Kat Barry: Spring beckons a workout

Published 7:39 am Saturday, April 20, 2013

Kat Barry’s Hot Talk

The other day was a beautiful spring day, sunny and warm. Feeling as though I’ve been cooped up in my apartment for months, I was anxious to get out to the lakefront for my first urban hike of the season. Being a native of the Lake Michigan shores, I know it’s always colder near the lake. In fact, this was a running joke with my dad and I growing up. Whenever I asked him what the weather was going to be like he’d say the estimated temp then tack on, “colder near the lake!”
The winds off Lake Michigan can chill you to the bone, even on a warm spring day. Knowing this, I bundled up with long pants, a thermal shirt and hooded sweatshirt. When I got to Lakefront park where I started my walk, I noticed girls in shorts and tanks running up and down the path. Everywhere I looked, people were dressed as though summer was in full swing while I was bundled to the max.
About 30 minutes into my hike I was able to shed the layers down a bit, but watching the Chicago masses out of their cocoons for the first time all winter really got me thinking about how easy it is to injure yourself these first few times back on the outdoor fitness regimen. It’s really important not to overdo it because you’re so thrilled to finally be outside without a giant parka. Here are some fundamentals of easing yourself back into spring workouts sans injury.

•  Keep your muscles warm and dress in layers: An exercise DVD I love compares your muscles to a rubberband. The warmer they are, the more stretchy they’re going to be. If you go for a run wearing shorts in 50 degree weather, be sure you have some sweats to throw on right after. When your muscles get cold, they tighten up and you’ll be more likely to pull something. Keep some of that heat you’ve built up and protect those muscles you’re working. I’ve found it’s much better to dress on the warmer side and peel off layers than to be cold during a workout. You want to build off heat, work up a sweat and thus burn off toxins so layer-up and dress warmly.

• Warm up and cool down: As I mentioned before, cold muscles are stiff and tight. Ease yourself into your workout with a short warm up. If you’re running, walk for a couple minutes first. If you’re hiking, start on flat trails at a slow pace. The same goes for biking.
Almost more important than the warm up is a good cool down. My swimmer buds used to make fun of me for always being such a stickler for swimming a few easy laps at the end of a hard workout. It’s really crucial though because when you exert yourself, your muscles produce lactic acid, the buildup of which can cause soreness and fatigue. A short cooldown and proper stretching help to flush the lactic acid out, resulting in less soreness. Sounds like a win-win to me.

• Stretch: I am a huge advocate of this important step. I find the majority of people I talk to skip their post workout stretching then complain later of low back pain.
A common cause of low back pain is actually tight hamstrings. This can be avoided with some simple forward bending and deep breathing halfway through your workout and following it. We all have time constraints, and it can be easy to justify skipping a post-workout stretch if you’re in a hurry, but I urge you to cut your cardio by five minutes and spend that time stretching out those hard-working legs, hips and shoulders.
I promise your body will thank you.