Exercising is a smart way to stay in shape and remain active. To help you stay strong and healthy, consider incorporating certain techniques and methods before, during, and after your exercise routine. Stretching is a great way to prepare muscles for exercise, and it can also help your muscles recover. It’s helpful to take it easy sometimes while exercising and pace yourself to avoid injury.

Stretch it Out
One way you can help prevent injury while exercising is to stretch before you begin your workout. The benefits of stretching are countless. Stretching can increase your flow of oxygen, help extend the length of your workout, and alleviate tight muscles. But one of the most important benefits is that it can prevent injury. If your muscles are lacking oxygen, they won’t be able to properly elongate. But if you stretch, your brain will be reminded of the correct length your muscles are supposed to be when you exercise. This can improve coordination, and there’s less of a chance that your muscles will rip or tear.

One way to stretch your body is to use a foam roller. A foam roller is a device used for exercise that can help soothe tight muscles in the body, and can also help speed up muscle recovery. You can use a foam roller to stretch pretty much any part of your body, including your upper or lower back, hamstrings, arms, and even your glutes.

Certified Personal Trainer, Pavel Manchik, says to use the foam roller as a “tool to locate speed bumps on your body,” meaning, areas of interest you want to focus on, such as your adductor muscles or your hamstrings. He suggests using caution and making sure you have three points of contact on the ground when you are foam rolling; either two feet and a hand, or two hands and a foot. And never put the foam roller on your joints or bones, just on the muscles, unless you are under supervision of a medical professional.

When working through an injury, do not use the foam roller directly on the injured muscle. Instead, place the foam roller a minimum of three inches away from the injured area.

Pace Yourself
While regular exercise can provide you with many positive benefits, we want to be able to continue to work out well into our later years. And to do that, we need to keep our bodies fit and healthy and avoid injury whenever possible.

Pacing yourself while working out can help you stave off injuries. Pavel says that your pace is dependent on your exercise goal. For example, if you are trying to build muscle through weight lifting, you should be doing slower reps with a longer amount of rest in between sets. If you are looking to burn fat or increase your heart rate, speed up your reps, and rest less between sets.

Pavel offers a great tip for figuring out how to pace yourself: If you can speak while you are exercising and can carry on a light conversation with a workout buddy without getting out of breath, then you are most likely working out at a healthy pace. If you cannot hold a conversation, or quickly become out of breath if you do speak, then you should slow your pace to avoid fatigue and injury.

But when it comes to figuring out how to pace yourself, Pavel says, “The best tool you can use is your own body. Nobody knows your body better than you.”

Recover
Weight training can cause small tears in the fibers of your muscles. The body needs “recover” time between workouts to make changes and repair muscle fibers. Stretching again after you exercise can help your muscles recover, especially if you had an intense workout. In addition to stretching, drinking water, eating protein, and taking a cold bath or shower are all beneficial ways to help your body recover.

Drinking water after you work out can help with recovery, but be sure to stay hydrated during your exercise routine as well. If you exercise while you’re dehydrated, you could damage your muscles and not give your body a chance to fully recover.

Protein is another great way to help with recovery. Consuming a small amount of protein before exercise can help jump-start your muscles into recovery mode before you even begin your workout. After exercise, a protein shake or protein-filled meal can also help with recovery by making sure that your body stays fueled through the rest of the day.

And Remember…
Consult your physician before making drastic changes to your diet or starting an exercise program. If you’re new to more intense exercise, it can take several days before your body will be ready to train the same muscle again. In contrast, those who are well trained can recover to full strength levels faster. Remember that muscle soreness is not the best gauge for recovery; instead, look to performance and strength levels. As a rule of thumb, if you’re experienced, you should wait at least one or two days before doing a similar workout. If you are a beginner, try holding off for at least three to four days.