Fear of injury is something bodybuilders always have in the back of their minds. We’ve all heard of others making consistent progress only for it all to come crashing down due to “that one” injury, after which their performance starts to plummet.
This is why it’s so important to have proper form when lifting weights and to take extra care not to injure muscles that are more prone to injury than others. A lot of bodybuilders take the easy way of not directly targeting certain muscles, such as the rotator cuffs, since it’s so easy to injure them.
Others have found a more interesting method. They pre-activate their muscles by warming them up through light workouts, with the thinking that this makes those muscles less likely to get injured during a workout. However, this comes with its own set of problems.
To cut to the chase, we absolutely support pre-activation warmups and believe they have a place in your workouts. However, the problem with the method we just mentioned is that while you may be less likely to injure the specific muscle during a workout, pre-activation workouts fatigue your stabilizer muscles. This can actually impair form and potentially even more serious injuries. Studies actually show that when you directly pre-activate a muscle, it will be more active during the actual workout in which it’s used.
We do support implementing pre-activation warmups to your exercises. However, only under the following two scenarios.
Scenario 1: You Want to Avoid Injury
Say you’re activating your rotator cuffs. Afterwards, when you do back exercises, you’ll find that your muscles will become more conditioned to that exercise–a drastic improvement from when they weren’t activated.
That would actually decrease the likelihood that your target muscles get injured in the future and give you a longer bodybuilding career. However, we believe the biggest benefit to pre-activating muscles lies in another area entirely.
Scenario 2: Bringing Lagging Muscles Up to Speed
It’s inevitable that in your bodybuilding career there were some exercises you didn’t know you needed to do or that you psychologically tend to favor certain muscles over others in your exercises. This leads to lagging muscles, which aren’t as easily activated as others.
For example, when people train their glutes, most people do squat exercises. However, they sometimes find that they’re not targeting their glutes because they have strong leg muscles that take the pressure off the glutes.
Another example is that your shoulders might have excellent development, which is a feat in itself, but that can stop you from bringing out your pecs in your chest exercises, because your shoulders take over the movement instead.
Pre-activation plays a great role here. You could pre-activate your chest with dumbbell flys, for example, and then when you do your bench press, since you recruited that muscle beforehand, your chest will be in play more than if they hadn’t been previously activated.
Adding Pre-Activation Warmups to Your Routine
All this sounds easy on paper, but is harder to implement in reality. We recommend pre-activating the muscle in two scenarios. The first is if you’re worried about a risk of injury.
In this case, you’ll activate your target muscle beforehand in order to get it conditioned to exercise. However, be careful not to fatigue your stabilizer muscles, as they’re what’s responsible for keeping your form.
The second scenario is if you have certain muscles that are lagging behind in development. To bring those muscles up in an exercise, you can pre-activate them before your main workout, enhancing that mind-to-muscle connection.
So, what if you’re training your glutes, but they’re underdeveloped?
You could do 3×20 sets of banded lateral movements before you add any weights to your squats. Or if you’re trying to activate the muscle before an exercise, try walking backwards with a band, and then do some lateral movements to activate it before an exercise.
We hope this helped you get understand the pros and cons of pre-activation warmup exercises. We’re here whenever you need any more advice!