Are you a weekend warrior—one of the well-meaning Americans who “engage in physically demanding recreational sporting activities on weekends despite minimal physical activity during the work week”? After spending countless hours hunched over a keyboard seated in one place, the urge to get outside and make the most of your physical fitness time can be irresistible. But leaping into intermittent strenuous activity greatly increases your risk for common injuries that include:
• Ankle sprains – the most common of all sports injuries. Sprains are injuries to ligaments, the tough bands that connect bones in a joint.
• Shin splints – irritated and swollen muscles or stress fractures, tiny breaks in the lower leg bones often from overuse.
• Achilles tendon ruptures – damage to the large tendon that powers the foot to push off the ground during walking and running.
• Plantar fasciitis – heel pain caused by overload stress occurring in up to 10 percent of the U.S. population and resulting in an estimated 1 million office visits each year.
• “Tennis elbow”, or lateral epicondylitis – a common overuse injury caused by microtears and collagen breakdown affecting up to 3 percent of the U.S. population annually.
While it’s not always possible to avoid common sports injuries, many times patients set themselves up for injury by lack of proper conditioning for the specific activity. Here are 7 sports-specific tips to help you get—and stay—in top fitness form.
1) Share your fitness goals with your family doctor
Enlist the support of your family doctor, whether you’re launching a new workout routine or just need someone to help you stay accountable and on track. Your primary care doctor knows your body and can help you customize your fitness plan. He or she knows your limitations, and your highest potential. Ask, “What steps can I take on a daily, weekly and monthly basis to safely reach my goals and enjoy optimal health?”
2) Perform dynamic warm-ups
Gone are the days of “static”, or non-moving, stretches like reaching down to touch your toes. Dynamic warm-ups are here to stay. What’s a “dynamic” warm-up? This means you are continuously moving through a range of motion as you stretch. Dynamic stretching warms your body up even faster than the traditionally recommended low-level aerobic activity like a slow jog or a walk on a treadmill.
Dynamic stretching benefits include:
• The muscles you will be using during your sport are better activated
• Your range of motion improves
• Muscular performance and power is enhanced
• Your body awareness is improved
Every dynamic warm-up will be different, depending on your fitness level and the specific sport you play. Choose exercises that simulate the moves you’ll be performing during the workout or athletic event. This creates more efficient workouts and decreases the chance for overuse injuries, whether you’re hitting a golf ball, lifting weights, or power walking.
Remember to modify your warm-up to accommodate any physical conditions or special challenges. The Arthritis Foundation advises, “The key to using dynamic warm-ups for those with arthritis lies in using a smaller range of motion and staying within your abilities. For example, perform a modified squat (halfway) versus a full squat.”
3) Running warm-ups
Runner’s World cites a recent study that compared how well participants ran after moving versus sitting. “When runners did dynamic stretches, they were able to go almost two and a half minutes longer before they tired out compared to when they sat.”
This five-minute dynamic warm-up routine for runners taken directly from the study is fast and easy to do. Perform each of these five moves 10 times, moving through each repetition quickly, to get your lower body ready for your run:
• Hip flexor stretch
• Leg flexor stretch
• Leg extensor stretch
• Plantar flexor stretch
Hip extensor stretch
4) Swimming warm-ups
Swimming is a great full-body exercise and is especially good for people with arthritic or mobility challenges. The weightless environment is easy on your joints, and you can’t beat a swimming workout in the heat of a Utah summer. Properly preparing your body for a swim increases your flexibility, which makes you more efficient in the water, and reduces post-swim muscle soreness.
Swim gently for five minutes to loosen up, and then perform this set of eight simple exercises from MySwimfit designed to stretch all of the major muscle groups in a swimmer’s upper and lower body. Perform these in the pool, holding each pre-workout stretch for 10 to 15 seconds.
MySwimfit suggests you stretch after training in a warm shower to “help clear waste products from the muscles, improve post-exercise flexibility and stimulate the muscle receptors that promote relaxation.”
5) Basketball warm-ups
Remember how to skip? This basketball warm-up gets your legs and feet ready for the bouncing required on the basketball court. Skipping trains your feet to get off the ground fast, which can only help your rebounding, jumping and pivoting skills. Spend a few minutes skipping around the gym or outdoor court before your game begins.
Here’s a great video from Hoops 360 that’s less than three minutes long. It runs you through over two-dozen basketball-specific dynamic stretches.
6) Yoga warm-ups
These gentle yoga poses are great to use before class to prepare your mind and body. But they also make fantastic additions to your pre-workout stretch routine for every other sport, and they provide a healthy and relaxing way to unwind at day’s end.
Pelvic tilts, standing or sitting, are subtle spinal movements that strengthen the muscles that support your low back, especially the abdominals. Pelvic tilts are great for relieving lower back pain.
Cat-cow stretch moves the spine from a rounded position to an arched one. This stretch helps to prevent back pain and keeps your spine healthy – this is especially good if you spend a lot of time sitting.
Downward-facing dog stretches and strengthens the whole body and is great for loosening up your calves and hamstrings.
7) Cycling warm-ups
Before you mount the road bike or tandem for your ritual Sunday morning cycling adventure, or take the mountain bike off-road onto those rugged Utah trails, spend five minutes warming up with this set of exercises from Cycling Weekly. They are specifically designed to target the muscles that you’ll be using on the bike.
• Stand tall and reach stretch to loosen your back and torso muscles, reduce tension in the spine and work your leg adductor muscles.
• The founder helps elongate the muscles in your posterior chain.
• Squats activate your glutes and lower limb muscles.
• Plank engages the deep core muscles.
• The bridge and single-leg bridge activate the hamstrings, glutes, and stabilizer muscles that are used during a pedal stroke.
A good warm-up can take as little as five minutes of your time and ensure that you enjoy a long, active and injury-free lifestyle.