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After a long Wisconsin winter, the first warm days of spring bring an enthusiastic return to outdoor activities. Everywhere you look you’ll see people mowing, mulching, planting, hiking, biking, and running. Unfortunately, not more than a few days earlier, we were all sitting, staring, typing, and gaming on our couches. That’s a big change. If you’re like most people, those first few days of functional exercise (otherwise known as lawn work) usually result in some very sore muscles or aching backs. Even those who exercise can experience soreness when changing activities. Lifting weights is not the same thing as hauling dirt. Running outside is a lot different than running on a treadmill.

The best way to avoid becoming a wounded weekend warrior is to prepare your body for what you plan to do. First, warm up. It may feel silly to warm up for gardening, but gardening is exercise just like any other physical activity. If you’ve been sitting at a desk all week, suddenly spending a few hours with your arms over your head trimming trees or bending over to pick up heavy objects and pull weeds will be a shock to your body. Take a few minutes to move your body using the motions you’ll be using that day. Start small and work your way up to a full range of motion. Most people stretch before physical activity but research shows that warming up is more effective at preventing injury than stretching.

Another way to prepare your body for outdoor activity is to ensure you have a strong core. Your core is more than just your abdominals. To avoid injury, you need to strengthen your abdominals, lower back hips, and rear. Fortunately, you can strengthen your entire core with one simple exercise – the plank. Don’t be afraid. This isn’t a contest! We see many people who, at the beginning, can only hold a plank for a few seconds. But if you keep your expectations realistic and work up to it, most people can learn to hold a plank for a minute or more. You can practice a plank in comfort of your home while you’re watching television. Plus it’s a quick workout. Even when you’re really strong, it will only take one minute out of your day. Being able to hold a plank will make it easier to lift things, improve your balance, and prevent injury. If you’re not sure how to do a plank, Real Simple published some easy instructions that show you how. Or if holding a plank on your hands is too difficult, try this version on your elbows as demonstrated by Daily Burn.

Our Physical Therapists are here for you if you need them, but we hope that you can incorporate these simple tips into your weekend preparations and avoid injury.