After a winter spent bulking up on television and comfort food, the arrival of spring has many couch potatoes ready to reform and get into shape. To make sure good intentions don’t end up in injuries, Anders Cohen, M.D., Chief of Neurosurgery and Spine Surgery at The Brooklyn Hospital Center, offers tips for weekend warriors who don’t want to end up flat on their backs.”
“Six-pack abs are not just for looks,” says Dr. Cohen, who was a professional tennis player before he became a neurosurgeon, and has been a sports junkie since the age of seven. “Strong abdominal muscles support the lower back and spine and prevent injuries. When muscles get lax, people get injured.”
A is for Assess:
Before you embark on an exercise program or a sport, assess your physical condition. This is a good time to get an annual physical. Look at your weight and cardio fitness to find a baseline for speed, heart rate and body fat, and target goals for improvement.
It takes three:
It takes three weeks to change a bad habit. So, spending three weeks ramping up for a sport—be it tennis, basketball or golf--will develop strength, flexibility and help prevent injuries. Start by going to the gym, putting on an exercise video, climbing stairs, or trying something new that will help develop strength, flexibility and cardio-fitness. Dr. Cohen is a fan of Pilates, which supports the core, and Feldenkrais, a cousin of Pilates, to help with flexibility and strengthen muscles that support the spine.
Get sports ready:
“Don’t be relegated to the sidelines by “re-injuries or chronic injuries,” says Dr. Cohen. “These are the injuries that make people give up a sport. If, for example, you always sprain your ankle, pay attention to strengthening that area.” Dr. Cohen compares chronic injuries to a tire with a slow leak. “Once you have an injury, that part of your body is always more susceptible. Pay attention to pre-existing conditions and work on strengthening those areas.”
Get sports specific:
“Professional baseball players used to have spring training because they got really out of shape during the off season,” says Dr. Cohen. “Now most baseball players and other professional athletes are in great shape year-round, so they use spring training to work on flexibility and timing. But average people also need to morph from winter dormancy by preparing for specific sports. For example, if you’re a baseball player, you want to start playing catch, alternating distances and angles to increase flexiblity, reflexes and loosen your arm. That’s also a good idea for tennis players since catching a ball and volleying with a tennis racket require the same motion. Basketball players will want to increase cardio endurance by running up stairs.”
The three “Ps”:
Prepare…prepare…prepare...Avoid injury through preparation. Spend the first 10 minutes warming up—stretching and loosening up--before any physical activity and spend the last 10 minutes cooling down.
Monitor your progress:
Monitor your progress and physical condition in order to improve. Keep track of plateaus and look at the approximate length of time you can hold your top level of play, regardless of whether the sport is tennis, basketball or running. Use your best time as a barometer. “For example if you feel fatigued after 25 minutes of tennis, that’s the new ‘A.’ Your next step is to figure out how to get to ‘B’ by increasing your stamina between sessions.”