In general I love spring.
I can’t wait to dig into my garden soil and see peas shooting up.
I love the trilling of the redwing blackbirds near the pond and the robins in the woods.
I love being on my bike. Running around the yard. And doing yoga under the basketball rim!
But there are some things I could do without –
And it’s the last one I want to talk to you about in particular.
Because if there is one thing that can really make spring miserable for you, it’s getting injured.
And if there is one thing that happens specifically because of spring . . .
Let me explain . . .
You know exactly what I mean when I say spring is filled with a flurry of activity. You can’t help but feel the pull to get out and just do something!
Now while this wonderful feeling of motivation to get moving can be great. It can also be the death knell to your exercise routine.
Because here’s what happens more often than not . . .
You have a beautiful warm day. And inspired by the weather, with swimsuit days bearing down upon you, you strap on your running shoes and decide to go out for a run.
Now this wouldn’t be so bad if you went for a run regularly throughout the winter.
But for many of us, this is not the case.
For many of us, our new-found desire to run comes after a long and sedentary winter.
Your body isn’t ready to move at that pace. Your muscles aren’t ready. You’re not ready.
You go out for that run, push yourself with the theme song to Chariots of Fire or Rocky playing in your mind.
And the next day you can’t move.
And that, my friend, is the last run you take for at least a month. If your knee or ankle hurts in particular due to the pounding, it may be even longer.
This isn’t a danger just for runners. As a gardener I know how much lifting and raking and bending and straightening you do in the spring getting the garden going.
I can’t wait to be pushing the wheelbarrow around and wielding my potato fork as I get the beds ready.
But my back and shoulders may not be so eager if I haven’t prepared for this level of muscle action.
Again, if you haven’t done the proper conditioning before the heavy lifting, you may be setting yourself up for some major backache.
As you can see, without a doubt, spring is the prime time for injuries.
Yes, we’re enthusiastic to get moving.
But we’re not ready to move like we want to.
Hold onto that motivation. Savor it and go with it.
But be strategic as you start.
Here are the three most important elements you need to put into place when spring fever grabs you:
Spring Tonic To Prevent Injury #1: Stretch First
Every morning I start off with some intense short interval exercises and then I stretch for at least 10 minutes. I also stretch some in the afternoons with my daughter. She’s incredibly strong, but needs to work hard on flexibility to prevent injury and to be able to use her muscles at their fullest capacity.
Stretching helps prevent injuries by helping your muscles to relax and lengthen. The more flexible they are, the more your muscles can move with your actions. They can stretch and bend easily without ripping or pulling.
Flexibility also helps you move with less exertion. When you’re too stiff, you actually end up fighting one set of muscles with another set when you try to move your leg or arm or other body part.
For example, when you try to lift your leg, your tight, contracted muscles resist letting your leg go upwards. The muscles lifting your leg have to work that much harder to overcome the resistance.
And this isn’t just the case for trying ballet moves. Even simple activities like walking and running require that much more exertion if your own muscles are fighting every move.
A Few Simple Stretches To Start With
Reach Tall And Bend For a simple stretch each morning, just stand tall, feet shoulder-width apart and then reach for the sky. Slowly bend in one direction and then the other, loosening your spine.
Straddle Sit on the ground with your legs opened in the widest straddle you can make and reach your hands forward as you try to touch your chest to the ground. Come up to center and then turn to your right and try to touch your chest to your right knee.
Do the same on the left. And then repeat.
The Sunrise Salutation, a series of yoga moves, is hands-down my favorite stretch for the whole body. I’ve found a nice description of how to do it on the website curated by Drs. Oz and Roizen, authors of You: The Users Guide.
A sunrise salutation is a wonderful way to greet the day. Do a couple rounds very slowly so you can ease your body into it and then pick up the pace as you get looser. I aim to do 6-10 rounds of these stretches each time I do them.
And don’t let the name restrict when you do them. Sunrise Salutations are great for any time of day.
Spring Tonic To Prevent Injury #2: Start With Strength
Building your muscles is the second necessity for getting out into the garden or running without injury.
Your muscles don’t only move your bones and body. They support you. They keep your ankle in place when you run. They help reduce the shock on your knees and keep your back square when you lift.
If you have a weight machine, use it. Start out with a comfortable weight and number of reps and then build up as your muscles get stronger.
You can also do this conditioning without the weights.
Here’s a simple routine if you haven’t done much activity for the last few months:
Start with some gentle squats. Holding a chairback if you need extra support, with your feet shoulder-width apart, slowly bend your knees and then straighten them.
Make sure you don’t go too low – Don’t let your knees block your view of your toes. Do a set of 10.
Then try a few calf raises. Holding the back of the chair or the wall, go up on your toes and then come down. Do this about 10 times.
Do some modified pushups. Stand facing the wall with your palms against the wall. Slowly bend your elbows allowing your face to come to the wall: Like a vertical push up. Do this about 5 times.
Finally, my favorite gentle back strengthener is the plank pose. Get into a pushup position with your hands at shoulder width, arms straight. Look straight down at the floor with your neck straight.
See how long you can hold this position, keeping your butt tucked in and your back straight. This position helps strengthen your core.
Do this circuit 2 times and then repeat it later in the day.
All of these activities can also be increased in their intensity by wearing a weight vest. You can also increase the power of these leg exercises by adding jumps to your squats or even jumping onto and off benches.
After doing this for a few weeks, you’ll be ready to add a 10-minute walk to your routine. Eventually, you can build up to a 30-minute brisk walk.
If you’re a regular exerciser, these exercises with a weight vest or jumps will prepare you for sprint intervals and running.
Spring Tonic To Prevent Injury #3: Rest
The opposite of activity – rest – sometimes gets overlooked in our “just do it” approach to exercise.
But rest is essential for your body when it comes to building muscles and getting stronger.
When you work your muscles you signal to your body that it needs to increase the number of muscle cells in each muscle. But your body also needs time to make these new cells, repair the ones that have worked so hard and literally build your muscle.
Without rest periods, your body can’t do the necessary repair and cell replication.
This is especially true as you get older. I was interested to hear Olympic gold medallist swimmer Dana Torres point out that she attributed her victory at age 41 to training smarter with more rest periods.
There are three important ways to get your rest:
1. Rest between intervals. You get more out of exercise when you break intensive work with rest periods. Do a set of squats and then rest for a few minutes. Walk briskly for a few minutes and then rest. Do a sprint – if you’re up for it – and then rest.
2. Rest well each night. This is your body’s most important time for repairing itself. So get a good night’s sleep.
3. Take days off from exercise. Especially if you’ve had an especially intense bout of exercise, like a good hike or bike ride, take the next day off to rest and recoup. For rest days, focus more on gentle stretching and few light strength exercises.
Rest is an essential part of exercising safely and for the long term.
When you start exercising more, a little soreness or stiffness is normal in the beginning. But if you feel any twinges or pain that makes it hard to move, stop. Take a few days off and build back slowly.
Use Stretching, Strengthening, And Rest To Get The Best Start On Spring
These are just a few stretches and strength-building exercises to help you get started.
If you have your own favorite stretches and muscle-building activities, do them. The most important thing is to put stretching and strengthening before anything else when you start to increase your activity this spring.
If you haven’t been active for a while, I highly recommend you take a strength-building class or hook up with a personal trainer just to make sure you start off on the right foot.
With any activity, take it slow. Assess how you feel and give yourself rest periods to let your newly forming muscles heal.
Personally, I can deal with some mud and black flies.
But an injury – now that can really take the spring out of your step for the season.
Don’t let it happen to you!
Share your perspective about getting ready for spring activity . . . what’s worked – or not worked – for you?