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 Training & Fitness Programs: Enjoying The Spring Sports Season  
Although all athletic activities carry some risk of injury, spring sports seem to be particularly problematic with respect to injury potential. This is partly due to the abrupt action components of the most popular spring sports, and partly due to insufficient levels of physical conditioning.

Abrupt Action Components
The three most popular spring sports are golf, softball and tennis, all of which require abrupt action components rather than more consistent playing effort. For example, almost all of the time spent completing 18 holes of golf is relatively low on the physical exertion scale. However, the periodic golf drives involve an explosive swinging action that places considerable stress on the musculoskeletal system.

Softball is similar in the swinging aspect, but offers a complicating factor with an all-out sprint to first base following a hit. This cold-to-hot running action has been responsible for numerous hamstring pulls and other muscle-tendon injuries.

Other than the pitcher and catcher, playing the field is about the same as batting from an activity perspective. You may spend several minutes standing still, then suddenly you move as quickly as possible to the ball and throw it as hard as possible to the appropriate base player. The abruptness of these high-effort movements increases the risk of injury.

Tennis is a more active sport, with a large percentage of movement time. However, the game of tennis is characterized by stop-and-go activity, with abrupt forward, backward, and lateral movements requiring high acceleration and deceleration forces. These often repeated actions can overstress the muscles, tendons and ligaments of the lower body, and the frequent swinging and serving movements can cause considerable trauma to upper body joint structures such as the shoulders, elbows and wrists.

Understanding that these spring sports require abrupt muscle actions should underscore the importance of keeping warm, staying loose, and stretching before every golf drive or batting experience. Be sure to dress warmly, preferably in layers that can be easily removed at appropriate times. It is also advisable to keep moving, such as walking instead of using golf carts, and shifting your weight from foot to foot when playing the field in softball. Prior to driving or batting, spend at least one minute stretching the trunk and shoulders and taking progressively harder practice swings. Softball players should also warm-up and stretch their leg muscles in anticipation of running to first base or farther.

Physical Conditioning Components
One of the risk-factors associated with spring sports is the fact that they follow the typically less active winter season. Although some fitness enthusiasts do exercise throughout the winter months, the conditioning activity may not be appropriate for their spring sport selection. For example, treadmill walking/jogging and stationary cycling are excellent exercises for conditioning the cardiovascular system, but they have little application to swinging a club or bat, sprinting bases, or accelerating and decelerating abruptly on a tennis court. While cardiovascular conditioning is strongly encouraged from a health perspective, an effective spring sport preparation program should emphasize strengthening and stretching exercises for an injury resistant musculoskeletal system.

Recommended Strength Training Program
Although it is tempting to target specific muscles, an overall muscle strengthening approach is far more advisable. Comprehensive muscle conditioning reduces the risk of overuse and imbalance injuries, and enhances performance potential more than doing a few selected exercises. For example, our golf conditioning program includes strength exercises for the front thigh, rear thigh, inner thigh, outer thigh, low back, abdominals, chest, upper back, shoulders, front arm, rear arm, forearms and neck. Over the past three years, our golfers significantly increased their driving power, and experienced no injuries during the golf season following their strength training program.

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 About The Author
Wayne Westcott PhDWayne L. Westcott, Ph.D., is fitness research director at the South Shore YMCA in Quincy, MA. He is strength training consultant for numerous national organizations, such as the American Council on Exercise, the......more
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