If you’d like to get better results from your workouts and lower your risk of injury, you might want to incorporate activation exercises into your routine.
“Activation exercises are exercises that target specific muscles to increase blood flow and ‘activate’ or ‘wake up’ muscle groups,” said Genevieve Lambert, MD, a family medicine specialist at Banner - University Medicine Family Medicine Clinic in Phoenix, AZ. A short set of activation exercises can prepare your body for the more intense exercise that will follow in your workout.
How can activation exercises help me?
Activation exercises bring three significant benefits to your exercise routine:
- They help increase your overall neuromuscular efficiency. By targeting the appropriate muscles, activation exercises reinforce the brain-body connection. In other words, “they help establish a stronger communication link between your brain and the rest of your body, so your body is better prepared for the activity to come,” Dr. Lambert said.
- They decrease the risk of injury. Activation exercises can help relax overactive muscles like your hip flexors, which tend to get overactive if you sit for long periods. They also encourage the targeted muscles to work effectively, so you don’t overcompensate with other muscles. Activation exercises are low-impact and low-intensity, so they aren’t likely to cause injury.
- They improve overall performance. Activation exercises help you utilize your muscles and your strength effectively, so you get the most power from your workout.
How should I do activation exercises?
You’ll want to activate the muscles you’ll use in your workout. So, before a weightlifting workout, you might want to incorporate several different activation exercises to wake up various parts of your body. Before a run, on the other hand, you can focus on activation exercises that wake up your legs.
Dr. Lambert said it’s best to perform your activation exercises within the 10 to 15 minutes before your workout. Here are some activation exercises you can try:
For your quads: walking lunges. Take a long step forward with your right foot and bend your left knee toward the floor or ground. Both of your knees should form 90-degree angles. Push with your right leg to lift your left leg off the ground and step forward so your left leg is in front, and your right knee drops toward the ground. Keep your core engaged, and don’t let your front knee go past your ankle. Perform three sets of 10 lunges per leg.
For your glutes: bridge. Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet hip-distance apart, about six inches from your glutes. Keep your arms along your sides. Use your glutes to raise your hips as high as you can. Hold for two seconds, then slowly lower back down. Perform three sets of five to 10 holds.
For your chest: push-ups. Start in a plank position with your hands shoulder-width apart and either your knees or toes on the floor. Lower yourself down until your elbows are at a 90-degree angle, then use your chest muscles to push yourself back up. Keep your back straight and your core engaged. Perform three sets of five to 10 pushups.
For your back: Superman hold. Lie face down on the floor with your arms and legs stretched out straight in front of you and behind you. Lift your arms, legs and head and hold for three seconds, then release back to the floor. Perform three sets of 10 holds.
The bottom line
Activation exercises can make your workout more efficient, reduce your risk of injury and improve your performance. If you’d like to talk to a health care professional about how to get the most from your workouts, reach out to Banner Health.