Now that weather is getting better, you may be itching to get back outside and start moving. With all the eating, drinking and bonding from the holidays, your workouts may have taken a backseat. Or maybe you suffered from an injury or got sick. Whatever the reason for your fitness hiatus, spring is an ideal time to get back to exercise.
Whether you jog a few miles, play a pick-up game with your friends, it’s important to prepare your body for activity, especially if frigid temperatures kept you glued to the couch all season. Otherwise, you run the risk of overdoing it. Even ordinary activities can take a toll — I see people all the time who garden through the first nice weekend of spring and then suffer from severe muscle soreness or injury.
The “no pain, no gain” approach to fitness doesn’t work. Instead, try these five fitness tips to shape up this spring.
1. Underestimate Your Abilities
Most people regress during the winter months, even if they’ve stuck to a regular fitness routine. If you don’t underestimate your ability and ease back into your activities, you’re setting yourself up for muscle soreness and injury, and that can sideline you for weeks. You might not feel the pain the day after a tough workout, but two days later the soreness may be so intense you can’t lift your arm above your head.
2. Start Small
If you’ve been sedentary for weeks, check in with your doctor before amping up your activity. Once you get the all-clear, start with an easy walking schedule or stretching regimen. The slow, gentle movements will help prep your body for more intense activities like tennis, gardening, and golf. Start with 10 minutes every day or every other day for a week. Then increase to 15 minutes the following week. Add five minutes to your workout each week until you’re walking for 30 to 45 minutes at a stretch. You can even break up sessions throughout the day. And don’t forget to stretch before and after your workouts.
3. Go Slow
Even though sunny days may be calling your name, make sure to start slow. A good rule of thumb: Never increase your weight, time, speed or intensity more than 10 percent per week. So, 10 percent of the 10-pound weight is 1 pound. Similarly, if you’re running 5 miles per hour, boost it up to 5.5 miles per hour. Also, keep in mind that running on the ground is different — and usually more taxing — than running on a treadmill. The best approach may be to vary the intensity throughout your workout. Sprint for 1 minute, jog for 10 and then walk for 5. Repeat the process until you feel your workout is complete. Called high-intensity interval training, this type of training offers more gains than maintaining a steady pace.
4. Stretch It Out
No matter what your sport or activity, incorporating stretching into your routine can help you stay at the top of your game. Competing in a tennis match? Focus on your arms and shoulders and prep your body to pivot. Playing a round of golf? Stretch out your trunk and lower back, bending side to side and twisting from left to right.
5. Keep Your Expectations In Check
The longer your break the more time you’ll need to get back to on track. So, if you worked out three to four times per week prior to your fitness vacation, it will take about four to eight weeks for you to get back up to speed. Remember, too, that you didn’t become inactive overnight, so you won’t become fit overnight. Patience is key.
Exercise stresses the body. While it’s mostly good stress, if you do too much too quickly, you’re more likely to suffer from an injury that sets you back even farther, particularly if you’re packing more weight post-winter. The added weight can place increased pressure on your joints during high-impact activities. Lower-impact activities like swimming, cycling, Pilates and yoga can be easy on the joints.
If you do overdo it and strain or injure yourself, follow the RICE Rule to lessen the damage. Here’s how it breaks down:
Rest — It doesn’t have to be a complete sedentary rest, but active resting (which may include light walking or weight bearing) can help your body recover more quickly.
Ice — Apply ice to the affected muscles for 20 minutes every hour.
Compress — Wrap the area with an elastic bandage starting below the injury and wrapping a few inches above. So if you injured your knee, start the wrap at the calf and continue to the mid-thigh. Just makes sure the compression is a little looser at the top to encourage blood to flow toward the heart.
Elevate — Raise the injury above your heart. Using the knee example, your best bet would be to lie on the ground and rest your knee on the couch.
If muscle pain lingers on for more than two weeks or gets progressively worse, see a doctor. And next year, don’t hibernate all winter long. Stay strong so you can enjoy springtime sports as soon as the weather warms up.