Making the Most of the Spring Shoulder Season

Back in the early ’70s, running legend Bill Rogers dropped out of his first Boston Marathon at mile 20, then took three months off on the beaches of California. After sunshine, surf, and rest, he bounced back to win the Bay State Marathon that October. The lesson served him years into his record-breaking career.

When people talk about shoulder season, it’s with the implied message of the economic slog of a ski town or the boredom of a mountain biker. We can’t ski or fat bike, but the trails aren’t ready for running or riding. The sled hill is a minefield of tailbone-breaking stones. What are we to do? What if we start to view shoulder season as a few weeks of physical sabbatical from the norm? What if we rested?

If I were to change the names of months of the calendar, I would make March and September “Rehab,” and April and October “Recovery.” Insert Vernal and Autumnal where appropriate. And shove those months in the direction that most matches your peak ski season, or whatever sport you’re using to place unbelievable torque demands on your joints.

I know this crowd considers the word rehab outright blasphemy, but hear me out. Instead of pining for more cardio, we could get intentional about taking care of our bodies so they are ready for the next rush of seasonal bludgeoning. We could nurture and nourish our joints, focus on some new muscle groups, or, dare I say, go to a yoga class in a kind of ritualistic show of gratitude before making new demands of our battered tissues.

We often only rest when we are injured, which is not necessarily the same thing. During times of injury, our body is busy with the invisible work of pain mitigation (blazing through serotonin), inflammation management, and repair. Shoulder season is an optimal time to get intentional about rest and active recovery while preparing for your summer sports of choice.

Here’s a list of self care and tune-ups to keep you from the between-season slump and have you ready for your spring and summer adventures.

Focus on Good Nutrition

Right about now, all those spring shoots from the greenhouses become available! Get those leafy greens in, pound the strawberries, and enjoy mango season. If you eat dead animals, cold water fish (salmon, mackerel, herring, halibut) is loaded with Omega 3s and fatty acids essential to tissue health, managing oxidative stress, and recovering from an apres-ski booze habit. Take a break from the sauce or reduce it significantly so your body can focus on repairing tired joints rather than recovering from Wednesday night cocktails. Increase your protein and decrease your simple starches if you don’t need them to support long cardio activities. Add some collagen to your world (bone broth, collagen powders) to support healthy connective tissue.

Move in a Different Direction

Many of us have a set of sports that move our bodies in the same direction: forward. Biking, skiing, running. Shoulder season is a great time to pause and move our bodies in different ways than they are used to. This helps in proprioception, joint mobility, and injury prevention. Hop in to a yoga class from time to time. (If you’re taking rest seriously, Yin is highly recommended.) Take a dance class, try martial arts, join the gym, and design workouts that focus on neglected areas and range of motion.

Prepare to Move in the Usual Direction

Before the trails or rivers are really ready, we can emulate some of those movements in the gym or at home. Hiking this year? Trail running? Box step-ups and weighted lunges are your friend. Paddling? Get on the rower or make friends with a set of dumbbells to prepare your shoulders. Climbing? Fast for a month and walk on your hands so your legs atrophy. Just kidding. Hit the rock gym and start getting flexible. Cycling? All the box steps and maybe a balance beam. The point is, shoulder season is not a gap in our training; rather, it’s the prime season for us to get intentional about caring for these bodies so they can keep performing up to our wild expectations for decades to come. So grab a foam roller and get busy.

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