by Robert Goetz
Now that spring is in the air, it’s time for many people to shake their winter doldrums and plunge into physical activities like running, cycling and weight training or sports such as tennis, golf and softball.
However, engaging in these activities with too much gusto too early can have dire consequences in the form of acute injuries, so fitness experts urge a slow approach combined with proper stretching exercises.
“The most common injuries in springtime are sprains and strains in the ankle, knee or shoulder,” Capt. Becky Azama, 359th Medical Operations Squadron physical therapist, said. “These injuries are typically the result of people relaxing all winter. They want to go out and take up where they left off without proper preparation.”
Azama said many people reduce their activity level in the winter because of bad weather and busy holiday schedules.
“That will put them at risk for injury because they don’t have the right strength and flexibility for the activity they want to participate in come spring,” she said.
Azama said people also run into problems “when their conditioning program doesn’t reflect the activity they will engage in, like going from a 30-minute workout on the treadmill three times a week to playing two hours of football.
“My recommendation would be to take into consideration the activity you are trying to do and tailor your workout to that specific activity,” she said. “Where cutting is involved, such as in basketball or soccer, you need to practice cutting.”
Azama recommends a dynamic stretching routine — which involves stretching from head to toe — to warm up before running or playing a sport. Static stretching is reserved for cooling down after a physical activity.
Dynamic stretching uses controlled leg movements such as leg lifts and lunges to improve range of motion, loosen muscles and increase the heart rate. The movements should be geared to the person’s physical activity or sport.
“There’s been a great push for dynamic stretching,” Azama said. “It’s better for muscles to go through movement patterns. You should be stretching afterward as well, but it would not necessarily be dynamic. You want the heart rate to come back down, so you do static stretching, getting the muscles to relax.”
She recommended the website www.coreperformance.com as a resource for dynamic warm-up routines, also known as “movement prep.”
Marlin Richardson, Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph Rambler Fitness Center fitness and sports manager, also stressed the importance of the warm-up routine.
“Always warm up,” he said. “You’ll need to stretch; flexibility is key in any sport or exercise.”
Richardson offered other suggestions.
“When lifting weights, start lifting light weights for a few weeks to strengthen your tendons and ligaments,” he said. “Monitor your exertion level, using a heart-rate monitor, and stay at the lower end of our level for a few weeks before moving your level up.”
Richardson said it’s important not to increase your level of exercise more than 10 percent a week . He also recommended training with someone near your same fitness level; cross training by engaging in activities such as hiking, cycling, weight lifting, running and walking; staying hydrated; and investing in a good pair of training shoes.
Azama also said a workout program should be varied, including cardiovascular and strength training.
She urged people who are becoming more physically active to “use a little bit of common sense.”
“If you’re feeling pain, it’s not something you should push past,” Azama said. “It’s the body’s way of letting you know that something’s not quite right. Soreness generally goes away in a day or two. If the pain is sharp and lingers, it should get attended to.”