If you want to get stronger and prevent injuries, start adding muscle activation exercises to your workout routine.
Activation exercises are exercises that awaken the muscles that are meant to be used during a movement. This is done by strengthening the connection between the brain and the specific muscles, so you get stronger and more efficient. It is possible to perform an exercise with good form, but not actually activate the correct muscles to work. When the correct muscles aren’t activated, not only is it unlikely to improve strength, but you’re susceptible to aches and pains and chronic injuries.
I get that many of us want to get the most out of our workout, and conventional wisdom tells us that means we should be lifting heavy, getting our heart rates up, and breaking a sweat, but before working hard, work smart. That means slowing down, starting with activation exercises, and staying present during your workout. You’ll get a lot more out of your strength workout if you pay attention to the muscles you’re working on rather than what you’re going to have for lunch.
At Ascend Fitness, we give our clients activation exercises specific to their body and workout.
Here are three basic activation exercises you can do before your workout.
CORE ACTIVATION: HEEL SLIDES: 8-10 REPS/SIDE
Activating your core is beneficial before any workout, whether it is strength training, walking, cycling, or any kind of cardio. You want your core to be working!
- Start by lying down on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor
- Take a big breath into your stomach, and as you exhale, pressure the back of your ribcage into the floor and make sure that your back doesn’t arch or flatten (maintain a neutral spine)
- You should feel your core engage, and you should be able to feel that muscle activation if you feel on the sides of your core as well
- Relax that contraction
- Repeat those steps, and this time as you’re exhaling, think about squeezing your pelvic floor muscles as well (as if you are stopping peeing midstream)
- Once you are set with good muscle activation, slowly slide one heel out straight and then slide it back up
- Take a moment to relax, then repeat the setup and slide on the other side
- If you feel like you are losing your muscle tension as you are sliding your heel don’t go as far and make sure you stop when you feel your form slipping
- Repeat 5-10 times per side, 2-3 repetitions
UPPER BACK ACTIVATION: BAND ROW: 10-15 REPS
Use a light band to activate the upper back before performing any heavier back exercises.
- Anchor your resistance band at chest level.
- Begin by facing the band and stepping back until you feel some tension in the band.
- Engage your core as you pull your arms towards you while pulling your shoulder blades down and back.
- Focus on squeezing your shoulder blades together and feeling a strong contraction in your upper back while pulling the band towards you.
- Pause when your hands are a few inches in front of your torso and hold for two seconds. Squeeze your back muscles to maximize that contraction.
- Slowly and with control, allow your arms to reach back forward into the starting position.
GLUTE ACTIVATION: LATERAL BAND WALK: 10-15 REPS/SIDE
Glute activation exercises are great to do before any lower body exercises (such as a squat or hip hinges)
- Choose a resistance band with the right strength. Place band around the knees
- Position your feet shoulder-width apart. The band should be taut, but not stretched.
- Bend your knees slightly and move into a half-squat position to activate the gluteal muscles.
- Maintaining the half-squat position, step sideways, keeping knees pressed out.
If you would like help doing the right exercises for you, Ascend Fitness is here to help. We specialize in helping people over 40 improve their strength, fitness, health, and energy so they can live fully. Learn more about Fit for Life, our 6-Week New Member Program at www.getfitchilliwack.com, or call us at 604-392-0892.