Summer Sports Safety
By Tracey Roizman, DC
Warm weather brings out the athlete in many of us. If golf and tennis are what summer is all about for you, then read on for some helpful information on how to get the most enjoyment out of your favorite summer sports. You can enjoy summer sports, avoid injury, and improve your game all at the same time. In fact, the same strategies will accomplish all three. The reason is that the most efficient ways to move are also the safest, most accurate, and most powerful. Let’s look at how this happens by examining some of the most popular current theories on exercise, what they mean, and how they contribute to your sports performance.
Core strength: This term refers to the muscles of the abdomen and back, the “core” or midline of your body. These particular muscles are important because they stabilize you so you can move your arms and legs without falling over. All movement starts at the midline and moves outward. In fact, when you move your arm or leg, the first thing that happens is that your back muscles contract. If your core muscles are weak and unable to keep you stable, then the forces that are created will be distributed outward along the chain and must be taken up by your shoulders, hips, elbows, knees, etc. This puts undue stress and strain on these joints and can lead to injury. When you place your attention on your core muscles at each phase of your golf or tennis swing, you will find that your limbs will naturally find their proper positions. This will take some trust at first.
Balance and coordination: When your core muscles are strong, your coordination improves greatly. They are your primary source of stability as you carry out the various movements required in swinging a golf club or a tennis racquet. Balance training is very helpful at revealing your instabilities so that you can work to improve them. When your balance is poor, your brain doesn’t know where your body is, and if your brain doesn’t know where your body is, it’s not going to know where to tell it to go. Your arms and legs, being extensions of your body, end up in places you don’t want them, doing things you don’t want them to do. This results in missed or inaccurate shots. The good news is that a little balance practice goes a long way toward retraining your system for greater efficiency. You will see results quickly with just a few minutes of practice each day.
Cross-training: Training purposefully by addressing all aspects of fitness will help you see results and keep you playing your favorite sports longer. The next important factor to consider is the effect of many hours spent doing these activities. In particular, one-sided sports such as golf and tennis create imbalanced muscle tone between the left and right sides. Over time this can lead to injury.
This is where cross-training comes in. Cross-training neutralizes the uneven buildup of muscle tone. If you are a golfer, take a few earnest-effort swings as if you were playing from the opposite side. This is good use of the time spent waiting to make your shot during a round of golf and will unwind the muscles you use during normal play. It will also take away the uneven stresses on your joints, improve your balance and coordination, and, most important, lower your handicap. Remember: your non-playing side is weaker and less coordinated, so start out slowly and build up.
If you play tennis, spend some time playing from your non-dominant side. This method is ideal for balancing out uneven muscle tone, because it uses the muscles of your non-playing side in precisely the same groups and patterns. Hit against a wall if you cannot find a partner willing to indulge you in this exercise. Of course, any other activity, including gardening, counts as cross-training as long as it uses different types of movements.
On “killing the ball”: If you have a tendency toward all-out swings, remember: more is not better. At the extreme ends of backswing and follow-through, your muscles are working from a mechanical disadvantage and will be unable to meet the demands that you place on them. As a general rule, gauge your highest exertion level to be approximately 85% of your maximum. This is where force and accuracy are greatest and the risk of injury is lower.
Stretching: Stretching is a key element in a well-rounded fitness program. Some spot stretching before and after a workout is advisable. You will derive the most benefits when you devote an hour or two each week, separate from your other activities, to a head-to-toe stretching routine. This is a great way to get to know your body’s strengths, weaknesses, and idiosyncrasies. Similar to weight training, stretching isolates specific muscle groups so that your awareness is focused internally as opposed to outwardly, such as in setting up for a shot.
Chiropractic care for the athlete: A chiropractic checkup is a wonderful tool to add to your sports program. Chiropractors are sticklers for proper biomechanics and ascribe to the philosophy that in sports, function follows form. Chiropractic adjustments maximize range of motion in the joints of the spine, arms, and legs. Adjustments in the mid-back release stored tension in muscles that assist in breathing, thereby allowing better oxygen flow. A functional neurology assessment will reveal much about your underlying strengths and weaknesses and how to achieve balance.
Play well this spring and summer and feel free to adapt these general guidelines to other sports and even to other activities. Cross-train for your desk job, you ask? Absolutely!
Tracey Roizman, DC, DACNB, utilizes traditional chiropractic structural corrections along with kinesiology testing, functional neurology techniques, and nutritional therapies. She graduated from Western States Chiropractic College in Portland, Oregon, has a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry from the University of New Hampshire, and is a diplomate of the American Chiropractic Board of Neurology.