Spring into action
A physical therapist’s tips for active and safe outdoor workouts
Now that the weather’s warmer and the days are longer, we’re taking our workouts outside, enjoying al fresco walks, runs, hikes and team sports. While physical activity and fresh air are a wonderful combination, it’s important to stay safe while you’re being active — especially if you’ve been sedentary all winter.
Many people tend to “hibernate” in the wintertime, hunkering down inside during the short, cold, dark days. If you’re not the type to do cold weather workouts outside (skiing, ice skating, winter walks), hopefully, you’ve stayed active inside — at the gym, on the treadmill or using workout videos.
Getting back into an outdoor routine safely means ramping up slowly. Don’t expect to run 10 miles on your first day out, especially if you haven’t kept up with your running routine all winter. And don’t panic about the approach of bathing suit season, thinking you need to immediately drop 40 pounds. Understanding and respecting your body is the key to being healthy and active in any season.
A fit, active lifestyle requires strength, stamina and flexibility – and a well-balanced workout routine. Use these tips to stay safe this spring:
• Ease into it: Most of us have experienced DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) in our lifetime. DOMS happens when we jump into an activity after a prolonged period of rest or inactivity. It usually presents as three to five days of achiness that improves with activity and increases with prolonged rest.
Although DOMS itself is not damaging (even though it can feel severe at times!), it’s an indicator that you may have done “too much, too soon.” Ease back into your outdoor workout and don’t try to play multiple soccer or tennis games on the first warm, sunny day. If you’ve already overdone it and are experiencing sore muscles, decrease your activity level, which will allow your body to adapt to the stressors you’re placing on it. Modify the duration, frequency and/or the intensity of the activity to allow your body to adapt. Generally 12 to 24 hours of soreness after a new (or harder than usual) activity is normal and expected.
• Warm up properly: Before any physical activity, a proper warm-up is important to prepare your body. In general, an active warm-up is more beneficial than a passive stretch prior to activity. Research has shown dynamic stretching is more effective at improving performance than static stretching. Active/dynamic warm-ups include: high knees, monster walks, grapevines, toe taps, lunges, squatting and barn doors.
• Mix it up: Do you focus only on one activity, like running? Cardio is great, but strength training is just as important for weight loss, maintaining bone density and building stronger muscles and joints. And increase your flexibility through stretching, yoga and Pilates. There’s a well-documented difference between strength, endurance, power and mobility, so incorporate each component into your exercise program to ensure it’s well-rounded.
Part of becoming strong and healthy is training your body to handle various loads, resistances and stressors under varying conditions. This is why we’re seeing so many injuries in young athletes who specialize in a single sport. This singular focus – and lack of variety – contributes to their risk for overuse injuries. As an added benefit, variety also prevents boredom, making you more likely to maintain your workouts long-term.
• Increase the length/intensity of your workouts safely: The most effective way to avoid injuries is a gradual, progressive exposure program to an activity. Instead of running 10 miles on your first day out, start off running a shorter distance for a short time period and increase distance and/or time gradually by 10 percent each week.
• Avoid overuse injuries: Many springtime activities – like running or tennis – use repetitive motions, which can lead to overuse injuries. Change up your routine, doing different activities each day. Vary your surfaces (between blacktop, track, treadmill and trail) to decrease stress on your body. Most runners will sustain an injury in their lifetime – not because running is bad for us, but because it’s a repetitive activity.
Runners/walkers: alternate your route, so you’re not pounding up and down the same hills every day, which can impact your hips and knees. Add a comprehensive strengthening program – in addition to your cardio activities – to help reduce many different types of injuries.
• Work with a physical therapist: A physical therapist can help you create a customized workout routine that considers your fitness level, previous injuries and personal goals. Additionally, a physical therapist will demonstrate proper form, analyze your movements and provide advice to help you get fitter and stronger – while staying safe.
Dr. Daniel R Corsetti III of Sport & Spine Physical Therapy Inc. in Portsmouth, can be reached at 603-431-9700 or through nhsportandspine.com.Performing a variety of exercises is better than focusing on a singular sport since it trains the body to handle various loads, resistances and stressors, says Dan Corsetti.