Muscle activation exercises prior to training, playing sports, and working out is absolutely essential. Oftentimes, we see individuals who become injured because they do not warm up nor cool down properly with exercise. We get it, we know it can be challenging at times to dedicate more time to our workouts. With busy lives, we want to get in and out of the gym as quickly as possible. However, if we cut corners, that is when our bodies can talk back to us with nagging pain and injuries! Moreover, the principles behind muscle activation are essential to encourage optimization of our entire body for fitness! In this article, we are going to show you the best muscle activation exercises prior to training, with a wide variety of specific exercises for activities ranging from deadlifting, playing golf, squatting, basketball, and much more!


Core Muscle Activation Exercises Prior to Training Overhead Lifts

The first part of our muscle activation series is discussing the importance of activating the core prior to overhead lifts. One of the biggest faults we see with any overhead movement is the lack of proper abdominal and core control. Common mistakes when doing an overhead press are excessive lumbar extension, the elevation of the rib cage, and anterior pelvic tilt with the weight overhead. In addition to stabilizing the spine, the core (namely the rectus abdominus) acts to prevent anterior pelvic tilt. Because excessive anterior pelvic tilt is associated with lumbar lordosis/extension, which can contribute to facet joint compression over time, this is a position we want to avoid during the overhead press. Get your core activated prior to lifting and engage it during the overhead press!

These issues can also arise from limited ROM of the shoulders, but most commonly arise from improper core control. We like to pair these two exercises with someone that has trouble engaging the core when reaching or pressing overhead. The overhead press is great for upper body strength but only if you can properly activate the core.

Dead Bug

  • HOW: Start this exercise on your back in a 90/90 position, with your knees over your hips and your arms in front of your shoulders. Keep the small of your back pushed into the floor by activating your core. While maintaining core activation drop one leg and the opposite arm towards the floor. The closer you drop the arms and legs towards the floor the more challenging this exercise will be. Return to starting position and repeat on the opposite side.


  • FEEL: You should feel the abdominal muscles engaging while you perform this exercise.


  • COMPENSATION: Do not let your low back arch


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Fitness is not about using such a high intensity that you are unable to get off the floor afterward. We are all about hard work, however, we want to make sure you are able to workout across the lifespan both safely and effectively. The number one reason why people no longer participate in an exercise program is due to injury, let’s prove that statistic incorrect by using a fitness program with the intended goals of getting you in shape while avoiding injury! To do so, the first 4 weeks are meant to load your tissues to create a movement base this ready to take on the next 8 weeks. Let’s also make sure that we are not just addressing the physical you but are helping you become healthier by giving you methods to decrease your internal load via positive self-talk and gratitude practices.


Shoulder Muscle Activation Exercises Prior to Training – Focus on Control & Stability

Good motor control of the scapulothoracic and the glenohumeral joint is vital before any shoulder exercise, especially one with such high demand, such as the wide-grip pull-up. The W, T, and Ys are all great scapular muscular activation exercises prior to overhead training. Let’s discuss the differences between them in regards to muscle activation in more detail.

What’s the difference between the W, T, or Y exercises?

  • The W exercise, in comparison to the T or Y exercise, will hit the rhomboids more because of the downwardly rotated starting scapular position.


  • With the T exercise, the scapula is more neutral and with external rotation of the glenohumeral joint, we try to minimize as much deltoid activation as possible, biasing the mid-trap as much as possible.


  • With the Y exercise the scapula is more upwardly rotated and the low trap fibers and more in line with the external load, thus biasing the low-trap as much as possible.


Prone W

The Prone W’s will aid in activating the muscles that act on the scapula and the glenohumeral joint in an effort to cue scapular retraction, depression, downward rotation, and glenohumeral external rotation. Why is that important to cue such movement prior to a pulling strength exercise? So often we see improper arthrokinematic (joint motion) and osteokinematic (physiologic bone motion) movement in these exercises which can lead to a plethora of ROM issues and shoulder injuries. Either we see a locked scapula in elevation and upward rotation, or depression, retraction, and downward rotation.

When performing an exercise such as a Wide Grip Pull-up we want to promote quality arthrokinematic and osteokinematic movement. That means moving through full ROM at the scapulothoracic joint and the glenohumeral joint all while maintaining neutral posture and core engagement. Want to learn how to improve your pull-ups? Read our blog post below!

improve pull ups muscle activation the prehab guys


Looking For More Ways to Improve Your Lower Trap Muscle Activation?

Watch our [P]Rehab Youtube Series Episode where we show you tips and tricks to master lower trap muscle activation prior to exercise.


How To Prime Your Body For Squats

Squatting is a fundamental movement that we all perform daily. When working on improving your squat, you want to make sure your body is primed for moving well and/or lifting a heavy load! We will show you some awesome muscle activation exercises before training your squat!


squats butt winking squat university the prehab guys


Squat Mobility Prep Routine

Follow along to learn a great squat mobility preparation routine! The squat is one of the best, most fundamental exercises for fitness.


Muscle Activation Exercises Prior To Golf

Our golf swing requires a copious amount of mobility and stability. Here are some great activation exercises before you hit the links! If you want to learn more about how to improve your golf game, read this article!

Dowel Golf Swing Drill

  • HOW: Get a dowel, golf club, or similar object set up at your shoulders. Get into your golf stance position. Perform your golf swing motion slowly by initiating motion at your trunk and your hips. Repeat and follow the video for tips.


  • FEEL: You should feel your lower body, mid back, and core controlling the movement.


  • COMPENSATION: Try to maintain your swing path.


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Muscle Activation Exercises Before Training For Basketball

Here are some awesome exercises to work on thanks to The Basketball Doctors to get you primed for basketball! You can read the entire post HERE!


Muscle Activation Prior to Deadlifting

The deadlift is an awesome fundamental exercise. We deadlift throughout the day with so many different tasks, such as picking up our young kids from the ground, picking up a box from the ground, or performing the actual lift in the gym! Watch the video below as Mike takes you through deadlifting warmup essentials.


How To Warmup for Deadlifts


Warm The Body Up For Soccer!

Soccer is the world’s most popular sport and demonstrates continued growth in the United States each year. With that being said, there also is a large number of injuries in this sport, especially among youth female athletes. Here are some of the best muscle activation exercises prior to training on the pitch!

Nordic Hamstring Curl

  • HOW: Get set-up in a tall kneeling position with something under your knees for comfort and with a partner or weight holding your ankles down. While keeping your core tight and trunk straight, perform the exercise by leaning forward as far as you can that you can control, then quickly lower yourself down, catch yourself with your hands, and push yourself away from the ground to return to starting position.


  • FEEL: You will feel your hamstring muscles working very hard with this exercise. You will also feel your core muscles working to keep your trunk in a good position.


  • COMPENSATION: Do not round or bend your back. You should be able to draw a straight line from your knees to your forehead.


Single Leg Balance – band, Anti-Inversion

Lateral ankle sprains are another injury that is prevalent in soccer athletes. Performing single-limb balance will wake up the joint proprioceptors that our ankle feeds off of during daily activity and sport. Want to know the difference between a lateral and high ankle sprain? Check out the chart below!


Differences Between Lateral Versus High Ankle Sprains

lateral versus high ankle sprain muscle activation the prehab guys


Closing Thoughts

We should never go into any activity ‘cold’. To further expand on that concept, we must warm up our bodies and prime them for the specific activities we are going to perform. Simulate the movements that your body is going to perform repeatedly, and make your muscle activation exercises prior to training specific! If you want to gain more access to a variety of exercises within a specific realm of movement, body region, or sport, look into our [P]Rehab Programs below! We are here to put the keys in your hand and allow you to drive your body to its maximum potential.


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We have designed this program to promote training for longevity. Ready for the recipe of success? For results we need consistency. For consistency, your brain has to want to workout. For your brain to want to workout you must take on new challenges that are somewhat successful but leave you motivated to want to do it again and improve. Get started today!


About The Author

Michael Lau, PT, DPT, CSCS

[P]rehab. Co-Founder & Chief Product Officer

Michael was born and raised in Northern California but now currently resides in Sunny SoCal ever since attending the University of California, Los Angeles as an undergraduate majoring in physiology. After his undergraduate studies, he received his Doctorate in Physical Therapy from cross-town rival the University of Southern California. As a licensed physical therapist with a strong background in strength and conditioning, Michael likes to blend the realms of strength training and rehabilitation to provide prehab, or preventative rehabilitation, to his patients. A common human behavior is to address problems after they become an issue and far often too late, which is a reactionary approach. He believes the key to improved health care is education and awareness. This proactive approach-prehab-can reduce the risk of injuries and pain in the first place. He is a huge proponent of movement education and pain science. Clinically, he has a special interest in ACLR rehab and return to sport for the lower extremity athlete.






Disclaimer – The content here is designed for information & education purposes only and is not intended for medical advice.

About the author : Michael Lau PT, DPT, CSCS


  1. Bryan deSilva June 6, 2021 at 6:32 am

    Really excellent article guys! The way I read it sometimes you seem to use mobility and activation and warm up interchangeably. Perhaps it would be good to define those three terms for the article.

    • Sherif Elnaggar June 7, 2021 at 8:20 am

      This is excellent feedback Bryan, thank you so much!! We will do this and update the article. Much appreciated!!!

  2. Hairstyles VIP April 3, 2022 at 7:30 pm

    I’m not sure exactly why but this website is loading incredibly slow for me. Is anyone else having this problem or is it a issue on my end? I’ll check back later and see if the problem still exists.

    • Team [P]rehab April 4, 2022 at 9:06 am

      We apologize for any delays in the website loading times, and are working on resolving this matter immediately. We appreciate your patience and bringing this to our attention.


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