Even if you have more time at work from home, we all want our workouts to be effective and efficient. Unfortunately, this may not be the case if you do not activate the muscles properly.
“A muscle loses the ability to activate when the associated joint loses freedom of movement, strength and control,” said Matt Pippin, C.S.C.S., strength and mobility coach and co-founder of Pippin Performance. For example, if you have lost the freedom of movement in your hips, your glutes may not be activated properly.
This can lead to pain and tension from other muscles that take over and control movement, either during regular movement during the day or during exercise. Let’s say you are doing buttocks, but your glutes aren’t activated properly. You could instead feel it more in your hamstrings and lower back. Or during the squat, your quads can carry the brunt of the exercise. “When these other muscles start to play, they perform movements that they are not designed for,” explains Pippin. “At some point they collapse and pain, pain and tension set in.”
Of course, activating muscles and staying supple is difficult because we are locked in at home, work remotely, sit all day, and run less than usual. “Prolonged sitting and lack of exercise lead to increased tension in all muscles on the front of our body and weakness in the back,” said Brian Gurney, DPT, CSCS, trainer, state-certified sports clinic and physiotherapist at BeFit Therapy in New York City. “The less movement we have, the more our body feeds into these problems.” So when you run or exercise, the underutilized muscles are not activated, and others intervene to resume the slack – which may be fine in the short term, but may shortly lead to tension and pain.
Here are some of the common suspects that aren’t activated properly, as well as steps taken by physical therapists and trainers to get these muscles working again. Try these movements first thing in the morning to make your joints flexible and activate your muscles for the day. You should also reduce the risk of injury shortly before training.
According to physiotherapists, the best exercises to activate muscles
The muscle group: gluteal muscles
Probably the most common culprit, if your glutes don’t move properly during movements like lunges or squats, your quads and hamstrings take control (and your lower back feels it). Pippin loves the following exercise to move the hips in full range of motion, which allows your glutes to get back into the action. Focus on keeping the movement slow and controlled.
The exercise: slow knee circle
Stand with your feet hip-width apart to the left of a chair or counter and gently place your right hand on the chair to support them. Transfer the weight to the right foot and lift the left leg with the knee bent until the thigh is parallel to the floor. Rotate the leg about 90 degrees to the left. Hold the knee in place, turn your left foot to the side, then lower your left knee and turn it around and behind you until the knee lines up with your right leg. 1 Repeat in the opposite direction. Do 5 repetitions and then repeat on the opposite side.
The muscle group: Abs
If your core muscles don’t activate, “this leads to instability and imbalances your musculoskeletal system,” says Martin Ridley, physiotherapy doctor at Tru Whole Care in NYC, and notes that our abdominal muscles and muscles are now along the spine it becomes especially lazy when everyone spends more time on the couch. This challenging stretch is used by Gurney to burn the entire core – especially the abs and glutes.
The exercise: wheel alignment
Lie on the floor with your knees bent and your feet. Place your palms with your ears on the floor with your fingers on your shoulders. Push in your feet and push your hips up. Press in
Hands to bring the crown of the head hand to the floor. Press evenly on your feet and hands, stretch your arms and lift your head off the floor. Hold for 30 seconds and then repeat three times. (To change this, try a wheel post resting on a yoga cushion or a few stacked pillows and lift as much as you want.)
The muscle group: Lats
Those muscles on your back have probably become lazy from your day, alternating between sitting at the desk and sitting on the couch, says Todd Sinett, founder of Tru Whole Care in NYC and inventor of the backbridge. He turns to this movement to activate these lats and at the same time unwind tight chest muscles.
The exercise: thumb armpit stretching
While standing with your feet hip-width apart, place your thumbs under the armpits with your fingertips on the ceiling. Tilt your head back and raise your thumbs as high as possible. Hold for 10 seconds, repeat.
Bonus exercise: Slow spine wave
This exercise, popular with both Pippin and Ridley, is another great exercise to reactivate your back. It’s like the cat-cow flow of a yoga class, but take it extra slow so every little muscle wakes up.
Start with a neutral spine on all fours, knees just below your hips and hands just under your shoulders. Start at the base of your spine and slowly curve your back to the ceiling one by one. Let your head hang when you reach the top of your neck. Then lift your head and make the opposite movement back down. Let your back drop one vertebra at a time until it is arched. Repeat five times.
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