Why I need to learn muscle activation before strengthening?

Why it’s Important to learn Muscle activation before jumping into strength training!

The team here at StudioXphys will have a thorough discussion with our new clients about the importance of muscle activation before you start strength training. Better activation means better muscle recruitment and quicker strength gains with less chance of injury. This includes Core activation, scapular stabiliser activation and hip adductor activation.

Core Activation before overhead lifting

One of the biggest mistakes with an overhead press is the lack of proper core and abdominal control. This is because these muscles protect the lower back especially in exercises like lat pulldown and overhead press.  As well as stabilising the spine, the core prevents anterior pelvic tilt. Excessive anterior pelvic tilt exaggerates the curve of the lower back and contributes to facet joint compression causing lower back pain. The first step is making sure you can activate your core (exercise below). From there is the core activation with breathing and core activation with leg/arm movements.

Transversus abdominus in crook lying – Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Place your hands on your lower tummy just inside your hip bones. Gently tighten your tummy muscles, pulling your belly button in towards your spine. You should feel you’re back flat on to the floor. Do not hold your breath. Relax and repeat.

Shoulder Control and mobility

It is important to warm up the scapula stabilisers prior to an exercise like a chin up/pull up. The muscle we should be activating is the rhomboids, however many exercises are activating the deltoids and trapezius. A movement that will activate your rhomboids is a Prone W, lying on the ground or on a swiss ball. This exercise also cues retraction, depression and downward rotation of the shoulder.

W raise – Lie face down on an exercise mat with your arms in a “W” position so that the upper arms are aligned alongside the trunk with your elbows bent and your hands facing forward at the same level as your shoulders. Move your forearms outwards so they are close to a 45-degree angle to the upper arm. Keep your head slightly elevated and aligned with your spine. Your hands should be facing palms down with your fingers extended. Now tighten your abdominal muscles to stabilise your trunk and slowly raise both arms off the floor no higher than 6 inches and hold for the required time, then slowly lower your arms down to the floor. Repeat for the desired number of repetitions. Throughout the exercise, keep your arms at 45 degrees through your elbows in the “W” position and ensure your trunk and legs are aligned. Perform this exercise in a slow controlled manner and do not jerk the body into the up-position when raising the arms.

Priming the Hip Adductors

We must not forget about those inner thigh muscles as adductor strain in one of the most common lower limb injury. Instability in a balance exercise is usually due to glute and adductor weakness and inhibition. A sliding side lunge is a great exercise with a focus on gluteus and the adductors.

Lateral slide with sock – Wear a sock on your good leg. Let your foot slide out to the side, bending the knee on the affected side. Make sure your knee travels directly forwards over your toes and the heel stays on the floor. Control the movement as you straighten the knee back up again and bring the other leg back in. Keep your body up straight throughout this exercise.