Your 30s are a tough decade -- you’ve finally achieved a level of career success you feel good about (maybe?), but it’s come at a cost. Long hours at the office and spare minutes spent with family have made you tired, friendless, and, well, a little more portly than you used to be. In an effort to reintroduce yourself to this thing called “fun” (you’re so far removed from its reality that finger quotes are actually necessary), you decide to sign up for a softball league.
Great idea, right? You’ll get to meet new people, get out of the house on weeknights, and add a workout to your regular routine. But if you haven’t picked up a bat or run a base since high school, you might’ve just signed up for a world of hurt.
Recreational sports are, in fact, a great way for you to improve and maintain fitness in your 30s, but your body isn’t what it used to be. Use these tips to ease your way into the game while keeping yourself from falling apart.
Never stop playing
OK, I realize this ship might have already sailed, but the absolute best way to keep playing sports into your 30s is to never. Stop. Playing. Channel the likes of Tom Brady, Tim Duncan, hell, even Matt Hasselbeck, and continue playing the sport you love.
If, however, you haven’t found a time machine to take you back to 2005 so you can stay on top of your game, take the following steps.
Ease into it
You are not 18. You can’t just grab a soccer ball and take off at a sprint without a second thought. Before you sign up for a sports league, try your hand at what I like call “remedial sports.” Grab a basketball and shoot around for 20 minutes during your lunch break, or spend a few nights a week kicking a soccer ball around your backyard. These solo forays into sport give you permission to move slower, jump lower, and generally perform athletic movements at a more comfortable intensity as you acclimate your body to the game.
After a few weeks of individual or small group action, graduate yourself to half-court or short-field pick-up games. After another month, if you’re feeling pretty good, call yourself up to the majors… or at least, an actual league with uniforms and trophies and stuff.
Don’t underestimate the warmup
Just as you should ease into recreational sports as a whole, you need to ease into every single game you play. Even professional athletes take the time to warm up before a game, so how arrogant is it to think that you, an out-of-shape 30-something, can walk onto a field and start playing without getting the kinks out?
The answer, if you didn’t figure it out, is “very arrogant,” and yet, I see it all the time. Usually with poor results.
Show up five to 10 minutes before your practice or game and put yourself through a few simple drills. Jogging, hopping, lunging, skipping and lateral slides are all great calisthenic options to get blood flowing to your working muscles, preparing them for more strenuous activity.
Take recovery seriously
If you thought the aches and pains of aging were bad before, they’re certainly not going to get any better after you start putting your body through the wringer. Expect soreness. And even more than expecting soreness, respect your body enough to manage that soreness.
Stretch after you exercise, invest in a foam roller to massage away your tightness, and give yourself a day or two after a tough game to recuperate. Now, don’t take that to mean you should spend all day on the couch. Active recovery -- walking, swimming, or moderate-intensity cycling -- can aid in recovery and help prepare you for your next big event.
I’m going to reference pro athletes again because, really, rec sports players are like the peewee version of professionals. While the talent is noticeably different, the game and prep work are essentially the same.
Pro athletes spend a couple hours a week competing when in season. They spend another eight to 12 hours a week practicing their sport and another five to 10 hours cross-training (if not more). That means strength training, speed work, agility, power, and flexibility training.
So it makes sense that the recreation player should aim for a peewee version of a pro’s program. If you’re spending an hour a week competing and one to two hours practicing, you should try adding another one to two hours per week of cross-training. It doesn’t need to be anything crazy -- maybe you take a yoga class or you add in a few 30-minute circuit workouts. The point is to enhance your sport performance and stay injury-free by improving your overall fitness.