Athletes often refer to this time of year as the “shoulder season.” Winter sports have come to an end — even if the hockey boards are still up in your neighborhood park — and summer sports aren’t practical yet. Games played on fields need the ground to firm up a bit, and even though the tennis courts are free of snow, it’s still a little chilly for shorts and a T-shirt.
That doesn’t mean that you have to sit inside and pout. In fact, shoulder season is the best time to train your body for the athleticism you need for your sport. Such training will make you a better athlete and reduce the risk of injury.
Shoulder season workouts are different from your regular gym routine. For example, at least one day a week (preferably two days) should be devoted entirely to stretching.
Start with a 15-minute warmup of performing the motions used in advanced exercise such as squats, bent-over rows, lat pulldowns and so on. But do the motions without using any weight. This flexes the joints and gets tendons and ligaments accustomed to the work they will be doing later in the session. Plus, if you have time, spend at least five minutes on a bike, which works and warms the many ligaments and tendons of the lower body.
Building flexibility is extremely valuable for every athlete. For example, if you reach out past your normal range of motion to catch or throw a ball, you’re far less likely to sprain or even tear a rotator cuff or biceps tendon. Flexibility also helps with speed, so you can react faster to a ball coming your way or take longer steps with your legs in the final sprint of a race.
One exercise many athletes neglect is the strengthening of the ankle. But you can make an ankle sprain far less likely by working it during the shoulder season.
Sit down on the floor with a bath towel. Grab each end of the towel and put your foot in the middle. Pull the towel tightly enough so you have to work at flexing your foot forward, bending your toes down. Next, while maintaining the same pressure, bend your foot sideways in both directions; once with your outside ankle bone toward the floor and then with your inside ankle bone toward the floor.
This stretch should never be painful. In fact, as you consistently do an ankle workout, you will be building not only flexibility but strength in your ankle. When you’re running and make a quick cut to change direction, there will be less chance of having your ankle slide into a sprain.
Also, remember that the shoulder joint is the most mobile joint in the body. It contains the four muscles of the rotator cuff, three ligaments that help stabilize the shoulder joint, plus the tendons of the rotator cuffs, biceps and deltoids. You don’t want that collection of tissue to be stiff and contracted.
It is movement, not weight, that is essential to building flexibility and extending your shoulder’s range of motion. A good exercise for addressing this is throwing a tennis ball at a wall and catching it on the rebound.
When your sports season starts, you will be surprised at how much better you’ve become athletically. Don’t be surprised if using the seasonal change to prepare your body for upcoming activities becomes a part of your training regimen.