Pacific Northwest | June 22, 2003Pacific Northwest MagazineJune 22, home
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Take It Easy
Weekend warriors would do well to get ready and stay cool
 Thumbnail  Stretching out
Tips for training muscles and joints to work through their full range of motion
A predictable thing happened to me on my way toward making up for a year of inactivity with two weeks of hectic workouts.

I hurt myself.

Nothing serious, just an angry, stiff neck and a pinched nerve. It's only a detour, but it did inspire two profound insights:

1) I am no spring chicken.

2) This summer of activity will wilt as soon as it starts for me and some of you if we don't pay attention.

So in that spirit, I collected a few sensible but often-overlooked principles to guide us:

Stretch: Get your blood going, first with a jog, jump roping, jumping jacks or some other movement. Then, stretch so you can feel it, but overdoing the stretch is a no-no. If you're going to do the whole routine in 10 seconds, then why bother? Also, don't bounce when you stretch. Be smooth and patient. If your focus is flexibility, stretch to the farthest point, inhale and then exhale as you ease up or out a notch or two more.

Many experts around town reminded me to stretch after the workout as well. In fact, many believe — and studies back them up — that stretching after exercise helps prevent injury.

Build up to performance: If softball is your game, work on the rotator-cuff muscles in the shoulder. Doctors say that's the most common softball injury they see. Every sport has its overworked muscles, so work on them before the season starts. If you don't, expect tears, pulls or sprains. Getting your outfield arm ready is not enough, though; you need to get in shape, period, before springing from the desk to the fields and trails.

Hamstrings are critical for a number of sports and activities. They heal slowly. Ask Edgar Martinez. Do leg curls and squats, and consider working with a stability ball to help you isolate muscles and work on balance. Be careful that you know how to work with those big inflatable balls. That, I sheepishly admit, is how I tweaked my neck. Poor form.

Think core: Backs must be limber and strong enough to take twists, starts and stops. Abs are for more than magazine covers. I recently did a training session at Metropolitan Pilates in the University Village under the careful direction of co-owner Dorothee Vandewalle. With her guidance, I worked on contraptions with names like "the Cadillac" and "the guillotine."

Vandewalle is a graceful former dancer. She patiently redirected my posture and movements, but she went easy on me.

Know your limits: Stretching and training don't guarantee that you won't get sore or hurt. Dr. John Cianca, a sports-medicine expert at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, says many weekend warriors are too eager to medicate or tough it out.

"They may give some temporary pain relief, but the medications are actually covering up something that's wrong in the body," he says. "If something hurts for three or more consecutive days, or on a frequent basis, it's best to see a doctor."

Rest, ice and common sense are frequently therapy enough, and you can often keep moving with an injury. Just be careful. If the injury is likely from some repetitive activity, do something else.

Think and drink water: Take a 30- or 60-second break, minimally, every 20 minutes, to drink 8 to 12 ounces of water and possibly eat a small snack each hour if you're working hard, says Carl Swedberg, a personal trainer at the PRO Sports Club in Bellevue.

Chill out: This is my personal advice. Not so long ago, I covered a softball rhubarb. The shortstop accused the runner of a dirty slide. He had a severely damaged knee to prove it. The runner argued he was just doing his softball job by breaking up the attempted double play.

They argued over the baseline and rules. So did their attorneys. You can slide well on the marble floor of the King County Courthouse. The jury peered over the jury-box railing to watch the men and their attorneys enact a slide into a base lying on the floor.

After a day of deliberations, the jury called the runner safe — or not liable, in legalspeak. It seemed silly at the time, an invasion of lawyers into recreation. But it didn't seem to be "just softball" to me. The plaintiff was the one who had amassed enormous medical bills and lost work because the runner "needed" to "take him out."

It could have been avoided with a little perspective. So, with apologies if they seem a bit harsh, here are some thoughts that have helped me and I'd like to share with weekend warriors everywhere:

Even if you win, nobody cares.

You're not as young as you think, but definitely older than you used to be.

It's so easy for people to get hurt that they don't need your help.

Richard Seven is a Pacific Northwest magazine staff reporter.

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