John Seivert: What can we learn from these athletes?
As spring continues to creep into our life so does our aches and pains from either new exercise or a return to our favorite spring sport with abundance.
Last Sunday was warm and partly cloudy with temperatures reaching the mid-60s and I ventured out for a long endurance ride on my road bike. All winter I had been getting in my training miles on the indoor trainer. However, my indoor workouts are only slightly indoors — it’s in the garage.
Those sub-40-degree training rides were in a damp and cold place with the flat screen TV on the wall where I watch hours of professional bike races to keep me motivated. This strategy of staying in top form has worked for me over the years, but it seems that every year that first long endurance ride makes my entire body sore. This is typical for any sport or recreational activity when you go from preseason to season.
Since early March I have already seen a plethora of spring sports injuries that need not happen if proper preseason warmups were implemented.
I saw a throwing injury in a dad who hurt his right shoulder throwing batting practice to his sons’ Little League team. I also saw a senior softball player in his mid-60s who strained his low back taking batting practice, and the 55-year-old golfer who just returned from a southern California week-long golf vacation. A 72-year-old man who went fly fishing in South America strained his upper back after the third day of a seven-day fishing trip.
The cumulative effect these repeated injuries to our bodies is not healthy. These patients will get better quickly, and I am hopeful that I will be able to teach them some strategies to stay healthy, strong and flexible throughout the year and not return to see me come August — when wood splitting becomes the injuring activity for many folks.
Major League Baseball is in full swing having just started the season and I commonly use these professional athletes as an example of proper warmups, preseason and during the season fitness to stay healthy. I know several doctorates in physical therapy who work in Phoenix and contract with several of the professional baseball teams. These doctors are working with the injured athletes all winter long getting them ready for the season. Once spring training begins in early March every athlete goes through hours of basic skills of picking up grounders on their right side, then on the left side, and then the balls come faster and faster. Hitting is the same slow progression. They do soft toss, then off the tee and finally in the batting cage.
As a kid growing up in Phoenix and going to many spring training games and watching the athletes warmup, I was always impressed with their methodical and purposeful skills performed before each game. Research in sports performance has shown that training and re-training the motor skill to do the same movement over and over again creates the peripheral nervous system to lay down more myelin along the nerves, which creates skilled movement. These skilled movements are practiced every day for a month before the season opens on or around April 1.
Us mere mortals should learn from all the sports science and performance centers as they have a pretty good grasp of how to train for success and stay healthy. The physical therapists, athletic trainers, and strength and conditioning specialists working for the Major League Baseball teams have their hands full with trying to keep over one-hundred athletes in each organization healthy for an entire season. So, what can we learn from these athletes?
Start your training program early, be consistent and train or perform the specific tasks that you want to do for several weeks, if not months, before that ski or golf vacation. I should have done a few more three-hour rides in the garage before the three-and-a-half hours suffer fest that left me stiff and sore most of Monday.
Batting practice dad knew he should have been playing catch with his son for 20-30 minutes several times a week before throwing any batting practice.
The senior softball player is now swinging his bat three to four times a day in his backyard and feeling much stronger with less pain. I also have him swinging the bat the opposite direction half the time to balance out his spinal mobility. His season has already started, and he feels great.
Middle-aged golf enthusiast was given a solid pre-golf dynamic warmup routine to keep himself loose before, immediately after and throughout the week when not playing.
Lastly, the flyfishing enthusiast was better in two visits by rolling on the foam roller to loosen up his upper thoracic spine and was given a few key stretches to improve his spinal mobility. I gave him a quote to remember from Joseph Pilates: “If your spine is inflexibly stiff at 30, you are old. If it is completely flexible at 60, you are young.”
Spring is a great time to get outside and enjoy the outdoors. Get ready, be ready and stay ready.
John Seivert is a doctor of physical therapy and he has been practicing for 34 years. He opened Body Logic Physical Therapy in Grass Valley in 2001. He has been educating physical therapists since 1986. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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