Spring has finally sprung in Wisconsin, and that means that the time is finally here to rise from our collective hibernation and return to our favorite outdoor activities! Whether this means bringing the kids to the tennis courts, breaking out the clubs for a family round of golf, or just some soccer in the backyard, there is no better time to get outside and get our bodies moving again.


Of course, after a long winter of being cooped up in the house, it is common for Wisconsinites of all ages to experience some muscle stiffness and soreness during the first few times being active in the spring. While we cannot prevent our muscles from being a little sore the day or two after we get back into physical activity, there is plenty to be done to avoid any injuries, even serious ones. So, prior to getting out in the yard, course, field, or courts, be sure to rally the family together for a few of these exercises and stretches to reduce the risk of injury!


1. Shoulder Blade Squeezes and Bear Hugs

While standing or sitting, squeeze your shoulder blades together by bringing your bent elbows back, like you are performing a rowing motion. Hold this for 5 seconds, and then slowly move into giving yourself a big hug. Your right hand should be on your left shoulder blade and vice versa. Hold this for 5 seconds as well. For a bonus stretch, twist from side-to-side when giving yourself a bear hug. Repeat this entire exercise 5 times!


2. Standing Twists

While standing, hold up your arms straight at about shoulder level. Now, simply rotate (slowly) in a circle, bringing one arm in front of you at a time, while the other moves behind you. You should feel like you are rotating around your spine. Perform this 10 times to each side!


3. Squats and Lunges 

Everybody knows and loves these two exercises. Not only are they great for strengthening, but they work well as a warm-up too! When squatting, be sure to move slowly and squat in a way that looks like you are reaching to sit in a chair. When rising from the squat, think about pushing through your heels and really being sure to squeeze your glutes! These same rules apply when lunging forward. As a warm-up, performing only about 10 lunges or squats is plenty.


4. Leg Stretches 

Stretching is important across the entire body, but it is absolutely essential in the muscles of your legs, especially as these are the ones that will be used the most in many springtime activities. First, we will stretch the hamstrings, or the muscles on the backside of your thighs. To do so, you can sit on the ground with your legs in a “V” and reach to touch your toes on each side. If this is too easy, lie on your back and pull one leg up at a time, being sure to keep your knee straight. Next, we can stretch the quads, or your thigh muscles. This is best performed in standing by grabbing your foot and pulling it up behind you so that your heel comes to your bottom. Finally, let’s stretch the calf muscles. Find a step and place your toes on it while letting your heels drop down below. You should feel this one in the back part of your lower legs. Each stretch should be held for 20-30 seconds and repeated 2-3 times!


With consistent warm-ups and stretching, you can drastically reduce the risk of an injury in your family. However, there is no way to totally avoid them, and injuries almost certainly will happen at some point! What should you do then? That can be a complicated answer and depends on the type and severity of the injury.


For minor aches and pains, such as sore muscles a day or two after exercise, the best treatment is stretching, such as the ones discussed above! For stretches of other body parts, a simple Google search should do the trick. Ice can also be a friend to achy areas and should be applied with a towel covering the skin and for 15-30 minutes for the best effects (always be sure to monitor the skin for any bad reactions to the cold).


However, for a more serious injury, such as one that leads to pain with movement or stretching or is followed up with discoloration and/or swelling, more help may be necessary. First, try icing like was described above, along with rest and elevation. If things do not seem to improve after a day or two, it may be time to look at getting medical care.


In Wisconsin, you are able to see a physical therapist without a referral from your doctor, so this is an excellent way to have an injury assessed by trained movement experts! Research also shows that seeing a physical therapist before a physician is great way to save money. During an evaluation with a physical therapist, they will perform tests to rule different injuries in or out. If the injury requires a deeper look, such as an x-ray or other imaging, your physical therapist will be able to determine this and refer you to the appropriate provider!



Web Resources and Citations




Woods, AK & Bishop, Phil & Jones, Eric. (2007). Warm-Up and Stretching in the Prevention of Muscular Injury. Sports Medicine (Auckland, N.Z.). 37. 1089-99.


Pendergast J, Kliethermes A, Freburger J, Duffy, P. A Comparison of Health Care Use for Physician-Referred and Self-Referred Episodes of Outpatient Physical Therapy. Health Services Research, 2011;



By: Sam Oehler, PT, DPT