muscle activation exercises the prehab guys

Muscle Activation Exercises Prior To Training

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 for 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

Sample Fitness [P]Rehab Program Exercise Library Video

  • 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


Dead Bug with Anti-Extension

Adding in a resistance band will further promote stiffness through the core and enhance muscle activation prior to the overhead lifting.


Isometric Bear Position Hold

This is a great way to turn on the core in a closed chain position. Ensure that you are actively pushing away from the ground to engage your serratus anterior while promoting stiffness through your core with your deep core stabilizers.


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Watch This Video To Learn How To Assess Your Overhead Mobility!

If you find that you are lacking overhead shoulder mobility, improve it with our [P]Rehab Overhead Shoulder Mobility Program!


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 arthorkinematic 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!

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Prone Y

  • HOW: Lay down on the ground with a towel roll under the forehead. Or, lie on the corner of an elevated surface like your bed. Put your hands out in front of you in the shape of a “Y”. With your thumbs up, slowly lift your hands up in the air. Think of pulling your shoulder blades into your opposite back pockets.


  • FEEL: You should feel the muscles in the back of your shoulder blades working.


  • COMPENSATION: Don’t shrug with your shoulders to lift your hands up. Your neck muscles will be active, but you shouldn’t feel like you are primarily relying on them to lift your hands up.


Prone T

The prone T is another great exercise to wake up the middle trapezius, lower trapezius, as well as the posterior cuff.


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.


Wall Slide – Lift Off, Band

Sample Fitness Program Warm It Up Exercise

The wall slide with a band lift off is a great exercise to promote muscle activation of the serratus anterior prior to lifting. The serratus anterior is an important muscle that performs upward rotation of our scapula as we lift our shoulders over our heads. If it is not engaged, it may lead to compensations at other muscle groups around our proximal shoulder girdle. To learn more of the best serratus anterior exercises, read this article!


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!


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. You can become a master of this movement with our [P]Rehab Fitness Program!


Hip 90/90 External, Internal, and Extension Stretch

Sample Fitness Program Mobility Exercise Video

  • HOW: Begin on the ground with one leg out in front of you with one knee bent to the inside. Your other leg should be out to your side with your knee bent. The first stretch is rotating towards the leg out to the side. The second part is leaning straight forward over the front leg.  Then, position yourself into a lunge position with the front knee down on the ground and the leg that is out to the side up with your foot flat on the ground. Shift your weight forward to feel a stretch in the front of your hip. 


  • FEEL: You should feel a stretch all around your hip. 


  • COMPENSATION: Make sure your legs are in the proper starting position. Keep your chest up as you lean to each side.


Deep Squat Hip Prying

The deep squat hold and prying is one of many awesome muscle activation exercises before training squats! It will open up your hips not only into flexion but also external rotation, both of which are needed for squatting deep!



squat university the prehab guys muscle activation exercises before training


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 video for tips.


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


  • COMPENSATION: Try to maintain your swing path.


Band Pull Through Golf Swing Drill

The band pul through will promote further emphasis of core stiffness with dynamic movement as well as activation through our hips, which is also very important for the golf swing.


Golf Stance Shoulder Ts- Rotation, Band

The T in the golf stance will help turn on our scapular stabilizers and thoracic spine mobility, which we need to enhance rotation during the swing.


Spieth’s Backswing Drill – Band

Another great exercise utilized by pro golfer Jordan Spieth!


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!

Lunge Walks


Fire Hydrant With Dribbles


Core Activation For Basketball


Agility Activation


Plyometric Warm Up


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 amount of injuries in this sport, especially in 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.


Side lying Hip Adduction Isometrics

Adductor strains are second behind hamstring strains for muscular injuries at the hip in athletes. Priming the adductor muscles prior to sport is important!


Eccentric Hamstring Curl – Swissball

Sample Fitness Program Hamstring Eccentric Exercise

Eccentrics is one of the best muscle activation exercises before training for soccer, especially due to the prevalence of hamstring injuries.


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

  • Bryan deSilva
    Posted at 06:32h, 06 June Reply

    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
      Posted at 08:20h, 07 June Reply

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

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