This post is about issues with muscle activation and balancing. Athletes, especially older ones like me, often learn about muscle activation and balancing the hard way: through injury. For me it has been my glutes, my hamstrings, my feet, and the top of my forearms. All underdeveloped or inactive muscles that lead to a minor injury.
There is an excellent chance that right now a major muscle group in your body is not working properly or is underdeveloped. If muscles are not active and if muscle development is not balanced, injury is just around the corner. Muscle activation and balance is the best way to prehab and prevent injury.
See a Kinesthesiologist
I learned about muscle activation and balancing after visiting a kinesthesiologist for the first time in 2017. I had no specific pain or training concerns at the time. I just wanted to talk about running and see if she could help me improve. By the end of the hour long appointment, however my entire mindset towards all physical activity was changed.
She was able to tell me so much about my weaknesses in fitness and training through a few simple tests. Like a Gypsy reading my palm and getting it all right.
Glute Activation and Test
The first issue identified for me back in 2017 was my glutes. Inactive glutes is actually a very common problem to have. Could your tush be inactive?
It was hard to believe that my entire glute muscle group was not active. This means that during an activity that should cause my glute muscles to fire and be active, like running, they were not. My hamstrings were over compensating for my glutes that much.
I know you want to test your glutes now.
Jump on the ground now and do a couple-few dozen glute bridges. Your tush should start to burn. If you feel the burn in your hammies, like I did, and not your butt, then your butt is inactive, and your hamstrings are over compensating.
Activating Glutes: Glute Bridges, Clams, and Crabs
I do these exercises to ensure that all three glute muscles are active before I run and before I lift on a leg day. You will need resistance bands to complete these exercises. To ensure that your glutes and other muscles around your hips are active before lifting on a leg day or before going for a run, or whatever physical activities, these three activities will ensure your muscles are ready and firing.
Activating Hamstrings: Low Weight Deadlift
For me, it can be difficult to know when I engage my hamstrings. They are not like my quads, that I can really feel flex and burn when I use them during an exercise like a heavy squat. My hamstrings though, I have to think about and focus on my hamstrings to feel them. Any variation of a deadlift is a really hamstring specific exercise, and before I do these exercises I always make sure I can feel my hammies working. Before I pick up my 110 lb bent bar to deadlift, I pick up my 25 lb kettlebell. I will do 2 or 3 sets of 5 single leg deadlifts to make sure that each hammy is working. Sometimes I even place a hand on my hammy to make sure I can feel it flex and work. You can also do these exercises with less weight of course. If you are just starting out, using no weight is perfectly fine to activate your hamstring muscles.
Practicing muscle activation has improved my performance and given me some protection against injury. Many athletic injuries can be caused by muscle imbalances and muscle inactivity! This is why I work to activate the muscles in my feet, core, glutes and hamstrings, because I know that for my body, I need to take special care that these muscle groups are doing their job when I want them to work.
Exercises I Do to Activate Muscles Before Every Workout
My Muscle Activation Kit
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