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Feature Articles: Exercise


Time for spring training

Contributions from Linda Rellergert, former Nutrition Specialist, and Janet Hackert, Nutrition and Health Education Specialist, Harrison County, University of Missouri Extension


Just as baseball players need spring training to get in shape for the upcoming baseball season, this is a great time to start preparing our bodies for warm weather activities like gardening and yard work. Fitting in physical activity at home that strengthens muscles and/or builds cardiovascular health may be more convenient or productive than joining a team or going to a gym to work out. But, just as you would do at the gym, don’t forget to practice or stretch first when preparing to do physical, strenuous work at home.


A little time each day doing a few stretching and strengthening exercises will help prepare muscles that have been resting over the winter. The payoff will be reduced risk of injury and fewer sore muscles.


Before starting, be sure to warm up muscles by doing a little bit of easy walking and arm pumping first. Pain, especially joint pain, should not be part of the spring training experience. If experiencing pain, reduce the stretch to a more comfortable level or reduce the intensity of strengthening exercises. Mild discomfort or a mild pulling sensation during stretches is normal.


When stretching, remember to do so safely. Dr. Stephen Ball, state nutrition and fitness specialist with University of Missouri Extension, recommends taking the following precautions:


  • Don’t bounce when stretching. Static stretching, which is stretching and holding the muscle in that position, is safer than stretching a muscle that is in motion.
  • Stretch only to the point of tension, then hold for 10-30 seconds. “No pain, no gain” is a myth.
  • Try not to overstretch weak muscles. Flexibility is just one component of training and should be practiced along with strength training and aerobic activity.
  • Use good technique. Virginia Cooperative Extension has a guide called Gardening and Your Health: Protecting Your Knees and Back, which describes and illustrates good form.


Here are some sample stretches to try:


  • Calf Stretch
    Stretches lower leg muscles in two ways: with knee straight and knee bent. While standing, place your hands on a wall, with arms outstretched, elbows straight. Keeping your left knee slightly bent, toes of right foot slightly turned inward, move your right foot back one or two feet, with your right heel and foot flat on the floor. You should feel a stretch in your right calf muscle, but you shouldn’t feel uncomfortable. If you don’t feel a stretch, move your right foot farther back until you do. Keep your right knee straight and hold that position for 10 to 30 seconds. Continuing to keep your right heel and foot on the floor, bend your right knee and hold for another 10 to 30 seconds. Repeat with opposite leg. Repeat 3 to 5 times on each side.
  • Hamstring Stretch
    Stretches muscles in the back of the thigh. Stand behind a chair, with your legs straight. Hold the back of the chair with both hands. Bend forward from your hips (not your waist), keeping your entire back and shoulders straight the whole time, until your upper body is parallel to the floor. Don't “hump” any part of your back or shoulders at any time. Hold position for 10 to 30 seconds. You should feel a stretch in the backs of your thighs. Repeat 3 to 5 times.
  • Quadriceps Stretch
    Stretches muscles in front of thighs. Lie on your left side, on the floor. Your hips should be lined up so that the right one is directly above the left one. Rest your head on a pillow or your left hand. Bend your right knee, reach back with your right hand, and hold onto your right heel. If you can’t reach your heel with your hand, loop a belt over your right foot. Pull slightly (with your hand or with the belt) until the front of your right thigh feels stretched. Hold the position for 10 to 30 seconds. Reverse position and repeat with other leg. Repeat 3 to 5 times on each side. If the back of your thigh cramps during this exercise, stretch your leg and try again, more slowly.


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Last update: Monday, March 20, 2017