Do This 5-Minute Activation Routine Before Every Upper-Body Workout

To make the most of your upper-body workouts, start with some activation exercises before you hit the weights. "Like dynamic stretches, activation exercises are a great way to warm up the muscles and joints prior to a workout," says Emily McLaughlin, certified trainer and nutrition expert at 8fit.

Activation exercises will make your upper body workouts even more effective.
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That's because "these kinds of movements get the blood — and therefore oxygen — flowing to the muscles you are about use," she says. Activating your muscles before a strength workout helps increase mobility and enhance flexibility, ensuring that even your first set of reps feels powerful.

Conversely, "not giving your body time to prepare for what it's about to do is like being surprised by a pop quiz in math class," McLaughlin says. In other words, without prep, you can't perform your best.

Or worse, you may even hurt yourself. "Adding a load (weights or resistance) to exercises already increases the risk of injury," she says. And if you skip a warm-up, the probability goes up even more.

Read more: 6 Resistance Band Exercises to Make Strength Training More Effective

5-Minute Upper-Body Activation Routine

From arms to shoulders to chest and upper back, this five-minute activation sequence designed by McLaughlin will fire up your muscles and prepare you to make major upper-body gains.

Do: each of the following exercises in order, then repeat the circuit twice.

Move 1: Arm Rotations Back

  1. Stand tall with your arms out like a T and your hands in fists.
  2. Keeping your arms straight, make small circles to the back to warm up the shoulders.
  3. Imagine tracing your fists around a basketball-sized circle.
  4. Continue for 15 seconds.

Move 2: Arm Rotations Forward

  1. Stand tall with your arms out like a T and your hands in fists.
  2. Keeping your arms straight, make small circles to the front to warm up the shoulders.
  3. Imagine tracing your fists around a basketball-sized circle.
  4. Continue for 15 seconds.

Move 3: YTW

  1. Stand tall with your arms overhead in the shape of a Y.
  2. Take a deep breath in, then slowly move the arms down to form a T as you exhale.
  3. Inhale again, then exhale to bring the elbows in toward your rips to form a W shape.
  4. Inhale, then return your arms to the original Y shape.
  5. Repeat sequence of moves for 30 seconds.

Move 4: Scapular Pull-Up

  1. Hang from a pull-up bar with your hands wider than shoulder-width apart and palms facing away from you.
  2. Without bending your arms, pull your shoulder blades back and down to bring your body up a few inches.
  3. You should feel your neck lengthen and back muscles engage. Pause, then return to starting position.
  4. Repeat for 10 reps.

Move 5: Scapular Push-Up

  1. Come into a high plank with your shoulders positioned over your wrists. Maintain a straight body from head to toes.
  2. Keeping your arms straight, squeeze your shoulder blades closer together, dropping your chest a couple of inches.
  3. Then, press upward, driving down through your palms, and engage your core as you spread your shoulder blades apart, slightly rounding your upper back at the top of the movement.
  4. Repeat for 10 reps.

Read more: 5-Minute Glute Activation Routine to Always Do Before a Butt Workout

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