Pre-activity stretching key for occasional athletes

Andrea Zimmerman

The itch to fly through a quick round of golf is there. But golf professional Bob Mabie doesn’t want you to scratch it.

Springtime temperatures and sunshine typically send people running from their homes to the golf course, park or even around the block. But that excitement can also lead to injuries that can drive them right back inside.

Instead, occasional athletes who remember to do simple stretches and warm-up routines greatly reduce their risk of injury.

Dr. Dan Adair, a founding physician at Memorial Health System’s SportsCare in Springfield, Ill., said anyone doing a physical activity, even a sport as seemingly low-key as golf, should always remember to do a few simple stretches.

“When you are not doing anything and then you are doing some activity, your muscles are going from cold to warm,” Adair said. “You want to go through a little warm-up to get your body temperature up to get up a little sweat.”

This, he said, will help reduce the number of “wear and tear” injuries, such as tendonitis, that he frequently sees at the sports medicine clinic.

Personal trainer Elijah Landell recommends that athletes who might play in a summer softball league or enjoy a game of tennis now and again should do dynamic stretches before a workout or match and end with static stretches.

When muscles are in a resting position, they are considered cold and lack the flexibility athletes demand. A dynamic stretch is a short routine designed to increase blood flow and warm the muscles, and will help them stretch when called upon to swing for the fences or make a mad dash across the court.

Landell said squats, jumping jacks and lunges are all examples of dynamic stretches, and doing 10 of each will get the blood pumping.

He recommended athletes develop a cool-down routine that includes more traditional stretches, also called static stretches, and remember to hold each for at least 20 counts before moving to the next one.

Athletes should also tailor their warm-up and cool-down routines to their sport. Landell said a softball player should focus on the shoulders. A tennis player should pay attention to the arms and lower legs.

Mabie, director of golf at Brookhills Golf Club in Springfield, recommends using a golf club to stretch out the back and doing leg stretches to loosen the muscles before starting out.

Don’t get sore

The most common sports-related affliction is muscle soreness, which can be the result of a rough game, a hard workout or a lack of exercise. This doesn’t always mean you have truly injured yourself.

“There’s a difference between hurt and aching,” Landell said.

Yet, sore muscles will make the athlete tighter. And if the athlete does not do the necessary stretches, that can lead to more serious injuries, he said.

If athletes are sore the next day from a hard workout, Landell said they should still try to do some light cardio work to alleviate the stiff feeling — sitting will only exacerbate the problem.

Even with proper stretching, overuse can make muscles feel sore following a workout, and Landell recommends applying ice to the area immediately.

Mabie said he too often hears people complaining about being tired or sore after walking the course.

“A lot of people don’t loosen up when they play, especially this time of year when they first go out,” he said. “Golf is pretty much an injure-less type of sport, except for overswinging that can hurt your back. Slowly get into your swing.”

Landell also recommends athletes try to do pre-emptive muscle building, such as working on balance. This will help strengthen knees and ankles and prevent injury during competition.

You’re not a kid forever

Adair, 55, who has practiced in the sports medicine field for 25 years, blames many springtime sports injuries on what he calls “boomer-itis.” 

“The people with the most frequent injuries are the (baby) boomers, who are trying to maintain a lifestyle and enjoy life,” he said. “There is an intrinsic deterioration with our musculoskeletal system as we age, and we have to learn to live with that. As a result of that, the tendons are more rope-like.”

While that can mean losing aerobic capacity and flexibility, Adair said boomers can influence the rate of deterioration by lifting weights.

Although the older population should take special care before being active, Adair said everyone should create a plan to stretch before engaging in a chosen activity – even if that means in the car while at a stoplight.

“Ideally, get there 10 minutes before, but even if you can’t think in advance … begin to try and move around a little bit,” Adair said. “Anything is better than nothing.”

The State Journal-Register