You go into the gym. Do some squats, follow it up with some lunges, do a few sets of chest presses, and finish with a jog on the treadmill. Repeat for the next 4 weeks….and see no major changes. Your butt doesn’t suddenly look like the girls on Instagram; your pecs are bulging through your shirt. What are you doing wrong?
It’s easy to spend dedicated hours in the gym and yet reap very few rewards. Sure, building real muscle takes time and a dialed-in nutrition plan. But it’s quite possible that you’re just not getting as much out as you’re putting in because your muscles aren’t doing their job…they’re not firing and engaging the way they should. Luckily, there is a way to fix this.
Fit Tip #17: Do Pre-Activation Warm-Up Exercises
This quick-and-dirty tip will help you get to your fitness goals faster. It will improve your muscle tone, size, and appearance, making all that time in the gym worth it. You just need an extra 2-3 (maybe 5) minutes at the start of your workout.
Pre-activation exercises (also a great warm-up) are something that you should do before every workout to “wake up” the muscles and help them to properly engage. I will explain what these are below, but first I’ll explain why they’re important.
As an example, many people have weak glute (butt) muscles because we sit on them all day, not using them. This makes it tough for them to activate properly, like they’re “sleeping”. After all, why should they work when the back, hamstrings, quads, can step in for them? They can continue their nice nap when you’re doing squats. But if you can get those muscles to fire and engage prior to your workout, and make that mind-muscle connection, then they’ll take part in the squat and reap much better booty-building results. Same applies to back, chest, arms, etc.
Spend a few minutes before each workout doing activation exercises, and you’ll definitely notice a difference and feel more of a “pump”. You may also want to spend some time stretching their antagonist (hips if you’re working glutes, hamstrings if you’re working quads, chest if you’re working back, etc).
These exercises will serve to 1) Warm-up your muscles and get blood flowing to help prevent injury and 2) Get your muscles ready to work without tiring them out ahead of time.
How to Do Activation Warm-Up Exercises
Whatever muscle group you’re working on, spend a few minutes doing 2-3 sets of 10-15 reps for that area.
FEEL what the muscle is doing. Imagine it flexing as you move, make sure you can feel your deltoid, glute medius, or traps work the way they should. Put your hand on the area if you can to make sure the muscle is contracting. Typically, you will want to use something very light to practice getting these muscles to work properly. A resistance band of some type (as shown in the video below), a light dumbbell, or even just your body weight.
Types of Exercises
Here are a few ideas of warm-ups you can do to get your muscles engaged:
- Resistance band chest press or fly
- Reverse fly with resistance band
- Bent over row with band or dumbbells (see video)
- Band pull-aparts (see video)
- Rotator cuff external/internal rotations (see video)
- Light dumbbell raises
- Walking planks
- Glute bridge/Single-leg glute bridge (see video)
- Banded Lateral walks
- Banded Monster walks
- Glute kickbacks (with resistance band)
- Clam shells (see video)
- Bodyweight Squats
- Bodyweight walking lunges
- Leg extension machine (light weight)
This video includes examples of warm up exercises for shoulders, back, and glutes.
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