See you later, spring fever! Warm weather and longer days are finally here, which means we are entering into the long-awaited season of outdoor activities and fitness training but on the flip side this also means a greater potential for getting injured.
Now, before you spring into your favorite sport with full-force, keep in mind, this is a time where the potential for sustaining a sports injuries are at their highest. After-all, wintertime for many means less movement or a sedentary lifestyle. Muscles become weaker, cardio levels fall and overall athleticism suffers leading to potentially becoming injured.
The good news is, there are actions you can start taking today that will help lessen your chances of getting injured and make sure your warm-weather sports season and training isn’t cut short.
To help break down these injury prevention tips we reached out to Chelsea Long, MS, CSCS, an exercise physiologist at New York’s Hospital for Special Surgery, to get her tips to stay healthy and injury free.
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1. Start slow and remember rest days
It’s tempting to jump right into all the warm-weather activities you’ve been so patiently waiting for during the darker months, but starting slow and incorporating rest days is key. According to Chelsea Long, MS, CSCS, “When you’re starting any program at all, make sure you have one to two rest days between your activity days.” This goes for a new gym routine, organized sports, and even running or hiking.
“Back-to-back days of activity increase your risk of injury, and they are hard to do when you are sore,” she says.
Your bodies will need those days to recover and rebuild their strength and energy stores, especially after not performing these particular activities all winter long.
Is running your main activity, yet you haven’t had a serious run in weeks or months? Long recommends gently easing back into it. “Think about starting a run/walk program; one to three minutes running alternating with walking intervals,” Long suggests. You can still be outside running and enjoying the weather but not taxing your body, muscles, and joints by repetitive actions it is not ready for. Simply put, start slow and finish strong by taking the appropriate rest days and easing back into your favorite activities.
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2. Don’t forget to warm up
If you’ve ever skipped a warmup (or two, or three), you’re not alone. Although it can be tempting to head straight into your favorite activity, keep in mind that warming up has a host of injury-preventing benefits. But don’t worry, it doesn’t have to take an enormous amount of time to get your body ready for a workout. “Warmups should be roughly five to seven minutes with both activation exercises and dynamic exercises included,” Long says. The key is to get your body “warm,” meaning blood is steadily flowing into your muscles and range of motion is better available.
- Activation exercises (with or without bands): bridges, side planks, clamshells, lateral walks.
- Dynamic warmup: low-level plyometrics (jumping jacks, high knees, butt kickers, front leg swings, Lateral leg swings, lunge with rotation.
To limit injury, it’s best to not start your warmup with all-out bursts of movements. Try and make sure your initial movements are slow and steady, then gradually pick up the pace.
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3. Incorporate a strength-training routine
Strength training is well known for building lean muscle and raising metabolism, but it’s also an effective tool in injury prevention. Long encourages strength training to be a part of any injury-prevention program; after all, you need to be strong enough for the activity you are planning to do.
“If you don’t have a base of strength, support, and stability, not only does your risk of injury go up, but accountability, enjoyment, and sustainability will drop as well,” Long says. Although Long recommends the strength program to be two to three times per week, and stick to that plan when you first start. “This is the most important time of any fitness routine—the beginning—and it needs to be done right to succeed.”
Building strength throughout your body strengthens your core, improves balance, protects your joints, and strengthens your bones. This lowers your chances of getting injured. Reaching out to an experienced exercise professional who can guide you into a strength program that’s best for you may be a good idea if you aren’t familiar with strength training routines.
Here is a basic strength-training routine designed by Long. For this workout, Long recommends performing two to three sets of 10 to 15 reps.
- Core strength: Planks, side planks, dead bugs
- Hip strength and stability: Bridges, single-leg bridges, clam shells
- Lower-body and Single-leg strengthening/stability: Single-leg/ double-leg squats, single-leg deadlifts, step-ups, lunges
- Upper-body strengthening: Rows and pulldowns are great for posture, which makes this a must for runners.
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4. Stretch it out
When done correctly, stretching has been shown to improve balance, reduce stiffness, improve circulation, increase stability and flexibility, and encourage joint range of motion. All of these benefits aid in better athletic performance and a positive exercise experience; bringing your muscles to their most injury-resistant state. There are two stretching techniques Long recommends for those who are active: static and dynamic stretching.
Dynamic stretches are performed with motion, such as swinging or bouncing, and should be performed before exercise, as where static stretching is performed without movement and is best-done post-workout. “Both stretching methods need to be performed for 30 to 60 seconds for each muscle group.” Explains Long. You are either in motion for 30 to 60 seconds or holding a stretch for that time.
And it’s important to listen to your body as you stretch. “You should feel the stretch and possibly mild discomfort, but never pain.” Explains Long. If you do feel pain, dial back on the length of the stretch.
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5. Improve Your Mobility and Grab a foam roller
Similar to getting a deep-tissue massage, foam rolling is a friend to anyone looking to better their muscle health and athletic performance. “Foam rolling can be done at any point in the day—pre, post, or during exercise, to help with mobility and range of motion,” Long says.
Not only does foam rolling release knots in muscles, but it allows the muscle groups to contract more efficiently. “This can increase not only mobility in your muscles for increased range of motion, but also reduces the tension from tight muscles on your joints,” she says.
While rolling, Long recommends working each muscle group for 30 to 60 seconds for maximum results.
Now that you have the tools for an effective injury-preventing season, you can head into your favorite exercise routine with confidence!