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Spring training

Experts say now is the time to shape up for warm-weather sports

Experts say now is the time to shape up for warm-weather sports

February 27, 2006|by KRISTIN WILSON

kristinw@herald-mail.com

For Vicki and Bob Verdeyen, the golf season has already started.

Although they are weeks away from their first 18-hole round, the couple are hard at work now getting their bodies in shape for the game.

The Verdeyens are two of about a dozen people taking a golf-conditioning fitness class at the Hagerstown YMCA, offered for the first time this winter.

"The thing with golf is that you use muscles that you don't use any other time," says Vicki Verdeyen of Hagerstown. Jerry Bonfiglio, the golf-conditioning instructor, "found muscles I didn't even know I had," Verdeyen says with a laugh.

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As the winter season rounds the corner heading toward spring, now is the time to get in shape for warm-weather sports, say Tri-State athletes, coaches and trainers.

For almost any sport, the key to off-season training is cardiovascular fitness. Working on endurance and strengthening the heart and lungs will make the start of spring and summer sports such as golf, tennis, baseball and scuba diving easier, instructors say. Toning and conditioning also can help prevent injuries.

Here's a look at what is recommended to get into shape for different activities:

Golf

Bonfiglio, the YMCA's golf conditioning instructor and a personal trainer, is trying to get his students conditioned so that they will play better and be less prone to injury when they hit the links this spring.

"Really what you are doing is preparing the body so it can maintain stability, maintain balance and also provide strength and flexibility," he says. "Unfortunately I think golfers have maybe not looked at themselves as being athletes. But they are."

Bonfiglio is working with his students on building core strength. Core strength comes from the muscles associated with the abdominals, back, pelvis and hips. He teaches his students how to strengthen their back swing and follow through with dumbbells. Butt and upper leg muscles also are important in the game of golf, he says.

"The golf swing encompasses most of the body," Bonfiglio explains. "A lot of the power comes from the lower body."

Jeff Snowden of Hagerstown has a goal to get his golf game in good enough shape to play in a U.S. Open qualifying round. Through Bonfiglio's class, he feels that he's improving his flexibility and balance, which he's hoping will translate to better scores on the golf course.

Once golfers do start playing regularly, stretching and warm-up should be included with every round.

Stretching and warming up "puts (golfers) in the zone a lot quicker," Bonfiglio says. "If you go to the first tee not warmed up, it may take you three or four holes before you get warmed up. It gives you more elasticity. Physically it prepares your mind also."

Tennis

If you are an outdoor tennis player and you take the winter off, getting involved with a sport such as basketball can be an excellent way to stay in shape for the tennis courts, says Eric Dolaway, assistant tennis pro and instructor at The Tennis Club, outside Waynesboro, Pa.

"You need to maintain an off-the-court workout to prevent injuries," he says. Basketball is ideal because it requires similar bursts of speed and quick changes in direction found in tennis.

Contrary to what many people think, arm strength is not the most important factor in hitting tennis balls hard.

"Maintaining the strength in your core muscles is extremely important because that's where you get most of the power for your strokes," he says. Ending up with back and shoulder injuries can be a result of trying to hit the ball too hard before a proper warm-up.

"Any time you play tennis you should start off slow and get your muscles loosened up before you try to hit the ball hard," Dolaway says. "A relaxed arm is going to allow you to hit the ball harder than a tight arm."

Dolaway recommends working with ladders laid on the floor to increase agility and foot speed in the off-season. Working with a medicine ball - a weighted ball about the size of a basketball - and doing lunges will help keep core muscles toned.

Maintaining fitness and strength is important when it comes to performing on the courts, but to really improve a tennis game, players must get out and practice, Dolaway says.

Baseball and softball

In the off-season, most baseball and softball players are focusing on developing strength and power, says Mark Shives, the baseball coach for Clear Spring High School.

"In the off-season, strength is the most important thing," he says. "You try to go in stronger knowing that you are going to lose some of that strength and endurance" throughout the season.

His players work on strength training and overall body conditioning during the winter months, he says.

If you play with a company softball team, an adult league or a Little League team, starting nine innings without any conditioning or warm-up could lead to soreness and possible injuries.

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