Better preparation fuels peak performance and longevity.

Every fall, sports journalists ask, “What’s the secret to Tom Brady’s continuing success?” After all, he’s playing football well into his 40s. In a 2014 article in Yahoo Sports, Brady said his secret is simply that his choices “always probably center around performance enhancement … I want to be the best I can be every day.”

Few activities are as hard on us as football, but every activity—even your regular workout—puts some stress on your body. Activation exercises are simple movements anyone can do to better prepare for the demands of sport and exercise—and enhance our performance. Even if we manage to fit in a daily workout, we still spend most of our time in a stationary position—at a desk, in the car or on the couch, which means many of our muscles don’t have anything to do and they stop getting signals from the brain.

Just like a computer, muscles need to be woken up before they can work properly. Without this step, our movement can be sluggish, putting us at a higher risk for injury. Activation exercises reset our neuromuscular coordination, especially in the areas of the body prone to dysfunction and injury: knees, hips and low back, mid-back, and shoulders. This puts the brain back in control and prepares it for the increased activity of a workout.

Whole-body activation series

Try this series once or twice before your next workout or game to get your brain and muscles back in sync and ready for anything. These are gentle exercises, but they demand concentration. Try to focus on the movement, and remember not to hold your breath.

Knee Activation: Calf Pumps

  • Lie on your back with one leg pointing to the sky and a resistance band around your foot. Extend your other leg on the floor.
  • Gently stretch the band by bringing the elbows closer to the ground. Let your toes gently flex.
  • On an exhale, point your toes towards the sky, hold for two seconds and release.
  • Repeat the action on the other side.
  • Tip: Do 10 pumps per leg at a slow and controlled pace. Use a light band for resistance.
  • Tip: Keep a slight bend in the knee; don’t lock it out.

Hip and Low Back Activation: Bent Walk with Knee Band

  • Begin with your feet underneath your hips and the band just below your knee caps.
  • Drive your bottom towards an imaginary wall behind you and think about making your spine into a flat table.
  • Keeping tension in the band by pressing your knees apart, start walking forward.
  • Complete five or six steps or walk for about 30 seconds at a slow, intentional pace, and return by walking backwards.
  • Rest for couple of seconds and repeat.
  • Tip: Choose a knee band with light resistance.
  • Tip: Hinge at the hips, and keep your spine nice and long. Try not to hunch or round your back.

Mid-Back Activation: Seated Overhead Hand Press

  • Sit on the floor with crossed legs, and lift your hands directly above your head, palms touching.
  • Create a long spine by imagine you are zipping up a coat.
  • In this position, press your hands towards each other and towards the sky. Keep shoulders away from your ears as much as you can.
  • Press your hands together firmly for 10 to 30 seconds and then relax.
  • Repeat 3–5 times.

Shoulder Activation: One-Arm Band-Resisted Walk

  • Stand tall with a band anchored securely behind your back. Hold the band with your left hand at shoulder height.
  • Extend the band out in front—still at shoulder height—and start slowly walking forward. Walk as far as you feel comfortable (four to six steps) and return back.
  • Bring your hand back towards the shoulder, rest for two seconds and repeat on the other side.
  • Tip: Use a light band for resistance.

Photo credit: Alexey Kuzma, Stocksy; Mosuno, Stocksy; jacoblund, Thinkstock