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Winter couch potatoes should ease into warm weather activities

By Scott Scanlon // refresh Editor

Winter – knock on wood – seems to have eased its grip on Western New York and our thoughts, finally, can turn toward spreading our wings outdoors.

Bring on the golf, biking and landscaping!

But first, a word of warning from several fitness experts: Those who didn’t stick with a strong exercise regimen during the winter will want to take it easy the next few weeks, or sand traps, flat tires and thick weeds might end up being the least of your summertime worries.

You also might be looking at a bum shoulder, torn knee cartilage or a really, really sore back.

“In general, if you’re hibernating, you can’t just jump right into something,” said Jared Byer, owner of Made 2 Move Fitness in Amherst. “The big thing is you start slow but also understand you have to take your time.

“You can’t be ready for swimsuit season in a week.”

He’s talking to you weekend warrior, who thought one night a week playing pickup basketball – and having a couple of beers afterward – was going to get you into game shape for the great outdoor season.

“In our neighborhood, you don’t see anyone hardly at all in the winter,” said Grand Island resident Tony Surace, director of sports medicine at Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center. “As soon as everybody gets outside and starts doing stuff, you’ve got to be careful.

“It’s that first couple weeks where maybe your body’s not ready for it, your body’s not prepared because you haven’t been doing anything over the winter. You’ll see guys my age, in their 40s, who are limping around saying they were playing catch with their son, running around, and they felt something pop.”

So it’s time to get moving, to vow this summer that you will have more fun, and be more productive, than the orthopedic surgeons, physical therapists and chiropractors of the world.

Here’s a plan.

Get a health assessment. See your primary care doc, physical therapist or athletic trainer to help you gear up for the outdoors. New York Sports Center and Made 2 Move Fitness are among the region’s fitness centers that offer free assessments that measure how your body is composed and moves.

Learn to move the right way. “We have people who come in here and have been working out for years and still can’t do exercises with the correct form,” said Fred Duncan, who helps his family run New York Sports Center at Transit and Roll roads in Clarence. “If you keep doing the same thing over and over, you’re just going to build upon what’s already a problem.” If your abdominal and glute muscles are weak and you move badly, your back takes a big hit.

Stretching, with movement, is key. “Dynamic stretching,” like yoga and Pilates, is better than the static stretching many of us learned in high school. Take time to stretch, say 15 minutes before those early runs of the season. “You’ll be warmed up when you have a little bit of sweat showing on your forehead,” Surace said.

Pace yourself. “I tell people to start up nice and easy, with moderation,” Surace said. Exercise is progressive.

Byer recommends starting running seasons with “wogs.” Walk for a short period, then jog for a short period. Repeat. You end up going farther this way, stretching your muscles better and doing more to prevent injury.

Do functional exercises. Move while exercising in similar ways that you plan to move in your summer life. “It’s practical fitness,” Byer said. “Everyone’s body works the same,” he added, although muscle tissue becomes less elastic as you age, so you become more susceptible to strains and pulls “because the body is not as ready for those motions.”

Eat right. Most carbs should come from fruits and vegetables, Byer said. Eat protein and healthy fats (nuts, seeds, unsaturated oils, nut butters). “The main thing to focus on is being consistent,” he said. “You shouldn’t go on these short-term diets because they don’t really last.”

Duncan’s stepfather, Buddy Morris, a former college and pro football strength coach, said now is not only the time to get ready for outdoor activities, but to look at the long-term benefits of exercise and wellness.

“This is not a sometime thing,” Morris said. “This is a commitment.”