Warm Up Makeover: “Activation” w/ Mini Band Walks and Wall Slides

Quick Tips

Wasn’t sure what to entertain you with out of the gates, so Killers it is…

The warm up is a crucial part of the workout, so stop treating it like it’s not. ūüôā

There are many people who still skip warm ups prior to intense weight training, and if they do warm up, it involves a few neck rolls, arm swings and knuckle cracks.  You know who you are, no need to point fingers.

I have touched on the importance of the warm up’s importance leading into training session in the past, and you can find those older posts here:

Today’s tips are about activation. ¬†Activation is the equivalent of flipping the power switch to muscles that otherwise lay dormant throughout the day, or have been found to be weak. ¬†Again, think about the concept of activation before the workout as “turning on your muscles”.

Just as the work-portion of the workout is often divided up into different sections (power, strength, cardio development), so is the warm-up.  I typically place activation after my foam rolling/lacrosse ball, static stretching and mobility work.  Taking my joints through a range of motion using targeted mobility drills prior to activating muscles like my glutes and my shoulders.

So, the order would look something like this:

Screen Shot 2013-04-03 at 6.27.35 AM

Activation improved my training and the training of my clients.  Ironically, activation exercises might make you more sore than the actual strength training or cardio work.  Flipping the switch on dormant muscles

Activation in the warm up represents the first few drills where the muscles are moving against light resistance prior to experiencing increased loading during dedicated power or strength exercises.

Foam rolling changes density and relieves restrictions (trigger points, muscle lesions, etc), static stretching changes the length of the muscles after foam rolling, mobility drills take joints through a range of motion while delivering essential nutrients and lubrication to the joint, while activation “wakes up” inhibited muscles for the workout and a quick correction of identified weakness.

Inhibited muscle

A little definition on “inhibited”, straight from the almighty Google.

I may have made this slightly more complicated than you would have liked, but trust me, the two activation drills that I am about to describe are both simple and extremely effective.  They are well worth your time investment.

The first time that you add these two drills to your training, you’ll notice a difference immediately.

You're gonna like the way you look guy

Seriously though, you gonna feel great, I guarantee it.

Few things in life are guaranteed (except for suits from Men’s Wearhouse), but I guarantee that you’ll feel great after executing these two activation drills. ¬†It might be an “aha” moment (as it was for me)that muscles are can become weak without us being aware of it. ¬†Well, now that you read that sentence, you are consciously aware of it. ¬†See how that works? ¬†ūüôā

—> ¬†Mini Band Walks

Mini band walks involve positioning a small rubber band around the outside of the tops of your knees, shins or ankles in an effort to wake up the muscles that encapsulate your powerful hips, particularly the glute medius.  The band is positioned in the three different positions based on your ability to exhibit proper technique during the drill.  The lower the band moves on the legs, the more difficult the drill becomes.  Placing the band above the knee would be easiest, followed by around the shin and finally around the ankle would be most difficult.  I have performed this drill with knees flexed (athletic stance) and stiff-legged (like Herman Munster), both versions work well.  Avoid excessive shifting of bodyweight during the reach of the lead leg and the resist of the trailing leg.  Simulate a full glass of water balancing on your head as you move laterally.

Movement Cues:  

  • Walk lightly and resist the pull of¬†the¬†band on the trailing leg/foot. ¬†
  • Keep toes pointed straight ahead.
  • Keep weight on the mid-foot and heel.
  • Walk about 10 yards in one direction, then 10 yards back.
  • If movement form¬†breaks, stop. ¬†Nothing good happens by forcing crappy movement in search of a muscular burn.
  • *** ¬†Chances are quite high that if your form broke down during your first attempt, you need to decrease the band tension (aka: ¬†use a lighter band)

—> ¬†Wall Slides

If you really want to feel bad about the fact that you have ignored your slouching upper body posture, do some wall slides. ¬†For some of you, just getting yourself into the starting position will be a challenge. ¬†Years of slumping at a desk has cut up to you, and you may be moving toward becoming a hunchback. ¬†No offense. ¬†However, wall slides can provide a simple fix (along with plenty of pulling movements). ¬†Wall slides, much like mini band walks, should be a staple in everyone’s training regimen. ¬†Wall slides will tax the external rotators along with the scapular (shoulder blade) retractors and depressors. ¬†Addressing weak or inhibited scapular retractors and depressors with a few sets of wall slides throughout the week will do wonders for injury prevention and performance.

Enough jargon!  Watch the video a couple of times, check out the coaching cues and do them for yourself.

Movement Cues:

  • Place heels about 8-10 inches from the wall that you’re pressed against.
  • Body contact points on the wall are: ¬†tailbone, mid/high back, elbows/forearms/backs of hands, head.
  • Actively press your forearms against the wall.
  • Imagine attempting to “sand the hair” off of your forearms as you reach overhead and return back to the starting position.
  • Only go through a range of motion that you can maintain the contact points listed above.
  • Breathe. ¬†Don’t forget to breathe.
  • Get 8-10 reps, slow and controlled throughout the movement.
  • Breathe.
  • Breathe.
  • Did I say‚Ķ breathe?

Closing Thoughts

Wall slides will make just about everyone sore.  Welcome to the world of posture and weak/inhibited muscles.  They are a million dollar exercise if I do say so myself.  I have seen tough guys, soccer moms, pro athletes and everyone in between be humbled by wall slides.  Just getting into position can be mind-boggling for some people.  Reason?  They are becoming a product of their daily posture.  A consistent daily dose of wall slides would be a great addition to just about everyone on the planet.

I have to admit that during my college athletic years, we hardly warmed up. ¬†I mean, we got the blood circulating by doing something before each workout, but nothing close to the methods that I describe above. ¬†I can’t say that warming up with mini band walks and wall slides would have helped me score more goals, play better defense or winning more games, but I would have definitely felt some kind of improvement. ¬†No doubt about that. ¬†Hindsight is always 20/20.

My first attempt at warming up with lateral (sideways) mini band walks left my hips sore as hell.  Years of hockey, where the hips are the dominating producers of force, and I perform 10 yards (down and back) of mini band walks and my hips were almost too tender to touch in the days following.  Unreal.  It was a major indicator that I was weak in this area.  Yikes.

My warm ups today are brutally simple. ¬†They address both upper and lower extremities all in one shot. ¬†I prefer to warm up this way, with the total body approach. ¬†You’ll notice that some professionals will suggest tailoring the warm up to the specific demands of the day’s workout (and this works fine also), but I find that whipping through a total body warm up gets me engaged and leaves me feeling prepared. ¬†I enjoy leaving the warm up with sweat on my shirt.

Personal preference.

Don’t waste time. ¬†Buy a mini band¬†(or two) and find a flat open space on a wall. ¬†Do it.

The best advice I can ever give someone who reads anything on this blog is to get off your butt and try it.  Get active.  Get engaged.

What’s the worst that is going to happen?


Cheers to walking like a duck and vertical snow angels!



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