So you finally decided to not skip leg day. You made it to the gym with the goal of not being able to walk tomorrow. But where do you start? Sure you could hop on a bike or treadmill for ten minutes and get the blood flowing, but your nervous system and muscles still aren’t prepped for the heavy squats coming their way.
The best thing to do is to activate each muscle group by mimicking the motor patterns you are about to perform. The first step you want to take is to activate your abdominals and return your spine to neutral, especially if you have been sitting slumped over at work or in class all day. A great exercise for this purpose is the Dead Bug. After two quick sets of 10 reps, you should be ready to move on.
Now you are going to want to open up your hips and return some mobility. Standing in place, perform 5 alternating, reverse lunges with each leg. Extend your arms overhead as you step back and feel an even greater stretch in your hip flexors. I also like to mix in alternating side lunges and quad pulls (pulling foot to your butt) to make sure my groin and quads are ready to go.
Now that you have re-established neutral and regained some range of motion, you want to increase the intensity to get the nervous system firing all on cylinders. One of my favorite exercises to lock in proper squat mechanics, while simultaneously activating the proper musculature, is the goblet squat.
Find a dumbbell, kettlebell or plate that isn’t too light, but also isn’t challenging to carry. Hold the weight with both hands in the middle of your chest with your abs braced and head neutral. Slowly descend into the bottom of the squat, keeping your feet completely flat and knees pressing out. In a strong, braced position, hold here at the bottom for 3 seconds before returning to the top. Pausing at the bottom forces the muscles to activate while engraining proper squat mechanics, which becomes important with the added load of a bar. Perform 2 sets of 5 reps of goblet squats with a 3 second pause and you will be ready to move some serious weight.