Don’t Overdo It! Three Ways 2 B the Best Athlete U Can B
Spring and summer are peak times for juicing up your life with more activity, more days of play, more fun. Remember fun? Tennis, golf, volleyball, softball … or what about trying something entirely new, like mountain biking, or the sport I only do in July but dream about all year — kayaking.
Left to their own devices — none of them digital — it’s the nature of our bodies to want to start moving when the weather is warm, the sun is shining and, yes, when we’re switching over to skimpy sleeveless tops and more revealing bottoms.
“Eek! Who is that? When did this happen?”
Is that your reaction when you look at yourself, naked, in the mirror? Or are you feeling pretty good about your body these days, down 15 pounds from six months ago, when you had the last Cherry Coke of your life and committed to taking a 30-60 minute walk every day … no matter what.
No matter where you stand on your unfolding path to a healthier, happier, less stressed lifestyle, take this on board: While now is the perfect time to step up your activity level, please, don’t overdo it. It’s the No. 1 way to get hurt. What good is having a whole summer to improve your short game when you damage your rotator cuff the second time out?
And yet that’s what happens to many of us eager-beavers this time of year. We move too quickly from less activity to more, and we forget that our bodies may not be strong or flexible enough to do what we ask them to do. Like sliding into second base, or leaping up to spike a volleyball.
We neglect to listen to our bodies. A hot spot in your knee? Sore shins after a 3-mile run? This is your body talking to you, telling you to ease up and pay attention, so a small tear or simple strain doesn’t develop into a major ache or debilitating pain, and you’re sidelined all summer.
Here then are three game-changing ways to make the transition from less activity to more activity safer and more enjoyable:
BE REALISTIC. You can’t pick up this spring where you left off last summer. If you were running half-marathons last August, but barely made it to the gym 20 times all winter, be kind to yourself as you ease back into a running program for this year.
Practice patience in every sport you return to. Start where you are, set realistic goals, and gradually increase your effort, your endurance. Too much, too quickly is counterproductive to moving forward in a healthy way. And don’t forget to start your workouts with a gentle warm-up and end with a gradual cool-down.
USE YOUR BREATH. No matter your warm-weather activity — from hiking to biking, from paddling canoes to planting tomatoes — you will do it better, with greater ease and less risk if you learn to listen to your breath and use it mindfully.
Use it how? With focus and awareness. Exhale enthusiastically when you’re making an effort — i.e., pedaling up a hill, sprinting to the next tree. Working with breathing patterns — two inhales for every exhale, for instance — is another great way to step up your fitness training. Breathing into tight spaces, in your lower back or hamstrings, can increase flexibility and lower risk of injury.
If none of this makes sense to you, good. It means you have a lot to learn about breathing and how it can energize your workout. Start today. A gifted yoga teacher can inspire you to experience the magical link between body and mind that is your breath, but so can books, websites or experienced trainers.
BRING YOUR MIND INTO PLAY. I’ll dive deeper into this in a future column, but meanwhile, ask yourself: What are you doing mentally to improve your game? Do you use visualizations, like the pros do, to be a better runner, golfer, swimmer? Is negative self-talk your biggest enemy on the playing field? Do you use relaxation exercises to edge you into the zone? Pick at least one strategy for sharpening your mental fitness, and work it all spring and summer. The payoff will astound you.
ENERGY EXPRESS-O! DO WHAT BILLIE DOES
“I transport myself to a place beyond the turmoil of the court to a place of total peace and calm.” — Billie Jean King
Marilynn Preston — fitness expert, wellness coach and speaker on healthy lifestyle issues — is the creator of Energy Express, the longest-running syndicated fitness column in the country.