that point in our orbit around the Sun that marks the start of spring, consider a fresh start for yourself. Sign up for an exercise group at your local YMCA, tune up your bike for a smooth ride, start cross training for a well-balanced body, and most importantly, have fun doing it. And don’t be afraid to ask for help. Just like the pros need coaches and trainers, so do we. Just as we are speeding toward spring, we are speeding toward fall as well. No time to waste!
Jeffrey Kallberg, P.T. specializes in physical therapy and physical fitness for people who have hemophilia and bleeding disorders, and has severe hemophilia himself. He received his degree in Physical Therapy from the University of Minnesota in 1994, and has worked in many settings and with patients of all ages and diagnoses before settling into his own private practice in Savage, MN. Jeff speaks on the topic of physical fitness and managing the problems associated with hemophilia across the country, and has been featured in NHF’s HemAware magazine. He is also a black belt in Taekwondo, trains in various martial arts, and uses exercise to manage his own joint problems. He has developed a program at Accua in Savage, MN to provide specialized PT and fitness services to our population using state-of-the-art equipment and facilities.