Warming up properly prepares your body for training, helps prevent injuries and increases your performance. In addition to joint mobilization and cardio, muscle activation exercises are another component that should not be missing in your warm-up.
When you want to perform a specific movement, like lifting a crate off the ground, your brain sends a signal to the muscle fibers involved in the “imagined” movement, via nerves. You then activate your muscles through neural control, and this with each movement.
Why is the mind-muscle connection the key to optimal muscle growth?
Muscle activation exercises ensure that the muscles involved in a movement actually do their part. When rowing, you mainly want to use your back and core muscles without focusing on your biceps. These are also the muscles you specifically need to activate beforehand. The advantage is that it also allows you to compensate for certain muscle imbalances, to have more strength during training and to reduce the risk of injury.
A study published in the Journal of Neurophysiology observed how we can increase our muscle activity by our thoughts alone.. The first group had to perform mental training 5 times a week for 15 minutes by “spreading” the little finger only with thought. The second group mentally “trained” elbow flexion in the same way. Another group trained their little finger by performing physical exercises, while the last group did not do any training and served as a control group.
After 12 weeks, the group that had performed exercises with the little finger was able to increase their strength by 53%, which is not surprising. But even groups that trained their little finger and elbow with thought alone were able to increase their strength by 35% or 13%, respectively. which pushes the muscles to a higher level of activation and increases their strength. In other words, the power of thought is demonstrated.
Be sure to specifically warm up the muscles you are targeting before performing any strength training exercise to create a better connection with the muscle. Also mentally focus on the muscle and its contraction. You can also perform a muscle activation exercise at maximum, that is, at the highest point of muscle contraction, then pause for a few seconds. This allows you to consciously tense your target muscles during training, and use them to their fullest.
Depending on your training schedule for the day or your weak points, one exercise may be more useful to you than another.
1 – Glute Bridges – Activation of the gluteal muscles
Lie on your back on your mat. Place your feet hip-width apart and bring them close enough toward you that your calves are perpendicular to the floor. Your head is flat on the mat, and you are staring at the ceiling. Consciously contract your buttocks and hold the position for a few seconds. Then lower your butt and stop just before you hit the ground. This sequence constitutes a repetition. Perform a total of two sets of 15 repetitions.
2 – Hollow Hold – Activation of core muscles
Lie on your back and straighten your arms and legs. Tension your stomach and raise your arms and legs off the floor. Your lower back stays on the floor and your legs stay together. The upper body is slightly rounded. Keep your chin relaxed and direct your gaze upwards. Engage your entire body and hold the position for 30 seconds. Perform a total of 3 sets of this exercise.
3 – Scapula Push – Activation of the shoulder blades (anterior serratus muscles)
Your palms are under your shoulders and your body forms a line. Keep your arms straight and allow your upper body to sag slightly, bringing your shoulder blades together. Hold the position for 2 to 3 seconds. Spread your shoulder blades apart again, then return to the starting position. This sequence constitutes a repetition. Perform a total of 2-3 sets of 5 repetitions.