What Is "Prehab"?
If you’ve ever had a muscle or joint injury, you may have gone to a physical therapist to perform rehab exercises. The goal of the exercises is to build up the strength of weak stabilizer muscles, correct distortions in your posture, and teach you how to move correctly so you can avoid injuring yourself in the future. Rehab exercises are even prescribed by therapists to be performed by their patients after they are released from their care, because they know how beneficial these corrective exercises are.
But what if you aren’t injured? Do you still need to perform movements like rotator cuff exercises? Hip mobility drills? Low back and core stability drills? Well that depends...do you want a healthy rotator cuff? Mobile hips? A stable core that keeps your low back from getting injured? If you answered yes...and I hope you did...then you really should consider adding some PREHAB exercises into your warm ups. Being proactive and doing so isn’t just a good habit to strengthen neglected muscles, it can also increase your performance! This means bigger lifts, more muscle, faster times, more power and speed, and you get it all while moving with better form and creating solid movement patterns that’ll last.
So we can all start out on the same page, Prehab exercises are mobility, stability, and strength exercises focused around injury prevention. Typically you’re doing things to make sure your stabilizers stabilize, while your movers move, and you are using the right muscles at the right times depending on the movement you’re performing. Oftentimes you’re isolating a muscle or grouping of muscles so you can teach your body how to contract them appropriately during larger more compound movements.
Now I haven’t always used prehab in my coaching or my own training. When I first started out, I was like a lot of other young people that just work out and feel like that takes care of everything. As I got older and learned more, I realized that moving in good positions is what it’s all about. As I got into Crossfit and the mobility craze started, I realized a more structured warm up allowed me to move more efficiently, put up better numbers, do more advanced gymnastics maneuvers, and have faster times and better scores on my Crossfit workouts. I did mobility then right into lifting for years even after I stopped doing Crossfit, but I still had some minor injuries along the way and eventually hit plateaus in my lifts. Prehab wasn’t on my radar until I suffered a low back injury that forced me to take a step back and study my mechanics more. It took me a couple of months to rehab back from it and I came back stronger and moving better than I did before. I realized if I continued these rehab exercises before squatting or deadlifting or Olympic lifting, I could ward off another injury and keep doing what I love in the gym.
So I continued my prehab routine for my low back and core and developed sequences for hips, shoulders, ankles, and knees that I performed for an entire year before every workout and was able to move without pain while increasing my lifts as well as my speed and power when it came to sprinting and running.
While I still think you can perform well by just generally warming up and then performing functional movements like squats, deadlifts, presses, pullups, lunges, running etc, the addition of Prehab can provide an extra boost to your performance by improving your mechanics, while adding in the benefit of preventing injuries that can happen to even the most experienced lifters.
Now that you know what prehab is and why it’s important if you want to perform better while remaining pain free, I want to go through each major section of the body that you typically employ prehab movements, and explain how we as coaches use them at Straight Shot Training:
Let’s start with the core because back issues are a ruiner for any lower body lift and many upper body lifts. Plus a stronger core means you can move more weight with your extremities. The goal of the core prehab we use is a mixture of core stability and core strength. We focus mostly on core stability, which is your body’s ability to create tension in the muscles around the spine to hold it in place while under loads that challenge your posture. During a squat or overhead press your core has to contract to not round or arch under the weight of the bar. On the deadlift it’s what keeps you from dangerously rounding your back as you pull from the floor. Core strength is the ability of the muscles around the spine and pelvis to initiate movement. Like leg raises, situps, and various twisting exercises. We perform a mixture of core stability and strength exercises after our mobility work and before we get under any loads during your Straight Shot workouts. Some of the movements for core stability include planks, dead bugs, hollow holds and rollouts. Your core has to stabilize on all sides though so we also do supermans, back extension holds, bridge holds, and reverse hyper holds to make sure you can stabilize at your low back, and side planks and anti-rotational exercises so you can stabilize from the sides as well. These same exercises are ones your physical therapist would give you if you had a low back injury to help you rehab back. For core strength, we approach training in the same way as all of the other movements we do; we train the core 360 degrees around so you learn how to both stabilize and move in all directions.
Although we’re talking about training the hips, it’s not just for the sake of the health of the hip joint itself, but a healthy spine, healthy knees, and even ankles are dependent on the mobility and stability of the hips. When I say mobility, I mean the hip has the capacity to perform movements with full range of motion in all planes of movement. Stability means inhibiting any unwanted movement during these exercises. We focus a lot on posterior chain activation, or getting your glutes and hamstrings firing on all cylinders while the core and low back stabilize around it. Weak glutes are the cause of many low back and knee problems, and are often not fixed by just squatting or lunging alone. Doing some preparatory exercises primes the glutes for contraction and teaches you what I mean as a coach when I’m always cueing you to squeeze your butt on movements. I love programming variations on glute bridges, good mornings, banded hip extensions, and kettlebell swings to get people’s posterior chain ready to do its job. We also train the hips laterally by doing side step ups and side lunge variations to make sure we’re not overdeveloped in the sagittal plane, meaning moving forward and backward. Life isn’t forward and backward, and most injuries don’t happen in the sagittal plane, so we train the hips to both absorb and apply force laterally so you perform better in the gym and are safer outside of it. Finally, we want to increase end range strength in the hips. What I mean by this is it’s not enough to use your weight to plop you into a rock bottom squat, I want you to use your hip flexors to PULL you into the squat. The same goes for any other movement upper or lower body. You have to be able to move yourself in and out of a movement with control and no unwanted movement. If you lack capacity at the hips, your body will create movement elsewhere like your low back and knees, which are not supposed to move as much as your hips.
Alright, on to taking care of those shoulders. The shoulder joint should be mobile, but it needs to be supported by the stabilizing muscles around your scapula. Your scapula needs to be able to glide through all of its articulations while being able to stabilize at any given point throughout the movement. So again we see this relationship between mobility and stability. This is why we mobilize, then stabilize, then do the movements in that particular day’s workout. We use bands, dumbbells, and bodyweight movements to work the shoulder girdle in all planes of motion and various ranges of rotation. Doing this prep work sets you up for success when you get to horizontal movements like rows and bench presses, or vertical overhead presses and pullups. Your stabilizers stabilize while your movers move. 5min of prep work goes a long way in ensuring that relationship stays that way. Plus since most gym movements are either forward and backward or up and down, doing prehab movements to the side and rotationally allow for balanced strength for things outside of the gym that are often awkward and not unidirectional. And just like we use these prehab movements to reclaim range of motion in the hips, we use exercises like YTIW Raises, scapula punches and shrugs, hanging drills and overhead walks, and many others to undo the unhealthy rounded forward shoulder position that comes from texting, typing, and driving and other activities of daily life.
Moving on to the knees and ankles, there is a direct relationship between hip mobility, stability, strength and the knees and ankles and vice versa. Many hip prehab exercises put you in better positions when you squat lunge and run which makes for happier knees and ankles. Conversely, immobile ankles and weakness in the musculature around the knee (specifically weak hamstrings) Can translate to issue up at the hip level. In straight shot we do the bulk of our knee and ankle prehab on our conditioning days. So running, sprinting, circuits with agility drills and jumping, all of that needs proper preparatory exercises. Please if you're reading this and you're a runner...stop throwing on your shoes and immediately starting your run! You'll perform better and suffer less injuries if you prime the systems around the Knee and ankle to absorb and apply force before running. We like to mix lateral drills for knee and ankle stability, hip extension movements to prime the glutes, some foot/ankle specific prep, and do that in a short warm up circuit with some type of jumping and landing exercise. This warm up not only gets the muscles and joints ready for running, it also gets your heart rate, body temperature, and breathing rate up so you'll be ready for whatever we're throwing at you on those days.
If you've never done prehab before, mix in a couple of exercises relevant to your lifts that day before you start lifting. 5-10min of preparation can save you months of recovery time from an injury while increasing your performance, so your return on investment is super high with warming up correctly. If you don't know where to even start with it, our coaches can help you by systematically programming these prehab movements into your workouts. You’ll learn how to strengthen each link in your kinetic chain so you’re able to move better, lift better, and feel better!