The longer daylight hours and warmer temps of spring mean you want to get outside and play. Trust us, we know the feeling. But we also know the feeling of having done too much too soon after being less active during the winter.
“It’s important to have a good foundation of the necessary flexibility, mobility, strength, and stability prior to beginning or increasing any level of activity,” says Daniel Frey, a physical therapist and avid trail runner in Portland, Maine. “Proper pre-training conditioning will minimize your risk of injury and decrease intial soreness.”
As Frey point out, when your body isn’t ready for a big increase in activity, that initial soreness can turn into an injury that might sideline you for weeks or months. He and physiotherapist Phil Wharton, who has worked on Olympic and recreational athletes in a wide range of sports, agree that too-rapid increases in activity most often lead to tendinitis. That injury, in turn, can then cause more serious, compensatory injuries such as runner’s knee, ligament damage and stress fractures.
Here are some simple exercises Frey and Wharton recommend to be better prepared for four activities Nuun athletes love: running, cycling, golf and hiking.
One Leg Squat
Why: For quad and glute strength as well as control of the lower extremity in single-limb stance, which is essential for minimizing excessive pressure on the feet, knees, hips, and back.
How: Stand with one foot on the edge of a stair, with the foot parallel to the long end of the stair. Stabilize yourself by engaging your core muscles. Keeping the other leg straight, lower the heel of that foot toward the ground, then come back up. Go down only as far as you can while keeping your pelvis level. Do two sets of 10 on each leg.
Mini Squat Forward Band Walks
Why: Build hip and core stability. These areas are notoriously weak in runners due to the repetitive forward motion involved while running, as well as lots of sitting during non-running hours.
How: Place a TheraBand around your ankles. Go into a slight squat; imagine a baseball player getting into position to field. While keeping your feet pointing straight ahead and shoulder-width apart, walk from one end of a room to the other with short steps. Turn around and walk back. As the exercise becomes easier, do it holding a small weight in front of you with both hands.
Why: Tight hamstrings are also common in runners. Lack of hamstring flexibility prevents you from full extension of your stride and overworks other muscles.
How: Lie on your back with one knee bent and that foot on the floor. Keep the other leg straight, and wrap a rope or towel around the ball of that foot. Contract the thigh muscles of your straight leg to raise that foot toward the ceiling. Use the rope or towel only to gently guide the motion. Exhale as you raise the leg, and hold the stretch at the top for only a couple seconds. Return the leg to the floor and do ten stretches for each leg.
Why: This isn’t an exercise, but it’s one of the most important things a cyclist can do to stay healthy. “Having a cycle assessment and fitting by a qualified individual is essential to making sure that a poor-fitting bike doesn’t force you into poor alignment, which can lead to a myriad of injuries,” says Frey.
How: Go to a good bike shop!
One Leg Bridge
Why: Increase glute strength and core stability to improve pelvic control and balance while cycling. It also helps with hip flexor mobility, an area commonly restricted from lots of time in the saddle.
How: Lie on your back with your hands by your sides, your knees bent, and your feet on the floor. While contracting your abs and butt, raise your hips to create a straight line from your knees to your shoulders. Extend one leg while keeping your hips raised and level. Return to the start position. Do 10 repeats on each leg.
Why: Because of the forward position in cycling, the neck muscles can become weak, strained and misaligned.
How: Lie face down on your bed with your arms straight at your side and your head unsupported by the mattress. Moving slowly and with care, tuck your chin toward your chest, then raise your head to look slightly up. Repeat 10 times.
Why: Increase trunk control and balance, helping to improve mobility necessary for golf swing.
How: Stand with both hands on top of a golf club in front of you. Lift one leg and hook your foot behind your other knee. While keeping your shoulders still, rotate the knee of your lifted leg across the supported leg. Do 10 repeats on each leg.
Why: Increase range of motion during your backswing to lessen the strain on your spine.
How: Stand with your arms straight in front of you, palms together, hands at waist level. Use your shoulder muscles to slowly bring your arms apart as far as they’ll comfortably go. Repeat the stretch five times, each time starting with your hands a little higher, so that on the fifth stretch your hands are parallel with your shoulders. Do two sets of five.
Why: Increase glute stability to decrease the chances of sliding or swaying during a swing.
How: Lie on your side with your legs together at a 90-degree angle and your arms together straight in front of you. Slide the top knee just a little bit over the bottom knee; this will keep you from using your back to perform the exercise. Use you’re the hip and butt muscles of the top leg to raise that knee toward the ceiling. Do 15 repeats on each leg.
Why: Increase flexibility to minimize risk of plantar fascia and Achilles tendon-related overuse injuries.
How: Sit with both legs straight in front of you. Wrap a towel or rope around the ball of one foot. Use your shin muscles to bring the toes of that foot toward you. Use the rope or towel only to extend the stretch at the end of the movement. Hold the end of the stretch for 1 or 2 seconds. Repeat 10 times on each foot.
Single Leg Balance
Why: Improve proprioception to minimize the risk of ankle sprains or falls while on unstable surfaces.
How: From a standing position, raise one leg so that the thigh is parallel to the ground. Hold for 30 seconds. Do twice on each leg. When this becomes too easy, do the exercise with your eyes closed.
Why: Improve leg strength and control necessary for hiking up and down hills.
How: Place one foot on a bench or chair. Use the hip and knee of that leg to bring your other foot on the raised surface. Lower your second foot by extending the hip and knee of the leg that’s still on the raised surface. Lower your other foot to return to the starting position. Repeat the sequence starting with your other leg. Do for 1 minute.