By Norman J. Marcus, M.D.
Author of End Back Pain Forever
Summer is near and after some hibernating, we’re itching to return to warm weather activities. These tips will help you to stretch, strengthen, and remain pain-free for the season.
Before swinging the golf club or hitting the tennis ball, a warm-up will protect you. A typical mistake is to think the warm-up starts with stretching. It actually begins in your head. Before you begin ask yourself how am I feeling today? Do I feel tense, frustrated or angry over events of the week? Your first task is to relax!
We start with proper breathing. As you breathe in, your belly rises. This is diaphragmatic breathing. After a few breaths shrug your shoulders up, let them go down, and feel the muscles let go. Focus on your body. Try to let the disturbing thoughts leave your mind; connect with your body.
Now that you’re feeling more relaxed you can progress to getting your muscles ready to work for you. Muscles need to be prepared for intensive activity. Not doing your sport regularly over the winter changed your muscles—they are not ready for your award-winning matches, but they can be. Once the season is in swing, your muscles will be better prepared but prior to each time you go out they still need a warm-up.
The second part of the warm-up begins with limbering motions. Limbering is movement within the range of comfort. It’s moving our muscles without undue effort or discomfort. Let’s start with your arms and shoulders. Move your arms above your head, across your chest and out towards your sides and up to your ears. Continue to breathe into your belly as you did before. Bend over reaching towards your toes. If you can do this without bending your knees that’s great; if you can’t, do it while bending your knees. As you come up slowly make sure that your knees are bent as you rise up. To finish, gently move your hips in all directions.
Now you’re ready for your favorite stretches. Since there are so many stretches that one can do, pick out your favorite ones and do them now. Don’t skip any areas of the body—if you’re only doing shoulder stretches or leg stretches, you’re doing yourself a disservice. The difference in stretching now is you’re doing it after relaxing and limbering, which will allow you to stretch much more effectively than before because you’re doing it with relaxed and limbered rather than tense and stiff muscles. The exercises in End Back Pain Forever provide you with a sequence of progressively more difficult stretches for your upper and lower body.
Since you’re feeling relaxed, limbered, and stretched, let’s get the muscles of your upper and lower body moving actively and get more blood into them: For 3 minutes bring your arms up and down quickly as you would in a jumping jack exercise; now run in place.
Remember, it’s been a while since you’ve moved around like this. Even though you’re itching to begin, start slowly, don’t overdo it. Protect yourself so that you’ll be able to be active for the entire season. Most accidents occur when you are fatigued. When you’re tired, take a break. Even though your muscles are now relaxed and stretched out they are still not conditioned to endure long periods of activity. Over time with regular workouts the muscles’ energy factories (mitochondria) adapt to become more efficient which results in an increase in your endurance.
Let’s say, you are in shape to play tennis for an hour a day but your friends invite you to play for a long weekend afternoon. As much as you’re psyched to keep going, you’re not in the best shape for the 3 hour match. Do your best but remember it’s a game and it is supposed to be fun. Take breaks and take it easy. If you really want to compete, train for it so that longer more aggressive matches are something your muscles are prepared to endure.
Adapt to changes in your game. After lessons to improve your swing or with a new golf club or tennis racket, you are now moving differently. Allow a few days of play so that your muscle fibers can acclimate to the changes.
Physical activity causes our bodies to lose excessive amounts of water. Muscle cramps sometimes occur with dehydration so stay hydrated. Drinking lots of pure water can actually dilute the important chemicals in your body so it is better to have a drink that will replace those chemicals (electrolytes) along with all the water you’re sweating.
Not planning on playing golf or tennis? Even gardening, mowing the lawn, or other summer chores will require using muscles that have been on vacation. They need to get up to speed so that you can do a long day in the yard without having to wake up with painful moans and groans. With yard work the danger is being in the same position for too long. Muscles get fatigued from long periods of use but they also become fatigued by being in one position for too long. This uses only a few muscle fibers rather than the whole muscle and those fibers may get unhappily painful and stiff. So periodically take a break—get up and stretch, walk around, drink an electrolyte drink and dream of the tomatoes down the road.
After you’re done, don’t forget to cool down! Don’t know how to cool down? It’s simple—just do everything you did to prepare, only backward. Start with stretching, then limbering, and then relaxing those weary muscles.
Every day you engage in physically demanding activity, pay attention to becoming and remaining physically fit. What is most important is staying healthy and as pain-free as possible so that you can come back and do what you want again.
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