Spring into stretching

Saturday morning I woke up and immediately realized two things: One, I’d slept really well, since it was more than an hour later than I’m used to waking up on the weekend. And, two, I was intensely sore, all, as Maud Frickert used to say, over my body. Not a flu sore. Rather, an I’ve-done-something-my body’s-not accustomed-to-doing sore. In this case, diving for softballs. Fortunately, I had a cure.

In my youth — this would cover my first half century — I rarely stretched or warmed up. I’d show up for a bike ride with a minute to spare, hop on the bike and be off. I’d stand around kibitzing before a run while others stretched, then go from 0 to an 8-minute pace. Pickup basketball, tennis, whatever: Who had time to stretch? A young body and luck helped me pull it off.

Today, at 54, I stretch a lot. I have to.

I converted to stretching when I realized two things: It could, as I’d heard over the years, reduce my chances of getting injured. And investing as little as five minutes before a workout and 10 minutes after did improve my performance. On the latter count, stretching has proved invaluable in waking/warming/loosening up joints and muscles that become increasingly slow to come to life as the years pass. Stretching, as I discovered Saturday morning, also is invaluable in the recovery process. Let’s see, back’s stiff: a little downward-facing dog and warrior pose (classic yoga stretches) should clear that up. Calf and quad stretches helped counteract all the quick starts after fly balls. Shoulder stretches allowed me to simply move my arms after a day of believing I could still throw a runner out at the plate from right field. Twenty minutes or so of stretching and I wasn’t good as new, but I was able to function for the rest of the day.

Taking time to stretch is especially important as spring approaches, Daylight Savings Time knocks (it starts this Sunday, March 13), the days warm and your urge to emerge from winter hibernation kicks in. As I found Saturday, the stretches that helped me recover from playing softball with my daughter were different from the ones that help me prepare and wind down from a run or a ride. Knowing the right stretches for your activity of choice makes them all-the-more effective.

Here’s a look at activities you may be engaging in as the days warm, and Web sites where you can find appropriate stretches:

Basic stretching A jack-of-all-pursuits? The Mayo Clinic offers 10 basic stretches to cover a range of activities.

Cycling It’s not just the pedaling, it’s the time in the saddle and the toll it takes on your neck, your shoulders, your back. Deal with it here.

Gardening Laugh if you will at the prospect of warming up to weed — then spend the first 70-degree day of spring in the yard and see if you’re still in such a jolly mood the next morning. These 12 exercises from “Stretching,” by Bob and Jean Anderson should help your chances for working in the yard Saturday AND Sunday.

Golf Talk about a sport that can mess up an unprepared body quick! The Mayo Clinic offers a variety of stretches to prepare your body for the potentially torq-turous backlash of a 300-yard drive.

Paddling A good paddle stroke may be about technique over power, but it can still take its toll. Minimize the impact while maximizing your time on the water with these stretches from The Stretching Institute.

Softball This routine includes 20 stretches and takes 11 minutes, a reasonable investment in return for making it to work the next morning.

Swimming Even if you aren’t swimming competitively, it’s good to be limber before hitting the water.

Tennis The Stretching Institute offers three  exercises to “ improve your performance and do away with tennis injuries for good.

Walking Starting a walking program? This pamphlet of appropriate stretches from the American Heart Association should help.

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