Ask an expert: Shape up for fall sports season

Q: "As a high school athlete, I stay in pretty good shape during the school year, but I have to admit – I've had a pretty lazy summer. With school only a month away, what's the best way to get back in shape for the fall sports season?"

Answer provided by John Durkan, M.D., orthopedics, Providence Medical Group-Hood River Orthopedic Center

Summer has a tendency to get away from all of us – and why not? We work hard all year – summer is the season to relax, slow down and cut ourselves some slack. Besides, taking a week or two to rest between sport seasons is good for your body.

But a month or two? That might be overdoing it.

Jumping directly into an intensive fall sports program after a summer of no exercise at all increases your risk of tendinitis and other injuries. Your stamina and performance are bound to suffer, as well. With school starting in just a month, now is the time to kick your training program into high gear if you want to perform at your best and stay off the sidelines.

Here are some quick tips to get you started:

Schedule a sports physical: Whether or not your school requires it, a sports physical is a great way to check in with your body and find out what needs work. A doctor or physical therapist will assess your strength, endurance and agility, and will advise you about what areas you should focus on in your conditioning program.

Get some coaching: Connect with your coach or your school and ask if there is a training program you should be following this month for your specific sport.

Exercise every day: Don't try to go immediately from zero to 60 today, but do start working your way back into a daily exercise regimen. Start gently, and increase the intensity and duration of activity gradually until you're near your previous level of fitness. Set up a schedule to keep yourself committed and on track.

Cross train: Alternate days of biking, running, swimming and other activities to give all of your muscle groups a balanced workout.

Include sport-specific exercises: Depending on your sport, start kicking a soccer ball around, throwing a football, or passing a volleyball back and forth with a friend to get your sport-specific muscles back in practice.

Start a weight-training program: Weight training has been shown to enhance performance and reduce injuries. Work with your coach, your physical therapist or your school to start a weight-lifting program now, and keep it going throughout the season.

Stay hydrated: Especially in August, it's important to drink a lot of water when you're working out to avoid dehydration and heat illness. See the recommendations for hydration from the National Federation of State High School Associations, or NFHS.

Don't fall for energy drinks: Caffeinated energy drinks, supplements and other stimulants are the wrong place to look for energy, and they may increase dehydration. Don't fall for them. Get your energy from natural sources, such as apples, bananas, nuts, whole grains and lean protein. See the NFHS statement on energy drinks.

Listen to your body: Don't push yourself to extremes when you are feeling ill or feverish, and don't "push through" an injury. Take breaks when your body tells you to, and see your doctor or physical therapist if you experience severe or persistent pain. If you have a past injury that is still tender or prone to weakness, consult with a sports medicine specialist about bracing to support the injured area.

I understand the temptation to just kick back, relax and enjoy your last month of summer vacation, so I congratulate you for resisting that temptation and getting serious about getting back into shape. No matter what your sport, an overall conditioning program is essential to preventing injuries and will give you the satisfaction of knowing that you are performing at your peak. You've got just a month until school starts, so there's no time to waste, but I think you'll be pleasantly surprised at how much progress you'll make if you start today.

Dr. Durkan is part of the care team at Providence Orthopedic Institute, which provides expert care for sports injuries in multiple clinic locations throughout Oregon.

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