Barry Saunders

It’s March, and some men overdo it with exercise. That’s madness – Saunders

Don’t make any sudden moves, pal, and nobody gets hurt.

Was that what the guy who robbed me on a Washington, D.C. street when I was a kid said?

Nah: He just clubbed me with the gigantic cast he wore on his arm and took my last 75 cents. (You know what? I’ll bet his arm wasn’t even broken.)

The person warning me last week against making any sudden moves was me, and the admonition was borne of self-preservation. As men are wont to do when we reach a certain age, I forgot to act my age and moved too quickly one time too many. I hurt myself really badly.

What’s the one thing we all do in the shower?

That’s right – bend over and pick up the soap or the shampoo, right?

It’s a reflexive action, one most people don’t even have to think about.

You’d better think about it, unless you want – for the third time in a year – to throw out your back and find yourself stooped over, cursing your forgetfulness.

Oh, maybe that was just me.

After the third time, I realized why old people move so slowly. They first have to think about what they want to do (“Hmm, I want to shampoo my hair”) and what movement is required to do that (“I need to reach down and pick up yon bottle of shampoo”). They have to ask whether the reward is worth the risk. (“Forget it. I shampooed last month.”)

If you choose to proceed, though, you then need to relay that message from your brain to your body, so that it won’t rebel against any sudden moves. “OK, back. I’m fixing to reach over and pick up that bottle. You cool with that?”

I’m guessing that all over America each March, millions of middle-age men – after watching those college basketball players running and leaping gracefully without ever seeming to tire – are lacing up their sneakers and beseeching their bodies to do things they’re no longer equipped to do. As a buddy said while watching an N.C. Central University player make an impossible move during the opening round of the NCAA Tournament a couple of weeks ago, “I used to could do that.”

That is the unofficial motto of every washed-up jock who ever sidled up to a bar or stretched semi-comatose on a couch in front of a massive platter of nachos while watching March Madness. Without thinking, I – already barely ambulatory from tennis elbow, a shower-sprained back and a hoops-acquired swollen knee – replied, “Me, too.”

I asked Dr. Tracy Ray of Duke University if his colleagues in sports medicine and he saw an increase this time of year in injuries to middle-age men who get worked up during the basketball tournament. I prayed he’d say “yes” so I wouldn’t feel like a schnook all by myself.

“I don’t see anything that would verify that theory,” said Ray, an associate professor in the departments of Community and Family Medicine and Orthopaedic Surgery and the director of primary care sports medicine for Duke Sports Medicine. “We do see a lot of injuries in people who are not continuously working out and they go out and overdo it. ... They haven’t played basketball in awhile, and their tissues aren’t really used to that. They’ll snap a tendon or dislocate a shoulder.”

Perhaps he’s right and it’s just a coincidence that the basketball tournament occurs at the same time that the weather begins to change and we start shedding layers of clothing and layers of fat. Getting fit sounds good in theory, Ray said, but trying to do so comes with a warning.

“Anytime someone who is middle-age or older decides to take up a new routine with regards to their fitness – lifting at the gym, going out for a run, taking up a new sport – if you do what you did in high school, you’re probably going to get in trouble,” he said. “Your body has to gradually get used to a different level of stress or it will break down.”

The only good news I gleaned for washed-up jocks who won’t admit they’re washed up is that we fellas are not the only ones prone to overdoing it. Yes, women overdo it, too.

“I don’t know many middle-age females who are injuring themselves playing basketball in the gym at lunchtime,” Ray said. “But I have a lot of injuries with middle-age women who are maybe raising money for a good cause, and they’ll go out and run a 10k or a half-marathon. ... They’ll go too quick too fast and wind up with some musculoskeletal complaint.”

Dang. That means that even when women overdo it, they’re overdoing it for the good of someone else.

Men? We’re usually hoping that if we drop that same 20 pounds we’ve been losing for 20 years and hit five or six jump shots in a row, the college coach who cut us will hear about our feat and call to ask if we have any eligibility left – or at least apologize.

Let me guess: just me again, right?

Barry Saunders: 919-836-2811, @BarrySaunders9