There seems to be a lot of discussion about activation exercises recently. Is there a benefit of doing such exercises? How long do the muscles stay activated? Does it make a difference if an athlete or client does them?
For what it’s worth, my take…
I have had the same question: Is there a benefit to these simple, isolative exercises, which rarely use any load? Do activation exercises like a glute bridge really prepare or fix a problem that is often only going to show up at full speed and higher intensity voluntary contractions in an athletic movement?
This past off-season, I have made some changes in my programming for soccer. The very first thing we do is activation drills focusing on the torso and hips.
-Get key core muscles turned on = better movement in the dynamic warm-up.
-It’s damn cold in North Dakota, and our workout sessions start real early. I want to warm-up and turn the neural switches on before we try to move through full ranges of motion. Isometrics and low level activation drills don’t induce a lot of joint stress and warm up the body quickly.
Basically I want to turn on the mid-section and hips before we start in on our dynamic warm-ups, other than that I save the activation work for the strength portion of the training session.
After the activation and dynamic, we go into plyos and then movement skills (linear or multidirectional, depending on the day), similar to probably most coaches.
The strength work has been where I have now put most of the activation exercises.
We do more of an upper/lower split.
My feeling with the prehab/activation stuff, which is often done at the beginning, basically "wears off" by the time they are into their strength work, where we are trying to strengthen fundamental movement patterns. If this excitation falls off, the athlete may quickly drop back into their habitual movement patterns. Obviously I am constantly cueing athletes how to move better, but sometimes pre-activating certain muscles gives the athlete a better feel.
So what we do now is pre-activation exercises prior to our main lifts. By implementing pre-activation exercises, like X-band walks, Mini-band walks, front and side bridges, prior to lifts such as front squats, single-leg squats, lunging, RDL’s, we continually get an improved pattern we're looking for and hit the correct muscles with more "bang".
1a Side Bridge X :30
1b X-band walks X 15e
1c Front Squat X 5
1a Mini-band Hip external rotations X 20
1b SL Squats X 6e
So if our lower body strength exercises are always technique sound, my thinking is we must to be laying down improved motor patterns with quality strength. S.A.I.D. principle.
It's like Dr. Eric Cobb of Z-health says about how strength training "cements" your neural patterns. So to me, it makes sense to use the activation exercises right in with the strength work, to "cement" down what we are trying to accomplish.
Plus, most activation exercises are either concentric or isometric in nature, with very little eccentric emphasis. By doing the activation exercises prior to the strength work, hopefully with a better “feel” for the right muscles, the athlete will use, say the glutes and hips, better in an eccentric fashion. The activity in muscles such as those that surround the hips are much needed for eccentric control of the femur and low back. And with torso stability work prior to a lower body exercise, we could possible get better relative stiffness, to “free up” the hips to move better.
No injury issues to date, since we have been doing this.
I guess just my thoughts, and so far has seemed to work well for me...
Have a great weekend!