The weather is finally warming up and you’re ready to hit the links. No more overtime in the office for you this spring, you’ve decided that by summertime you’re going to improve your game by at least 10 strokes. Tiger Woods: Watch out!

Before you grab your golf bag and head over to the driving range for a marathon of “spinal twister,” consider a little physical preparation, or spring-training, beforehand.

Golfers aren’t the only folks who are passionately addicted to their sport, and enthusiastically jumping in too quickly without necessary preparation. Baseball players, volleyball teams, and cycling participants are all eager to shake their hibernation skins, too. There is just something about that perfect temperature and bright sunshine that brings out the athlete in all of us. After all, what could be more invigorating than a brisk jog on a gorgeous Saturday morning or a game of tennis with a friend?

Whatever your recreational pick, it’s always best to give your body a few weeks of preparation to enhance performance, and more importantly, prevent injury. It is also wise to consult your physician before any sport or exercise program, especially if taking medication.

Before you start on your personal spring training program, keep in mind some of the details about your sport. Ask yourself these questions. Your answers will assist you in customizing your spring training routine.

  1. Does your sport require sustained energy over long periods of time, such as running and swimming?

If you answered yes, aerobic training (low to moderate intensity) is a necessity. Walking, jogging, swimming or biking all work your body aerobically. Knowing your target heart rate will have you training safely. Here’s a simple formula that you can use to find out where your zone is:

220 minus your age = ____________ (MHR: Maximum Heart Rate)

MHR x 65%= ____________ (low number)

MHR x 85%= ____________ (high number)

Exercise 10-15 minutes, 3 times per week with your heart rate between the low and high numbers found above. As you get more comfortable, increase your exercise duration to 30-50 minutes.

To find your heart rate, use the second finger over from the thumb and feel along the thumb side of the wrist for a pulse. Count the beats for 6 seconds and add a zero to get your final number. The experts at Mitch’s Gym recommend wearing a heart rate monitor while exercising to better monitor your heart rate. (see the story on monitors on page 6).

  1. Does your sport or exercise require short bursts of “all out effort” with minimal recovery time between them, such as tennis, basketball or soccer?

If yes, train your body to move easily in and out of anaerobic cycles (high intensity intervals). Train aerobically (low intensity), but alternate your workout time with shot (1-3 minutes) of all out effort followed by aerobic recovery. An example would be to walk around the block 3 times, followed by running the block once, then walking around the block 3 times. This work out should last at a minimum 20-30 minutes.

  1. Does your sport require you to move through a range of motion that you would not normally execute during everyday life off-season?

If you can not perform the range of motion necessary for your sport with relative ease, than you need to become more flexible to play without the risk of injury. To improve flexibility, you must first warm up by taking a 5-minute walk or any other gentle exercise, that will raise your body’s temperature, allowing muscles to move more freely. Next perform you stretches in a slow, easy manner for 5 minutes. Bouncing into a stretch is never a good idea, but holding the position for 20-30 seconds will go a long way to make the muscle relax and move the way you want it to. Stretching may create a slight pulling sensation, but should NEVER hurt.

  1. Does your prefer sport require strength and power to excel? Do you perform movements that favor one or more particular parts of the body?

Strength training can help you increase club head for gold and/or racquet speed for tennis or racquetball, since it enhances the energy system responsible for quick, explosive movements. Strength training also improves the muscles’ endurance when performed in sets of high repetitions. This type of training is ideally performed with weights, but here are a few home strength training suggestions to try at home.

Home Strength Training Tips

  • Try performing pushups for 3-4 sets, three times per week. For fine-tuning, vary the width of your hand placement from directly under the shoulders for more emphasis on the chest, to slightly closer for added triceps performance.
  • For increased forearm strength try holding any object that is 3-5 lbs. (such as a small dumbbell, or even a metal wrench will work) and flex your wrist in two positions, palm up and palm down. Three sets of 10-12 each should do the trick.
  • A strong abdominal wall and back will go a long way in providing the stability necessary to add power to your swing and lightness to your stride. One exercise that targets both is the hover. Begin by lying flat on your stomach, and then place your elbows directly under your shoulders and palms down on the floor. Tuck your toes under; take a deep breath, then pushup into an elevated position. Your body should be straight as a board, with your face parallel to the floor and the back, buttocks and abdominals contracted. Focus on distributing the weight through out the center of your body, and try not to lean into your elbows. Hold 10-30 seconds and relax. Repeat 2-3 times.

While meeting with a personal trainer is the ideal way to kick your spring training efforts into high gear, the suggestions laid out above are some realistic things that you can do right in your own home to get into competitive shape. Follow these tips, and you will find that you may be using a whole lost less Ben Gay this year!