3 Muscle Activation Exercises to Get the Most from Your Workout
A proper warm-up prepares your body for a workout, helps prevent injuries and improves performance. Besides joint mobilization and a little cardio, there’s one more element that you shouldn’t miss from your warm-up: muscle activation exercises.
When you want to perform a specific movement, like picking up a box from the floor, your brain sends a signal through your nerves to the muscle fibers involved in the movement it’s thinking of. You activate your muscles through neural activation: this happens every time you carry out a movement.
Muscle activation exercises help ensure that the muscles involved in a movement play their part. So if you’re rowing, you want to primarily work your back and core muscles, rather than focusing on your biceps. These are also the muscles you should target and activate beforehand. The advantages you gain from this? Compensating for muscular imbalances, enjoying increased strength during training and reducing the risk of injury.
A study published in the Journal of Neurophysiology investigated how we can increase muscle activity with our thoughts alone. 30 subjects were divided into four groups. The first group was asked to carry out neural training 5 times a week for 15 minutes by “flexing” their little finger purely in their thoughts. The second group mentally “trained” bending the elbow in the same way. The other group trained their little finger with physical exercises, while the last group completed no training at all and served as the control group.
After 12 weeks, the group that had used their finger for physical exercises had increased their strength by 53% – no big surprise there. However, even the groups that had trained their little fingers and elbows with their thoughts had increased their finger strength by 35% and 13% respectively. The researchers came to the conclusion that mental training amplifies the cortical output signal, which pushes muscles to a higher level of activation and increases strength. Put another way, this is the power of thought.
What can we take away from this? Warm up your target muscles before a strength workout to improve the connection with the muscle. Also focus your mind on the muscle and its contraction. You can also hold a muscle activation exercise at its peak, i.e. at the height of muscle contraction, and pause for a few seconds. This makes it easier for you to consciously tense and fully utilize target muscles during a workout.
3 Muscle Activation Exercises for Your Next Warm-Up
There are many muscle activation exercises out there; depending on what’s on your training schedule or where your weak points are, one exercise may be more suitable than another.
#1 Glute Activation
Lie down with your back on your mat. Place your feet hip-width apart and pull them close to you so your calves are perpendicular to the floor. Lay your head flat on the mat and look up at the ceiling. Now lift your buttocks so that your lower back, buttocks and thighs form a straight line. Consciously tense your buttocks and hold for a few seconds. Lower your buttocks to a position just above your mat. That’s one repetition. Complete a total of 15 repetitions for two sets.
Good for which exercises? Squats, lunges, squat cleans, snatches, wall balls, etc.
#2 Core Activation
Lie on your back with your arms extended overhead and your legs straight. Tense your stomach and lift your arms and legs straight up from the floor. Keep your lower back on the mat and your legs together. Round your upper body slightly. Keep your chin neutral while looking up at the ceiling. Tense your entire body and hold the position for 30 seconds. Complete a total of 3 rounds.
Good for which exercises? An active core is essential for most exercises.
#3 Shoulderblade Activation
Assume a high plank position with your palms under your shoulders and your body in a straight line. Keep your arms extended and let your torso relax slightly, bringing your shoulder blades together. Hold the position for 2-3 seconds. Push your shoulder blades apart again and come back to the starting position. That’s one repetition. Complete a total of 5 reps for 2 to 3 sets.
Good for which exercises? Shoulder press, bench press, etc.
More interesting articles from foodspring:
- Build Muscle Faster with Increased Range of Motion
- Do You Know How a Plank Should Really Look?
- How a Strong Core Improves Your Athletic Performance
Sources for this article
We at foodspring use only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial policy to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.