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Muscle activation with Dani Byrnes


Words: Dani Byrnes


When training for the Gold Coast Marathon, it’s important to consider our muscle activation exercises. It is fundamental to warm up the muscles before a run, whether it be a training run or race day. When the body is warm, limber and utilising the correct muscles, then we are in prime running form with a reduced chance of injury. Additionally, running requires energy, and energy production requires oxygen; so it is important to get blood flowing to the working muscles such as a our glutes, hamstrings and abdominals, to see us through to the end of the run or the finish line. You can pick and choose a few of these activation exercises to prepare for your training run.

For a full body workout, complete all exercises as per the suggested reps and timings.

1. High knees x 45s

We want to get that body warm, heart rate up so we begin with high knee jogging on the spot to engage the lower abs and hip flexors. Try to get your knees up to your hip height and go flat out for 45 seconds. It helps if you hold your hands face down at your hips and try to get the knees to touch them.

2. Star jumps x 45s

Without stopping lets go straight into starjumps. Keeping the limbs long and squeezed, jump the feet out wide from neutral, then back in. The arms wave in sync with the legs and let’s make sure we breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth, keeping the belly pulled in.

3. Jumping curtseys x 45s

Keeping the hips square, start by sending one leg behind the other, lower the knee down toward the ground, then stand up tall again and repeat the other side. Start with with for the first 25 seconds, then begin to add a plyometric jump to switch legs. If you prefer, you can add a pulse instead of a jump.

4. Knee taps + plank x 45s

Start in a kneeling position with your hands under shoulders with fingers spread. Tuck the toes, engage the core by pulling the belly up and hover the knees. Begin by lowering and lifting the knees, with your lower ans stabilising the hips. Then add on a jump to plank and back to knee tucks and continue.

5. Walking planks x 45s

Walk from your hands to your elbows and back up again while keeping your hips and shoulders strong and stable. The abdominals should work to keep the hips still. Tip* squeeze the glutes to help the hips stabilise.

6. Ab reaches x 45s

Let’s give the arms and shoulders a break and lie on your back. Extend your legs up to the sky and press your lower back into the ground. (For tight hamstrings you can bend your knees to tabletop). Reach the arms up, then lift up through the chest to try to reach your toes. As you lift, try to press your belly button down to your spine. The gap between your chin and chest should remain the same (imagine you are resting a peach between them.)

7. Double leg lowers + Max x 45s

Imprint your whole spine this time and you have the option to keep the head down, or for more upper ab activation, support the head with your hands in a crunch position. Squeeze the legs together, point the toes, then slowly start to lower your legs without letting your lower spine lift. The lower you go the harder it gets, you also have the option to start with single leg lowers, also knows as scissors. NB* Dog optional!

8. Ankle taps x 45s

Lying on your back with knees bent and heels pressing into the ground, lift the head and shoulders and begin to tap your heels with each hand. This will warm up and activate your obliques, so think about squeezing your ribs to your hips each side. To advance, move your feet further away from you.

9. Hip raises x 20 – reach arms up to advance

Lying on your back, bend your knees and press your heels into the ground. With your arms by your side and palms up, keep a neutral spine and squeeze your glutes to start to lift the hips up to a bridge. From here, scoop the abdominals and roll back down placing one vertabrae at a time on the ground. Emphasis your abdominal activation by making sure your tailbone is the last to touch back down, then first to leave going back up again.

10. Single leg hip extension x 10 each leg *add leg wave for intensity

Another variation of the last exercise, slightly more difficult and targeted to one glute at a time. Extend one leg up to the sky, then press through the heel on the ground and drive the hips up, then lower back down. For added intensity, at the top, wave one leg down toward the ground then back up before completing one rep.

11. Clams + clam kickouts x 20 then finish with pulses

Lying on one side, bend the knees to 90 degrees with knees in line with your hips. Connect the heels then lift the top knee, keeping the heels pressing in together. Slowly lower the knee then repeat. Towards the last half, add a kickout by extending the leg, connecting the heels, then lowering the knee back down. *Extra burn – add straight leg pulses with toes pointing down.

12. Burpees x 15

If you’re using this as a workout routine, let’s finish on a high with a round of burpees. Combining pushups with squat jumps, this is a great way to get the heart rate up at the end of a session.


Dani Byrnes

Dani is an active and healthy lifestyle champion, fitness advocate, pilates instructor and women’s wellbeing entrepreneur. Her running portfolio includes the New York City Marathon and a number of finishes in the ASICS Half Marathon.

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