Spring Training 101: Awaken your deeper athlete

Spring has sprung. The birds are chirping; the buds are popping. Sure, there is more skiing to be done, more snowshoes to be run, but in spring our thoughts naturally turn to the warm-weather sports. Golf? Tennis? Volleyball? Swimming? Cycling? Love?

If you don’t have a warm-weather sport, it’s not too late to find one. Running and walking are good choices, but don’t choose those just because you’re too busy or lazy to try something offbeat and unfamiliar.

That’s what spring is for: new growth! This is the perfect season to sign up for inline skating lessons or sailing or - if you really want to carve your arms into perfect mounds - rock climbing. If none of these activities get your juices going, your inner sap flowing, go directly to yoga class and keep breathing until you find one that does.

No matter what activity you choose, make another choice, too. This spring, come at your sport - old or new - with fresh eyes, a beginner’s mind and a new resolve to deepen your engagement, improve your skills and reduce your risk of injuries. Do what the pros do, all but the steroids. Go into Spring Training.

  • Make a plan: Spring Training gets your body and mind ready to take you to a higher, safer, more enjoyable level of play. It involves warming, stretching and strengthening all the major muscles in your body, front and back, side to side, and targeting for special attention the muscles and joints you use when you do your sport.

If you’re a golfer, for instance, get into an exercise program that increases the strength and flexibility in your shoulders, back and torso, so you can swing your instrument in the proper arc, without tension, without strain. Do that, and your golf scores will be lower, guaranteed. (I took an entire course in Golf Conditioning. And I golf. Trust me, this works.)
If your warm-weather sport is tennis, basketball or volleyball, your exercise plan should include speed drills for faster, more flexible feet. If you’re a swimmer, pool training - using weights, boards, flotation devices - is your path to much-improved performance.

  • Get some help: It’s smart to get help when deciding what your balanced and appropriate Spring Training plan should look like. After all, improving your strength and flexibility is just part of the picture. You also want to pay attention to what you eat, how much you sleep, how to relieve muscle tension before you play. If you can afford it, hire a sport-specific coach, teacher or trainer to help you. If you can’t afford it, split the fee with a pal, search libraries or go online, or spend some quality time at your local Barnes & Noble, taking notes.

Don’t forget to work on ways to improve your mental performance, too - relaxation exercises, breathing drills, visualization. If your trainer can’t help you bring your mind into play when you play, spring is a good time to find a more conscious coach who can.

  • Set a goal this spring for this summer: Decide on a goal that would be meaningful, but also realistic. If you’re new to running, doing a 5k by mid-summer is realistic. Passing Jelena Prokopcuka in the New York marathon? Maybe 2010. Why set goals? I am reminded of a quote by Unknown: “Aim at nothing, and you will hit it every time.” Goals keep us focused and motivated. If your goal of biking 25 miles in a day was attached to a bike trip in Tuscany this year, think how motivated you’d be to start hill-training now.
  • Keep a journal: To keep track of your new approach to training, start a Spring Fitness Journal. It’s not a lifetime commitment, just for the next eight to 12 weeks. April, May, June. What you keep track of - goals, workouts, feelings - isn’t nearly as important as the act of writing in your journal three to five times a week. Repetition creates focus, and focus leads to mindfulness. And when you’re mindful of stepping up your training instead of just ho-humming your way along, great things can happen.

Marilynn Preston is a fitness expert, personal trainer and speaker on healthy lifestyle issues. She welcomes reader questions, which can be sent to