03/06/2013 03:29 EST | Updated 05/06/2013 05:12 EDT

Curlers can't start cold at the Canadian men's curling championship

EDMONTON - Pre-game routines at the Canadian men's curling championship now resemble a yoga class.

There's less standing around leaning on brooms these days and more contorting on the carpet surrounding the ice at Rexall Place.

There are exercise bikes underneath the stands that the curlers use to get the blood flowing before they start stretching.

"There's a lot more science in the game," Manitoba third Jon Mead says.

"Guys are in way better shape than they used to be and that comes with good physical habits and that includes stretching before and after workouts, never mind before and after games.

"Guys absolutely do things much more scientifically because they understand how to get their bodies ready leading up to a competition and during a competition for sure."

Curling puts unusual demands on the body. The athletes drop into a lunge several times a day not just at the Tim Hortons Brier, but over the course of a season. That requires both strength and flexibility in hips and knees. And who sweeps their floor that hard?

"We're getting in a pretty unnatural position in our slide and the guys are doing a pretty unnatural thing in sweeping," Newfoundland and Labrador skip Brad Gushue says.

"You could really hurt yourself if you don't do that warm up, especially with the amount we practise and throw."

The curlers spend 20 to 30 minutes preparing their bodies to play. It's common to see them grasping the rink boards or the scoreboard and swinging their legs high, or dropping into crouches with a wide stance to open up their hips.

Others run on the spot or use their brooms as a stretching tool for their shoulders.

Glenn Howard's front end of Brent Laing and Craig Savill spend a few minutes pedalling bikes before they head out into the arena. They want to get their heart rates up, but not spin so hard that their legs shake.

The team that gets the hammer to start each game is decided by a draw-the-button contest, so Savill and Laing have to be ready to sweep hard even before the game starts.

"I've got to make sure my shoulders are going," Savill says. "I have to be ready to go right off the bat."

And if he didn't warm up?

"I'd pull a muscle for sure," the Ontario lead says. "I've done it before and I used to do it in junior all the time. You don't want to get pulled muscles early in the week. It would be a disaster for the last weekend."

Howard, the oldest player in the Brier at 50, has been sliding out of the hack for three decades. As a skip, he doesn't have to sweep as much as his teammates, but the Canadian and world champion follows a pre-game routine designed by his personal trainer.

"I've got a good half-hour warmup to get the legs warmed up, get the legs stretched out, the core and a lot of mobility stuff with rubber bands to keep my hips and knees as loose as possible," Howard explains.

"I think the warmup is a crucial part of the game today. Especially when you're 50."

The curlers generally find as they age and continue playing at a high level that they develop problem areas that need special attention in pre-game warmups. Lower backs, knees and hips are common complaints.

"I do a couple of stretches to really loosen up my hips and if I don't, I can get some sciatic nerve issues and that can get really, really uncomfortable, just to walk," Mead says.