It’s March, and though many areas of the country are still experiencing winter weather, spring is on its way. If the first taste of spring weather makes you feel like coming out of hibernation, you’re not alone. Studies show that people in North America are most active during the spring and summer and least active in the winter. Even indoor gyms can’t tempt many of us to work out during the coldest months.
There are many reasons to start working out this spring. At our chiropractic clinic, we see the results of poor fitness every day. Weak core muscles are one of the leading causes of persistent back pain. As we age, a weak core impairs balance and increases fall risk. Since most of us sit for hours most days, our hamstrings become tight, which can lead to low back and knee pain. But jumping into the fitness routine you did last summer is a recipe for injury. After months of sedentary living, it’s necessary to ease back in to working out.
Here’s how to safely transition to being more active.
If you’ve been sedentary all winter (minus a couple of snow shoveling days), a walk is the perfect way to acclimate your body to increased activity. Try to walk a few times a week and then work up to every day. Walking outside has been shown to relieve stress. It’s also a more effective exercise than most people realize. Walking regularly is helpful for weight loss and improving core strength.
Your core includes the muscles around your spine and abdomen. They are necessary for movement, balance, and holding your organs and spine in place. Sitting for hours every day weakens the core. You can test your core strength by trying to hold a plank for thirty seconds. Or you can assume that if you’ve been sitting more often than not for months on end, your core is weak.
To strengthen your core, try bird dogs, planks, and glute bridges. Planks and bird dogs passively build upper body strength while working your core. Glute bridges work your glutes and core muscles in your back and abs. Start with one set of eight repetitions or ten seconds for a plank. Work your way up to two sets as the exercise gets easier.
Since many fitness routines involve exercises that can cause injury if not done correctly, it’s important to build strength with simple exercises before moving on to more complex ones. You need to be strong enough to hold the correct form before you try exercises like deadlifts or barbell squats.
Before you do any exercise, you should always warm up your muscles. A warm-up should include a mix of static and dynamic activities. Static stretches like the hurdler or standing shoulder stretch can do more harm than good on cold muscles, especially if held for too long. Start with dynamic movements like shoulder rolls, jumping jacks, or jogging in place.
The goal is to activate your main muscle groups and increase your heart rate. A proper warm-up increases circulation to the muscles and improves flexibility. This makes it easier to work out with good form and avoid injury.
Aim for five minutes of dynamic exercises, then perform a few static stretches. Start your workout with your easiest exercises, i.e., ones focusing on one muscle group, like bicep curls.
Know How to Stretch
Static stretches are more beneficial after a workout than before one. A stretching routine between workout days may improve your performance and prevent injuries. A good personal trainer, including some you can watch online, will lead you through a safe stretching routine, explaining form and what the stretch should feel like. If you’re just starting, professional guidance is a good idea. Some stretches you learned in gym class (like toe touches) damage your back.
As you practice stretching, you’ll probably find a handful of stretches that are beneficial for you and stretch out all your main muscle groups. You should always do these after your workout routine.
Your main muscle groups include your neck/shoulder and upper back, abdominals, hamstrings (back of thighs), quadriceps (front of thighs), and calves. You must stretch these muscle groups regularly to keep them flexible and prevent joint strain. Here are some stretches to try.
- Cat/Cow: This stretch is part dynamic, part static, and great for both post-and pre-workout. Start on your hands and knees. Pull your tummy in, and don’t let your back hang. Inhale, raise your head, and tilt your pelvis up so your back arches inward. Then exhale and bring your head and pelvis down, so your back arches upward like a startled cat’s. Repeat several times. This stretch brings blood flow to the spine and the back muscles and stretches the muscles.
- Hamstring Stretch: Lie on your back and place one foot on the floor, knee bent. Raise the other foot, holding your leg with one hand or using a strap around the ball of your foot. Reach the ball of the foot upward. You’ll feel this stretch in the back of your thigh and possibly throughout your leg if you are very tight. Repeat for both legs holding for ten to fifteen seconds.
- Quad Stretch: To stretch the fronts of your thighs, roll over onto your right side with your legs out straight. Grab the top of your left foot and pull it gently towards your left buttocks. Keep your knees touching. Repeat on the other side and hold for ten to fifteen seconds.
- Calf Stretch: place your right foot forward, bending it slightly and leaning forward. Your left foot should remain back (as if you are about to do a lunge). Keep your left leg straight, and try to lower your heel to the floor.
See Your Chiropractor
Getting yourself back into shape safely is easier if your body is balanced. Your chiropractor will ensure your body mechanics, including your feet and spine, work as they should.
Professional athletes use spinal adjustments to improve performance and prevent injuries. You can reap the same benefits. Spinal adjustment improves coordination and flexibility and can relieve back pain.
If you’ve been injured in the past, it’s a good idea to talk to your chiropractor before beginning a workout routine. They can help you tailor your workout to your needs so you don’t re-injure yourself.
Chiropractic Care in Northern Kentucky
At All Star Chiropractic, we offer conservative treatments for back and joint pain. We also provide lifestyle and fitness advice to help our patients meet their wellness goals. Schedule a consultation today to discover how chiropractic care can help you feel your best.