Activate to Accelerate: Why you need to be doing Muscle Activation Exercises
Updated: Sep 5, 2018
Like most of you, when I work out, I want to get the most out of my work out! I absolutely love my time at the gym, but I definitely don't want to be there all day! I want to see results, and I want to see them sooner rather than later. One of the ways I make sure I'm getting the most out of my workouts (and I recommend all of you to do as well if you're not already) is to start your workout with some muscle activation, aka pre-activation exercises! This blog will give you tons of insight into why you should be doing activation exercises, things to focus on when you're doing them, and examples of some (glute activation exercises) you should start incorporating today!
Why should I care?
In the human body, we have a variety of muscles that tend to "turn off". Some of which are; the glutes, lats, and deep abdominals. In many cases this can be attributed to lifestyle and career choices. Do you drive a lot? Work at a desk? Spend most of your day on a laptop? If so, chances are you are suffering from overly lengthened muscles in some regions (such as the glutes) and shortened/tightened muscles in the antagonistic areas (such as the hip flexors), incorporating activation exercises in your workout routine can help you course correct these common issues. Muscle activation exercises have many benefits, including; increased strength, balance, flexibility, and coordination. Proper activation also decreases your risk of injury, and helps to alleviate body pains we may be experiencing. And of course, properly activated muscles provide visual symmetry in our physique, and allow us to increase gains focused on isolated/specific areas of our physique which is a dream for those working out for aesthetics!
What's the big idea?
When we have a weakened, lengthened, or injured muscle, the surrounding muscles tighten up to protect us, and pick up some of the work for this weakened muscle. When this happens the communication between your brain and your muscles diverges from it's ideal state, and instead our brain starts to ignore the contractions of the weakened muscle, and puts a greater focus on those muscles that are working extra hard. This is when imbalances start to occur and when pain and discomfort (among many other things) start to become present. Since muscle growth as well as muscle strength develop through muscle contractions we want to insure that all of our muscles are firing properly.
I just want all the gains!
Proper muscle activation could be the key to many of our physique plateaus and lack of development. If you're someone who's doing all the squats yet only seeing an increase in your quads and not glutes, or someone who's doing pull ups all day and seeing an increase in your traps but not back, or even someone who religiously bench presses but isn't seeing any chest growth, you are likely suffering from under activated muscles! So doing activation exercises before the big lifts serve to "turn on" your underactivated muscles and jump start the mind - body connection to help you get the results you want to see.
Playing Mind Games
This mind body connection I'm talking about is a key starting point when activating your muscles. Research has proven that this sort of visualization helps your body begin to do exactly what your brain is telling it to. Integrating this mind to muscle relationship will cause your muscle hypertrophy to improve, which in turn causes your muscle to grow. To do this you'll want to visualize your muscle contract as well as feel them contract, insuring that you're targeting the desired muscle. Getting the gray matter of your brain involved, and stimulating neuromuscular functions during activation exercises help proper contractions to carry over into compound lifts which will aid in hypertrophy and provide greater results. I often like to place my hand where I want to feel the contractions, and then hold the contraction for 3 - 5 seconds until I start to feel a burn.
5 Go to Glute Activation Exercises:
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* For more exercises, as well as explanations of the set ups and focus points visit my instagram! @lotsoftotss
- If it involves the movement of tons of muscles, it is not an activation exercise, activation exercises should narrow in on the area you want to activate (I.E. a lunge is not a glute activation exercise since it works quads, hamstrings, calves, and many other muscles as well)
- If you don't feel a burn in a certain area in 3 - 5 seconds....HOLD IT LONGER, the burn is crucial to make sure you're contracting to turning your glutes on
- Play around with different angles/positions of the same exercise to find the way it works best for your body
- The whole key to success when doing activation exercises, is to begin engaging and contracting the focus muscle WITHOUT fatiguing it before the workout, tools such as resistance bands or yoga balls and blocks can be a great resource, since they will provide an intense burn but won't overload the muscle with weight
- Always do the activation exercises BEFORE you start your full workout