Being cooped up for so many weeks of winter weather tends to tighten up our bodies more than we realize. Tight muscles and tight fascia (which coats every muscle in the body, allowing them to glide freely) can be a factor in our ability to get back into the swing of things after a long, hard winter.
In the spring, simply taking a walk is a great pleasure. It’s also an excellent way to start getting loosened up. That may not sound very exciting or important, but it’s a fine first step in getting ready for more demanding sports and gardening activities.
Runners certainly know the value of warming up with a walk. Regardless of what sport we like, there are often-overlooked ways of preparing ourselves for a higher level of physical play. Why is that important? Read on!
Interestingly, many of the sports and gardening work we like to do at this time of year share one under-appreciated characteristic. They are primarily one-sided. Think about golf, tennis, lacrosse, baseball: they all involve rotating the body from one side to another, usually at speed and with some force. Gardening typically uses less force, but often involves a lot of repetitive motions from an awkward position.
Regardless of the type of activity, we will always favor our dominant side. This creates an imbalanced load across the body. So we end up with a major problem: an over-developed dominant pattern coupled with a corresponding pattern of under-used, weak, flaccid muscles.
This matters because the small muscles surrounding and supporting the joints of our spinal column are almost always in that second under-used category – and they are they ones that protect us from disk injury. This really is an accident waiting to happen.
That’s why I advocate integrating a gentle series of spinal twists into my patients’ daily routines. Based on the kind of twists you may be familiar with from yoga class, a simple daily routine will keep those small but vital muscles healthy, happy, and on the job.
I like to start people out with seated twists to keep the pelvis anchored and balanced. Breaking the twist down into increments keeps you aware of moving at the spinal level – rather than recruiting the big muscles of the back. These can “over-ride” the spinal motion, and short-change the small muscles we are actually targeting. I also like keeping the chin and hands lined up with the sternum – another great way to keep from cheating ourselves by turning too far, too fast. There are many twists I like, but this one is a great place to start.
A simple trick that will help you counter your dominant side’s tendency towards “running the show” is to try mimicking the motion on the opposite side. Here’s an example: if you always serve from your right side, try the ball toss with your right hand and the serve from your left hand. This may actually help you identify aspects of your serve that need work. And it will bring your awareness into the other side of your body. Do you want to do this every time you practice? Maybe. It will certainly show you where the imbalances are centered.
Whatever sport or outside activity you do, it’s a great idea to work your range of motion every day. Here’s a nice shower routine: gently flex and then extend your neck; turn your head slowly to either side; finally, tilt your head towards each shoulder. As you do this over a period of time, you’ll find your range of motion will increase.
Once you’re out of the shower, do a side bend with your fingers pointing down the side of your leg (that keeps you in a straight line). Can’t touch your toes? Work on it every day – and pay attention to where you feel restriction; that is valuable information that can help your chiropractor and massage therapist help you change it for the better.
Unless you have balance issues, you absolutely can do these. Easy? yes! Important? you bet! Enjoy the spring!