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I went to see the kinesthesiologist, and we talked, and I didn’t just get a running tip, my entire mindset towards all physical activity was changed.

We are going to learn about muscle activation in this post.  There is a pretty decent chance that as you sit or stand reading this, there is a major muscle group in your body that is not working properly, maybe not at all.  Before you jump into doing any workout, whether it is a body weight workout at home or a dumbbell workout at home or anything else, you need to take time to activate inactive muscles.

I learned about muscle activation after visiting a kinesthesiologist for the first time in 2017.  I had no specific aches or pains at the time, but I had heard glowing reviews for this therapist from multiple climber friends and runners, so I went.  My objective for the meeting was to talk about my running.  I thought, maybe she can tell me some tips that will make me a slightly better runner.  At the time I was living in Philly running 5 miles pretty regularly, up and down Columbus Boulevard.  So, I went to see the kinesthesiologist, and we talked, and I didn’t just get a running tip, my entire mindset towards all physical activity was changed.

So what changed?  There is one specific thing that changed in my approach toward physical activity, and this one thing branched into a fundamental change.

The One Specific Thing That Started It All: Glute Activation

This blew my mind.  This was my introduction to muscle activation.  My glutes were not active.  My entire gluteus maximus, minimus, and whatever the other one is, my entire tush muscle group, was not active.  What does this mean?  This means that during a movement that should cause my glute muscles to fire and be active, they were not.  My hamstrings were over compensating for my glutes that much.  It is crazy.  All that running, and my glutes were reaping little to no benefit.

I was doing all that running, and not using my glutes or my hamstrings.

Want to test your glute activity? Jump on the ground now and do a set of 20 – 25 glute bridges.  Your bum should start to burn a bit.  If you feel the burn in your hammies and not your bum, your bum is inactive.  If a muscle is not active, this means that the muscles are not firing when they should.  When I learned about this and did glute bridges, I felt the burn right below my glutes, but my glutes did not feel a thing. 

Why were my glutes not active?  There were a couple of things at play here.  First, the fact that I sit too much, as do most of us, unfortunately!  The second cause was one that I could really correct.  My running gait.  When you are out and about and see people running, look at their form.  Are they leaning forward?  That is no bueno!  When we lean forward when we run we are utilizing the muscles in the front of our bodies too much!  Now look at the back stride, is their shin not coming at least parallel to the ground?  This is no bueno!  This is another indication that the muscles in the back of the leg are not being utilized.  I was leaning forward too much and my back stride was not coming up high enough, causing muscle imbalances.  I was doing all that running, and not using my glutes or my hamstrings.  

Fundamental Change

This realization about my glutes was the catalyst for a fundamental change in the way I approached physical activity.  What was the point of running if I wasn’t using my glutes? One of the largest muscles in my body!  Are my shoulder and back muscles active when I climb? What about my core?  The only way to ensure that these muscles were active when I wanted to use them was through muscle activation.  Think of it like a warm up with purpose.  This is not just doing jumping jacks and swinging your arms in circles!  But making assurances that individual major muscle groups you want to use are indeed working.

For me, the major muscles that I always make sure to activate are my glutes, my hamstrings, my obliques and core, and my feet muscles.  We are only going to talk about the glute and hamstring in this article. 

This is the equipment that I use to activate muscles before any kind of workout.

Activating Your 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 Your 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

These are all of the exercises and tips that I took from that first visit to the kinesthesiologist, and not apply them before every single workout. Every. Single. Workout.

My Muscle Activation Kit

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