5 Steps to Optimizing Joint Health & Function in the Gym: Movement Preparation

5 Steps to Optimizing Joint Health & Function in the Gym: Movement Preparation

In part one we talked about warming up your spine and Central Nervous System (CNS). The spinal warm-up is great for waking up a dormant nervous system when first entering the gym. It facilities a higher functioning CNS and allows communication between muscle fibers and the motor cortex to be optimal before a big workout. Once the governing portion of our nervous system has been accounted for, it’s time to get more specific with our warm-up.

The prep section is here to ensure the appropriate muscles and joints are firing as they should...

The movement preparation section ensures we don’t waste valuable energy on the treadmill or jump rope before a big workout, but rather spend that energy on the joints and soft tissues we’re calling upon during our big lifts for the day. The prep section is also here to ensure the appropriate muscles and joints are firing as they should—stabilizing the appropriate areas and being mobile enough to ensure your body is ready for set #1.

For example, during a deadlift it’s important to be stable from a frontal-plane perspective, ensuring everything on the lateral portion of our body is active and ready to stabilize our body as we attempt to pull from the ground. From a front-line perspective, it’s important to understand many of us are anterior dominant, meaning the tissues situated in the front portion of our body—TFL, quads, psoas, rectus abdominis, pecs—are normally overused, stiff, and stuck in a chronic shortened position. While in this shortened position, it’s almost impossible to fully engage the hamstrings during a posterior-dominant exercise like the deadlift. Before trying to activate the hamstrings it’s vital we lengthen the front portion of our body to let the posterior chain be in an optimal position to be stimulated.

Finishing the example of the deadlift prep—we’ve accounted for the stabilizing lateral line when pulling from the ground, lengthening the tissues that are normally shortened and chronically tight. Since we have now allowed the back line to be in its appropriate resting position, we look to activate the hamstrings and glutes to maximize our deadlift. While this can easily be done standing with a simple hinge pattern, we can give our body more feedback and sensory information to ultimately produce better movement patterns by using the ground.

The following three movements are great for prepping a big deadlift day:

Half-kneeling Hip Drive 10 reps (5 each side)

The Half-Kneeling Hip Drive looks like a simple drill because there isn’t an excessive amount of movement, but the subtle details really have a big impact. Start by bring your left leg up into a half-kneeling position. Stack your back knee vertically underneath your hip and shoulder. Once comfortable, lift/tilt your left pelvic bone up towards the sky before you SWIFTLY bring that left hip back down to a neutral pelvis position. As you bring your pelvis back down to neutral, simultaneously squeeze your butt cheeks forward; you should be driving both your flat foot and back knee into the ground for a five-second isometric (static) contraction. Switch legs; 5 reps each side.

Half-Kneeling position with back knee underneath same hipHalf-Kneeling position with back knee underneath same hip

Middle position: tilt front hip up towards the skyMiddle position: tilt front

Actively squeeze pelvis forwardActively squeeze pelvis forward

Shinbox Tripod Extension 10 reps (5 each side)

Beginning in a shinbox with your left leg in front, place your left hand on the ground near your front hip. Before lifting your hips off the ground, squeeze your butt cheeks forward and drive your left arm and both knees into the ground. At the top position, reach your right hand up towards the ceiling while actively squeezing your posterior butt cheek. To finish, bring your hips back to the ground to the starting position; switch sides. 5 reps each side.

Starting position: shinbox with planted handStarting position: shinbox with planted hand

Shinbox extension with forward hip driveShinbox extension with forward hip drive

Shinbox extension with sky reachShinbox extension with sky reach

Half-Kneeling Hamstring Bow 10 reps (5 each side)

Beginning in a half mountain climber with your spine flexed, stack your right knee underneath your hip/pelvic bone. Slowly pull your spine into extension (very similar to a cat-cow). From here, keep your left foot flat as you pull your butt cheeks back behind you into a Hamstring Bow; you’ll know to stop either when your hamstrings feel the stretch or your front foot wants to come off the ground. Once you get into the back of your stretch keep your spine in extension and slowly pull your hips and back to the starting position and switch legs. 5 reps each leg.

 Starting position: Half Mountain Climber with flexed spineHalf Mountain Climber with flexed spine

Half Mountain Climber with spine in extensionHalf Mountain Climber with spine in extension

Hamstring Bow with spine in extensionHamstring Bow with spine in extension

Movement Preparation is part two of the five-part series 5 Steps to Optimizing Joint Health & Function in the Gym.

Part one: Spine Warm-up
Part three: Intraset Active Recovery
Part four: Post-Workout Decompression
Part five: Diaphragm Breathing


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