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The winter months can be a challenge to fitness. Even now as the cold days are coming to an end, we may hibernate a bit and not be as active as we are in the warm air of summer. In these cases, the end of winter sometimes brings a determination to "get fit for spring" - a mind-set that's full of pitfalls, including overuse injuries of muscles that for too long have lain as dormant as a groundhog. The key isn't to get fit for spring, but to stay fit all year long. Continual, regular activity is crucial to maintaining endurance, strength and overall health.
Let's start with the hips, one of the most common problem areas. Mobility of the hips is key to overall physical movement and activities that keep you fit. Especially for those who tend to sit all day, hips tend to become restricted or tight. That puts more stress on the back, knees and other parts of the body as they try to compensate. I recommend that workouts start with basic hip mobility exercises. It can be as simple as taking two step stools, putting a broom handle across them and stepping over from side to side, then front to back. That forces you to lift the knees and move the hips, improving mobility in the hips and ankles.
Consider adding lunges to your workout - some going forward, some going backward and some to the sides. This will open up the hips as well as stretch out the groin muscles - a common area of injury. You can add rotational components, like doing a lunge laterally but turning the foot to follow the direction you're moving. That strengthens the legs while tuning up the rest of your joints and muscles. Then, when you make that cut on the basketball or tennis court, they can more easily tolerate the stress.
Balance is another key aspect to all physical activity, but it's something we must constantly hone as we get older. Even simple strategies like standing on one leg can help both with balance and arm strength. As that gets easier, adding an arm curl to an overhead press with a dumbbell - alternating from left to right arm. That also works the core - trunk and hips - which are crucial to overall strength. Even simple exercises like bridges, lateral planks and planks (in which you support your torso on the floor with your forearms while supporting your lower body with the toes) - holding for 20 to 30 seconds - can add to core strength.
If you were regularly active during warm weather but slacked off during the winter, you'll regain your fitness in short order. But resist the temptation to start back too quickly. Most injuries happen when you try to go as fast, as long and as hard as you did before you took time off. What if you've managed to stick to a workout regimen all through the winter and maintained your fitness? All of the things I've described can be added to give you better balance, better core strength and greater flexibility.
CHRIS KOLBA, MHS, PT, CSCS
D1 Sports Training and Therapy
Member of the OhioHealthSports Medicine Institute