Updated: Aug 26, 2020
One of the most overlooked and forgotten pre-game warm-up rituals are Muscle Activation exercises.
If you don’t activate your muscles before a game, before training, before any strenuous physical activity – you’re behind the eight-ball before you even run onto the field. Think of it this way – your muscles are resting, almost asleep and suddenly you catch a pass and want to fly down the sideline – but your glutes (the most powerful muscle in the body) are still in "sleepy sleepy" mode. You expect your muscles to fire so you can score that try, but they're lazy and tired because they haven't been activated.
Think how much faster you could be, how many more tackle brakes or bone-crunching tackles you could make if your muscles are awake, energised and ready to go! Not to mention how much your injury rate will decrease.
That is what muscle activation is all about.
WHAT IS MUSCLE ACTIVATION?
Muscle activation is about ensuring that your muscles are firing properly and that you are recruiting muscles to do their job efficiently. Therefore, being at your fastest on the rugby field. Also, with Rugby being a collision sport, muscle activation will help your body prepare for any incoming forces, like a tackle, and help lessen the risk of injury.
I’m a big believer in muscle activation for young rugby players. Young players spend a lot of time in stationary activities, like sitting in a chair at school for long periods or sitting at a desk studying, sitting in the car for a long drive, even sitting on a beanbag playing Xbox. These types of stationery activities are detrimental to your ability to produce speed. Why? Well, because muscles fall asleep and tighten up, especially in the hip flexors and glutes, the two key muscles for speed.
Below are three of my go-to muscle activation exercises that will target your glutes and hip flexors ensuring that you are the fastest you can be on the field. Perform these specific exercises during your warm-up.
1. SINGLE-LEG BRIDGE WITH TENNIS BALL
1. Bend your knees and put one foot flat on the ground
2. Place a tennis ball on your front hip and push your knee into your chest to squeeze the tennis ball
3. Place your hands straight out to your sides
4. Drive-up through your heels and upper back to lift your glutes off the ground. Drive your hips up as high as possible, squeezing the glutes hard. Keep your belly button drawn in so you don't hyperextend your back
5. Squeeze your glutes for a second or two at the top and lower all the way back down to the ground before repeating on other leg 6. Do 5 reps on each leg
2. BIRD DOG
1. Place your hands under your shoulders and knees under your hip.
2. Kick one leg out straight back as if kicking it into the wall behind you while you reach the other arm out straight toward the wall in front of your head at ear level (reaching opposite arm and opposite leg in opposite directions). Hold for 2 seconds.
3. Lower your arm and leg, bend them, and bring them together under your body. Try to touch your knee to your elbow before extending back out.
4. Do 10 reps with right arm and left leg then 10 reps on left arm and right leg
3. FIRE HYDRANT
1. Place your hands underneath your shoulders and your knees underneath your hips.
2. Raise one leg out to the side, keeping the knee bent to 90 degrees. Lift it as high as you can while keeping your arms straight. Try to not let the foot get higher than the knee or the knee get higher than the foot. Really squeeze the butt cheek as you lift.
3. Hold for a second or two at the top. Lower down and then repeat. Complete all 5 reps on one side slowly the 5 reps fast on the same side then switch
Start incorporating muscle activation exercises into your warm-up today to ensure that your muscles are firing properly and that they are doing their job – helping you become a faster player, but importantly, helping reduce your risk of injury. Two key components to more time on the field, not watching from the sidelines.