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I’m opening my news and musings with an overview of exercise principles to help you reach your best and keep you in your game. Subsequent posts will expand on most of these topics.

Hands down, the best acute injury prevention bang for your buck is a proper warmup; the older you get, the longer your warmup needs to be. My personal rule of thumb is that for every birthday that ends with a zero, you have to add another 5 minutes to your warmup.

What should your warmup look like?

First, any rehab or “prehab” if it’s appropriate for you. Some people may need to lengthen, “awaken” or strengthen certain muscles — maybe you have postural or other issues to address (tight hips, rounded shoulders, etc). Medical diagnosis may be required; when choosing a physiotherapist or other health care practitioner, try to get personal recommendations!

Myofascial release, which is basically the long way to say “self-massage” using a variety of tools, is common for many recreational or competitive athletes.

You’re into the heart of your warmup with a range of motion (shorthand: ROM) and temperature warmup, or “dynamic stretching.” Ideally you’ll get in your ROM first so your muscles get warm and your joints get lubricated with synovial fluid. Bring up the intensity gradually, especially before any impact potential. If you’re in a class setting and you’re new to exercise, have a history of injury, or are older than many of the class participants, consider arriving early to warm up on your own.

Once you’re into your conditioning sessions, there are some key muscle groups to keep on throughout: your “core,” glutes, and lats. Unless there’s a valid reason otherwise, you’ll want to maintain a neutral spine throughout (i.e. not rounding forward through spine), especially when there are weights or resistance involved. A strong core is a huge part of keeping your spine healthy.

What about afterwards?

Cooldowns are important because while blood is pumped away from your heart quite vigorously during exercise, the vessels that return blood to your heart work more passively. It’s important to use muscular contractions to help “milk” blood back and prevent passing out or cardiac incidents. If you’re overweight or have heart issues, a particularly extended and gradual heart rate cooldown is critical.

The newest research is that cooldowns don’t particularly help with soreness the next day, though. A classic slower stretch within three hours of activity is probably your best time investment for that. If your muscles cool down before you can stretch them, perhaps take a hot shower or bath first to make sure your muscles are warm before being stretched. Never stretch a cold muscle!

NOTE: This is not a substitute for medical advice.