Each spring, Mainers flood the roads, trails, lakes and ocean. We all want to take advantage of the good weather, good light and good energy before we again have to settle in for winter.

In the same way we think of spring cleaning as a way to make a fresh start in our homes, this time of year is a great opportunity to make some improvements to our athletic routines. Adopt a few new habits now and you can be enjoying healthier workouts long after the summer weather fades. I’ll cover 10 things athletes can do to keep performing at their peak, no matter what sport they practice. The first five are in this week’s column, and in two weeks there will be five more.

1. BUY NEW SHOES

Take a look at your running shoes. Do you mow the lawn in them? Are they so tattered your dog won’t even chew them anymore?

Nothing makes me wince more than athletes training in worn-out shoes. Most running shoes are designed for 500 miles or about one year of use. After that, they’re not giving you much cushioning or support. A few workouts in old shoes with all the technological characteristics of a piece of cardboard puts runners at risk of developing plantar fasciitis, shin splints, stress fractures and a host of other problems.

Look at it this way: You could buy a lot of new shoes for the cost of a visit to the doctor. So get out there and be fitted for new athletic shoes. Even better, do what professional runners do. They keep at least two pairs of shoes at any time so that they’re never running in the same shoes two days in a row.

2. GET A BIKE FIT

I hear it all the time. Patients tell me they are buying a bike to get in shape, or they are trying triathlons. They find a great new bike. Months later, that same bike is collecting dust in the garage.

Are these patients lacking motivation? I don’t think so. Each spring I consult with many patients who have developed shoulder pain, back pain, muscle tightness or seat pain after spending some time in the saddle. Though they may conclude the sport isn’t for them, most actually just haven’t gotten the right bike fit.

Modern bikes have a dizzying array of geometries to match riding styles and body types. The top tube, stem, handlebar, seat angle, pitch and height, crank distance and pedal type are just some of the variables that may keep you from a blissful relationship with your bike. Just ask Lance Armstrong.

He recently discovered his seat height for the 2009 Tour de France was set 2 centimeters too high. That’s less than 1 inch, but Armstrong recently said that critical inch may have made the difference between third and first place for him.

So, get your bike fit evaluated by a certified bike fitter and you’ll be on the way to more comfortable, faster rides.

3. STRETCH MORE OFTEN

I mean it. This should come as no surprise to readers, but we all could benefit from more stretching. Make stretching a part of each workout. You’ll find you perform better, have more speed and explosiveness, and are more resistant to injury.

It is crucial to stretch after your workout, not before. If you stretch and then exercise, you could be in for trouble. Stretching cold, tight muscles makes them more prone to injury. So cut your workout short if you’re pressed for time, but make room for a stretch.

4. EAT MORE OFTEN TO PERFORM BETTER AND LOSE WEIGHT

Professional athletes are eating all the time. They have learned what nutritionists have been trying to convince all of us for years — our bodies are designed to metabolize five to six small meals each day rather than three big ones. The people who make a living keeping their bodies in peak fitness snack throughout the day and almost never have big meals.

Small meals give our bodies ready energy all the time, so less food is stored as fat. Our metabolisms are always running efficiently, so we make fuller use of the food we do eat. We don’t suffer from the large swings in blood sugar that wreak havoc on our energy level and make our pancreas work overtime.

Our bodies are engineered to run most efficiently on a constant stream of energy. So try to snack more often with foods low in sugar and fat. Look for sources of lean protein and a little carbohydrate, like nuts or lean dairy products. Eat more often and take a break from big feasts until Thanksgiving.

5. GET OUTSIDE

There are lots of benefits from being outside, but one you may not have heard about comes from a vitamin that most of us in Maine may not be getting in sufficient quantities.

We all need vitamin D to make strong bones, and it is an essential component of our immune systems. Vitamin D deficiency has been suggested as a cause of bone disease, cancer, arterial disease, depression, influenza and even chronic pain.

We can get some vitamin D from our food or from vitamins, but a very important source of vitamin D is the sun. As our skin is exposed to the sun, it produces the vitamin D we need to stay healthy.

 

Dr. James Glazer is a sports medicine physician for Coastal Orthopedics and Sports Medicine in Freeport. He serves as a consultant for the Portland Pirates and the U.S. ski team.