Pre-Activation Exercises – Could You Improve Your Warm Up?

The smaller muscles of our body are often the muscles we forget about training when we hit the gym or go for a run. However, these muscles are the ones that help to stabilise our joints and help prevent injuries.

Many of you might have heard about the deep core muscles that are very important in providing support to our pelvis and lower back. Lots of people are re-training these muscles with their physio-specific rehabilitation exercises or different styles of Pilates etc.; but sometimes we don’t incorporate this training into the activities that we really want to do such as running or before we do sport specific training.

Completing a few of these exercises that are sport specific to what you do is the best warm up as it enables these muscles to not only be stronger but to ensure they are engaged when we need them most. They are the perfect dynamic warm up.

From my work at Melbourne City Football club (soccer) it is normal practice to undergo a 30 minute “Pre-Activation” session solely focused on the important stabilizing muscles for soccer.  I have included some pictures below to show you some of the specific exercises that they do at Melbourne City where stability and control are the key elements. There is a large focus on deep core strength, stability and gluteal strength which are key areas to strengthen and activate to help avoid common injuries such as groin overload like osteitis pubis and hamstring strains. These injuries do not only riddle soccer but are also highly prevalent in other lower limb dominant sports such as AFL football, NFL and Rugby so similar exercises as a part of training or warm up would be ideal in enhancing performance but also reducing the risk of these injuries.

Hip Abduction/Side Swing with Resistance – staying strong on your stance leg with a mini bend in knee – swing out your other leg against a resistance band using your side glute muscle -glute med.


Hip Extension – For the larger gluteus maximus muscle activation. Again keep stance leg slightly bent and controlled whilst kicking back your other leg whilst squeezing your “butt”. Can be done with or without resistance.


Arabesque with extra balance – Great for activating your glutes, deep core for balance, ankle stabilisers and hamstring! Bend down with a bent knee, lengthening your hamstring and using your core to help keep your back straight – then reach for the different cones.


What about Court Sports?

Court sports such as basketball and netball also have a large occurrence of lower limb injuries where warming up the deep core and gluteals is also very important. There is a large occurrence of ankle sprains and knee sprains from the high impact nature, sharp agility movements and landing from rebounds. Having a stronger core and gluteal strength means better landing and cutting strategies around the hips which means less load is put through the lower limb – the knees and ankles. Therefore the above exercises are also relevant. However, there are also some specific local muscles around the knee and ankle that by training and activating in the warm up could help to improve ankle and knee stability.

The peroneals are the muscle that run along the outside of your calf that help pull your ankle back up when it is close to rolling out. By activating these muscles in the warm up as well as the strength from above you more likely to protect these joints from injury.  I have attached a few examples of exercises for basketball or netball that focus on landing and balance which are perfect for a specific dynamic warm up.  It is important to remember that sometimes there are forces that occur from physical contact or landing on someone else’s foot for example that are unavoidable causes of injury.

Hop 90 Degree Turns: Starting on one leg hop turning as you go 90 degrees and land using your deep core and glutes to stay balanced. Don’t let your knee roll in on the landing. To make harder – turn 180 degrees. Perfect ACL prevention.

Double leg Rebound Landing: Jump in the air turning 90 or 180 degrees landing on both feet with soft knees as if landing from a rebound.

Lateral Bounding/Defensive Slides: Starting on one leg jump as far as you can wide landing on the other leg with good control and not letting your knee roll in. Use your glutes and core to help achieve this.

For more detail on the prevention and treatment of ankle sprains read my blog – “Ultimate Guide for Ankle Sprains“.

What about runners?

Deep core and gluteal strength and stability is also important in runners especially with the repetitive nature. Often a lack of deep core and gluteal strength with long distance running or shorter distances in more unstable athletes can often lead to lower back pain with running or cause more impact in the lower limbs. This higher level of impact can lead to injuries such as shin splints, runners-knee (mal-tracking of the knee cap) or bony overload in the foot such as a stress fracture. These exercises are not designed to give you a big booty or super strong thighs but they are designed to switch on your booty in a way that will support your pelvis, back and lower limb to decrease the load. I would recommend completing these as a warm up before you head out for your run or to complete more sets to use them as a preventative rehab to avoid getting the above injuries.


Running Man: Lean forward but keeping back straight (dont slouch upper back and dont arch lower back). Slight bend in stance knee. Activate core.



Then reach other leg back and tap ground – keeping knee still and same angle of bend. Back stays still in forward lean position – not straightening. You need to think about your stance leg glute (butt) working here to keep you stable. Perfect pre activation of your core and your glutes before a run. Technique is crucial. Roughly 2×10 on each side would be a good pre activation amount.



About the author

Julia Allan
Julia Allan

I'm a physiotherapist working majority in the sports field. I'm based in Melbourne working with a variety of different athletes which is currently predominantly with the Victorian Under 19 netball side and the Victorian Fury netball side through Eltham Physio Centre. I also play high level netball myself in the State League competition (VNL) here in Melbourne and I want to share my knowledge to help all athletes prevent injury and improve performance.

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