Strength and Conditioning Essentials: Part 2 - Activation
Updated: Aug 16, 2021
Following on from my previous article on my top mobility drills (READ HERE). I would like to show three drills/exercises that I consider to be “strength and conditioning essentials for Activation.
While I don’t particularly like the term “activation” to describe a form of exercise, it’s a widely used and accepted term that I’m describing. I’m sure by using the term activation it brings to mind boring, un-sexy, simple and easy exercises that you should fit into (but often don’t) your workouts right? In reality the term “activation” is perhaps slightly dramatic. the glutes for instance, will already be activated in almost everybody, just underused and weak. If the glutes had genuinely switched off you would have a hard time standing, let alone moving.
I encourage all athletes to add the following exercises after their mobility work and refer to them as “fire ups”. in essence we are “firing up” some important and often neglected muscle groups that play a huge role in efficient movement patterns, injury reduction and improving posture. in doing this we are trying to teach our bodies to fire these muscle groups in the correct sequence and at the appropriate times to optimize movement and performance.
To start us off, my first exercise that I consider my strength and conditioning essentials for activation is –
Mini Band Complex
I pretty much use the mini band complex with all my athletes and use a range of bands that offer different resistance. Initially, these complexes could be seen as a strength exercise due to the weakness in the area worked. Athletes often progress quickly in these types of exercises, making them less of a strength stimulus and more of a “fire up” exercise to prepare them for the rest of their workout.
While there are many different ways to use mini bands, the video highlights 3 movements that I have all my athletes do. These movements really focus on the hip complex and surrounding musculature, specifically the glute medius muscle. Check out just how many muscles are surrounding our hips.
Why are these muscles so important to fire up? Well the play a huge role in correct landing mechanics (see the below picture for how not to land) and controlling excessive knee valgus (a main cause for knee injuries such as an ACL rupture) A strong and “active” glute medius will help to improve knee stability and as a result enhance performance and reduce injury risk.
Generally human beings spend far to much time sitting in far from perfect positions and postures. This can cause muscles groups like our glutes to be underused, stretched and as a result, weakened. My second exercise that I consider my strength and conditioning essentials for activation is the –
1 Leg Bridge
This is a progression from the standard bridge. You need to ensure that you have the strength and correct technique in the standard bridge before you progress to this exercise. The bridge and its derivatives are simple but effective exercises that you have probably seen and done thousands of times. This exercise really focuses on hip extension and using the glute Max to initiate.
The single leg bridge can really “fires up” the glue max. This exercise can really help with pelvic stability and also help correct pelvic tilt. This is vitally important for all athletes when changing directions and to create effective movement patterns.
This then takes us to the third exercise that I consider to be a strength and conditioning essentials for activation, and that is –
Band Pull Aparts
Bad posture is all too common in a wide variety of athletes. With bad posture comes underused and stretched muscles. Probably the most common issue we have with athletes is the rounding of shoulders/slumping forward. Not only is this a very unattractive posture, it really does your thoracic and lumbar spines no favours. This type of posture can even cause pelvic tilt which subsequently will stretch and inhibit the glutes, which we have highlighted above we want to avoid. I often coach my athletes to “open up” pull back their shoulders and stand tall. A lot of exercises that are the staple of many a coaches strength programmes, require that the shoulder blades are retracted and spine is in a safe a neutral position. Think the start positions for exercises like the snatch, clean, deadlift and front squat to name a few. If you can’t get in the ideal and correct start position, then you are fighting a losing battle for the rest of the lift. If you don’t have the required mobility to retract the shoulder blades and ensure a safe a neutral spine, you are really putting stress through over areas of the body (such as the lumbar spine) that will eventually lead to injuries. Band pull apart are a great way to teach shoulder retraction while also firing up the muscles of the shoulder complex.
So there you have three strength and conditioning essentials for great ‘activations’ or ‘fire up’ exercises to add in with your mobility work from part 1 of this series.
Keep checking back for part 3 in this series where I will look at my top plyometric progressions – back to basics. want to be the first to hear about new articles, workout tips and workshops? then please sign up to our mailing list on our home page. And don’t worry we won’t spam your inbox with tons of emails.