Take mobility: We need a balance of mobility and stability for our joints to move safely and efficiently, says Maghsoodi. Having too much of one or the other can lead to potentially harmful movement patterns that can increase your chances of injury. For example, the shoulder is one of the most mobile joints in the body, but many people lack shoulder stability, which can cause the joint to turn and rotate too much. As a result, it can tear or pull out of the socket during certain activities like heavy overhead lifting or any swinging or throwing movement. Exercises that work on both mobility and stability upfront can help fend off that type of injury.
Muscle activation, or priming, just means getting a specific muscle or muscle group warmed up—by using your body weight or light resistance tools like bands—before adding a more challenging load. Activation helps by warming up the tissues, getting the joint used to moving through its full range of motion, and activating the mind-muscle connection so that you feel and understand the right joint positioning, says Yuen. This work can be done in your warm-up or as an active rest between heavier exercises, he adds.
And finally, strength-based exercises can help reduce your risk of injury by building strength in specific areas, which allows you to complete activities that are more demanding to those muscles. They’re often isolation exercises, as opposed to compound movements, which work multiple muscle groups, says Maghsoodi. Say, for instance, you sprint, or incorporate short bursts of high-speed running into your cardio workouts: Your strength-based prehab may include weighted hamstring curls, which will keep those muscles in the back of your leg strong and ready for the explosive force of a sprint.
How to incorporate prehab into your routine
How often you prehab is going to depend on what sort of exercises you’re doing, says Maghsoodi. “You can’t give one-size-fits-all [recommendation],” he says. Generally, some kind of prehab every day is best, but it depends on what your problem is and what component of prehab you’re using.
For example, he says, if someone has an issue with mobility, he may recommend they do related exercises three to five times a day (which seems like a lot, but these moves—hip circles, glute bridges, cat/cow, bodyweight lunges—are quick, and you can do them in the middle of other everyday activities). If you’re working on strength, he’d suggest doing the work every other day or so to give your muscles time to recover.
Muscle activation work can typically be done before every workout as part of your dynamic warm-up, Yuen says.
While the exact prehab exercises you do will depend on what workouts and sports you’re preparing your body for, there are a few general areas people can benefit from prehabbing. (And like all things related to your body and injury prevention, working with a professional is the best way to learn what you need and how to do it right.)
Hips and knees
“The outer hips—the gluteus medius and minimus, and hip rotators—tend to get overlooked unless you do a ton of single-leg training,” says Yuen. That can cause hip strength and mobility limitations and lead to overuse injuries when you do put a lot of stress on those areas.
Strength or mobility issues in your hips can also affect your knees and feet (remember, it’s all connected!), so Yuen stresses that if you have any kind of issues there, prehab work on your hips may help.
That’s why Yuen encourages lateral hip strength exercises, activation work with bands, or strength moves on one leg, which help you focus on one hip at a time and improve stability and balance too.