If you've been a couch potato all winter, dust off those sneakers and hit the sidewalk for a brisk walk.
"Walking is one of the best exercises around to prepare for almost any sport," says Bud Ferrante, a spokesman for the American Physical Therapy Association. He recommends walking briskly for 30 minutes, four to five times a week, as a great way to prepare yourself for spring sports and recreation.
This stretching regimen also works well for almost any activity.
* Hamstrings: Put foot on a stair, or place foot in front of you. Gently lean over from the waist. You should feel the stretch in the back of your leg. Switch legs and repeat.
* Quadriceps: Place right foot about 12 inches in front of left foot. Bend right knee, keeping left leg straight. You should feel the stretch in the front of your thigh. Switch legs and repeat.
* Chest: Place your hands on either side of a doorway, suggests Ferrante. Then lean through the door. Alternatively, lie on the floor with your knees bent and feet on the ground. Keeping your upper body still, turn knees from side to side.
* Back: Get on your hands and knees, with hands below shoulders and knees below hips. Take turns lifting one leg straight behind you.
* Shoulders: Grasp left elbow with right hand and draw it close to your chest while keeping your left arm straight. Switch arms and repeat.
Fields of Fitness
Softball and baseball are sports of extremes. You may be standing around doing almost nothing in the outfield, then stepping up to the plate looking to harness explosive power to drive the ball over the fence.
Just like with golf, softball and baseball require flexibility to avoid pulled or strained muscles. Concentrate on stretching hamstrings, hips and shoulders before and after the game, advises Dr. Bruce Deschere, director of the family medicine training program at the Wayne State University School of Medicine in Detroit.
Pitchers need to be particularly careful to avoid overdoing it the first time out, he says.
"Go easy on your shoulder for the first few times out," Deschere suggests. "Unless you take the time to throw snowballs over the winter, your shoulder is going to be out of condition from not using it. That's not necessarily a problem as long as you don't overdo it on your first day out."
He says it's OK to throw for a while, but the minute you feel soreness, stop and stretch it. Then work on another skill.
Ideally, start out with short tosses of 10-15 feet with a partner. Slowly work up to longer, faster throws. Make sure your glove is in good condition to prevent injuries to your catching hand. Batting practice should also start out slowly and gradually. Don't aim for the fence right away. If you use a pitching machine at a batting cage, use a slow speed and hit only a moderate number of balls. Take your time to warm up and get back into the rhythm of swinging.
Back on the Bike Seat
You may have been riding a bicycle for decades, but this activity can still cause you trouble.
"Your body does what you ask it to do. If all winter along you ask it to do relatively little and then put high loads on it, it's not going to respond the way you want it to," says Dr. Kyle Anderson, senior staff physician in orthopedics and sports medicine at Henry Ford Health System in Detroit. "Because your conditioning is poor and the muscles get into fatigue quickly, you can easily have muscle and ligament injuries and tears."
Some common cycling injuries include knee pain, swelling, clicking or popping. All of these can be caused by a seat that's too high or too low, riding in too high a gear, riding too far uphill or standing on the pedals. Shin splints -- pain to either side of the leg bone -- is caused by muscle or tendon inflammation, usually from trying to ride too far on your first time out. Lack of a proper warm-up or overtraining can cause Achilles tendonitis, an irritation and inflammation of the tendon that attaches to the back of the heel bone.
To avoid these injuries, make sure to start slowly. You also need the right equipment: a bike that's appropriate for your size and has the right seat height, the right clothing and a helmet for unexpected crash landings. It helps to develop a good relationship with a local cycling shop. Experts there can be sure the bike fits you and advise you about adjustments that can make riding more comfortable.
And because cycling can burn so many calories, watch out for dehydration. Drink plenty of water both before and after your rides, advises Anna Millward, a member of the Saturn Cycling Team in the Olympic Games in Sydney. "Proper hydration is an important component to any exercise program. During a race or ride, I drink a liter of fluid an hour or two before the ride."
For more information on warming up for spring sports, contact the following:
* American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons, www.acfas.org or (888) THE-FEET.
* The American Physical Therapy Association, (888) 999-2782.
* The American College of Sports Medicine, (317) 637-9200 or www.acsm.(c) 2001 The Detroit News
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