4 Ab and Hip Activation Exercises to Help You Get More From Every Strength-Training Workout

illustrated gif of ab and hip activation exercises
Activation exercises coach your mind and body to work together more seamlessly.
Image Credit: Morit Summers/LIVESTRONG.com Creative

This 31-day body-weight workout challenge will inspire you to move more, no matter your starting point. Get all the details on the challenge here.

When you're getting ready for a strength-training session, think of yourself as a superhero. You need to activate your superpowers before you can show off your super-strength. That's what activation exercises are for.

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"Activation exercises are a way to actually activate muscle, to get the mind and the body to work together," says Morit Summers, CPT, creator of Brooklyn-based training studio Form Fitness and host of our "New Year, Do You" Challenge. "Many times we just move and don't actually connect with our body in a way that can really help make us stronger and be in less pain."

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Summers designed the following workout to activate two of your body's prime movers: your hips and core. Your hips control your legs and your core stabilizes your whole body and initiates pretty much all movement. This activation work ultimately helps you generate more power in your strength-training sessions.

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If you're doing the challenge, follow the weekly rep scheme below. If you're doing this workout on your own, increase or decrease the reps and sets based on your fitness level. You should be able to do all the reps with good form, but the last two should feel challenging.

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In between sets and exercises, rest for 20 to 40 seconds. You won't feel fully rested (like you were before your workout) but you should feel ready to tackle the next set.

Reps and Sets Per Exercise

Sets

90/90 Hip Switch

Glute Bridge

Plank Shoulder Tap

Crunch

Week 1

2

10/side

15

8/side

15

Week 2

3

10/side

20

10/side

15

Week 3

3

10/side

30

10/side

20

Week 4

4

10/side

30

10/side

20

Week 5

4

10/side

30

10/side

20

4 Moves for Hip and Core Activation

The "New Year, Do You" Challenge is accessible to all fitness levels. That's why we're providing a main move and at least one modification or variation.

In the videos below, you'll see one trainer — either Summers or her Form Fitness co-founder Francine Delgado-Lugo — demonstrating the base exercise along with a modification or variation from the other trainer. Choose the version of the exercise that works best for you.

Move 1: 90/90 Hip Switch (shown on left)

JW Player placeholder image
Activity Body-Weight Workout
Body Part Abs and Legs
  1. Sit on the ground with one knee bent in front of you at 90 degrees and one knee bent behind you at 90 degrees (shown on the left).
  2. Lift both knees up and turn to face the leg behind you, keeping your heels planted on the ground.
  3. Keep switching back and forth.

Modifications and Variations

To make the 90/90 stretch move more challenging, add a hip thrust on each side (shown on the right). After rotating your knees to one side, draw yourself up onto your knees and squeeze your glutes at the top before lowering back down and rotating your knees to the other side.

Move 2: Glute Bridge (shown on left)

JW Player placeholder image
Activity Body-Weight Workout
Region Lower Body
  1. Like Delgado-Lugo (left), lie on your back with your arms at your sides, feet flat on the floor and knees bent.
  2. On an exhale, squeeze your glutes, press into your heels and drive your hips up toward the sky.
  3. Raise your hips until you form a diagonal line from knees to hips to chest.
  4. Pause here for a moment.
  5. Reverse the motion and lower down to the starting position.

Modifications and Variations

After you've perfected the standard glute bridge, try the single-leg version (shown on the right). Hold one leg in the air while performing the same steps as listed above. Be sure to do the same number of reps on each side.

Move 3: Plank Shoulder Tap (shown on right)

JW Player placeholder image
Activity Body-Weight Workout
Region Full Body
  1. As Summers (right) demonstrates, start in a high plank on your hands and toes with your hands directly under your shoulders. Press your hands firmly into the ground while squeezing your glutes.
  2. Keeping your core braced and your glutes tight, lift your right hand off the ground and tap your left shoulder or right hip if it's more comfortable.
  3. Bring your right hand back down to the ground and lift your left hand off the ground to tap your right shoulder or left hip if it's more comfortable.
  4. Continue alternating shoulder taps.

Modifications and Variations

To modify, drop to your knees (shown on the left) or place your hands on a bench or step so that you're in an incline plank.

Move 4: Crunch (shown on left)

JW Player placeholder image
Activity Body-Weight Workout
Region Core
  1. Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor (shown on the left).
  2. Bring your hands behind your head so that your elbows flare out to the sides. Your hands can overlap and rest on your head, but they should not tug on your neck.
  3. Exhale, contract your abs and lift your head and shoulder blades off the ground. Your neck can curl slightly, but it shouldn't strain toward your chest.
  4. Inhale as you lower back down so that your head is hovering just off the ground and repeat.

Modifications and Variations

For more of a challenge, hold your knees at a 90-degree angle so that your shins are parallel to the floor as you crunch (shown on the right).

Image Credit: LIVESTRONG.com Creative

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