Prehab: Foundational Exercises to Add to Your Routine

When we hear “rehab” in the fitness world, we often think of physical therapy and the rehabilitation that takes place following injury or surgery. Prehab isn’t as sexy as a power clean or snatch, isn’t as grinding as a deadlift, and isn’t as introspective as yoga. However, it’s something that should be included in every single training program.

Prehab is what keeps your body healthy as you push yourself in the gym, studio, or training class.

What is Prehab?

The best way to describe prehab is as a proactive way of training often-injured areas of the body with a dedicated focus. This often means spending time working on joint mobility, stability, and strength. Prehab prepares your body for the long-term.

While it is damn near impossible to stay injury-free forever, prehab is an effective program for strengthening your weak points to minimize the likelihood of injury. If an injury does happen, this prehab work can even limit injury severity.

The most important part of prehab, other than remaining pain-free, is FORM. You’re probably used to trainers like Jessica here at Honest Body Fitness telling you to maintain proper form. With prehab work, form is of the utmost importance. Many prehab exercises are corrective. Why would you do a corrective exercise with the incorrect form? You wouldn’t, right?

How to Get Started

It’s simple! You can get started by incorporating these five exercises into your program. Feel free to do them in rotation on a rest day or before or after your regular workout.

1. The Bird Dog

This isn’t just a great core exercise; it’s a key prehab movement. To do the Bird Dog, start in Table Top (or Quadruped) position. Then, maintaining a neutral spine and engaged core, extend opposite arm and leg to full extension. Avoid tilting your pelvis up or down and shifting your weight around. Remember to maintain consistency and even breathing throughout.

The movement in your shoulder should come from those deltoid muscles (with some lat engagement) while the movement in your extending leg should primarily come from your glutes (butt muscles—not your lower back or hamstrings).

Once you’ve got the movement down, hold the extended position for a full breath cycle.

2. The RKC Plank

If you can hold a traditional plank for a long time, you may not be doing right. Give this version a try and you’ll find yourself shaking in just 10 seconds—seriously, 10 seconds is all it will take.

Get into a traditional forearm plank position, with your shoulders directly above your elbows, feet together, and your face towards the floor (neck straight). Clench your hands into fists and pull your shoulder blades apart. Now, push your forearms into the floor as if you’re trying to bring your elbows toward your toes.

As you do this, squeeze your glutes and hamstrings so that your lower back flattens. You should feel your butt and legs working hard! Focus on creating and maintaining the maximum tension possible, from head to toe.

3. Mini Band Lateral Walks

It’s worth noting that there are options when it comes to band placement. One study showed that placing the band on your forefeet (think balls of your feet) created a greater glute medius and glute Maximus activation when compared to the ankle or knee placements. I recommend you start with the mini band just above your knees until you get this movement down, with the right muscles activating. Then you can move to the ankles, then the forefoot (as seen in the video below).

One of the most common errors I see with this exercise is that people lean into the lateral step. To avoid this, maintain your same position, back straight up and down, using your glutes to step your leg out (think about the muscle pulling your leg out).

When you do this, you’ll see minimal upper body sway, just like in the video above. If you don’t feel your glutes activating, try turning your toes in just slightly.

4. Kettlebell Arm Bar

This exercise will help improve shoulder stability (protect your rotator cuffs!) and can help increase core stability. Building a stable shoulder complex is KEY to healthy shoulders long-term. Because this is a prehab exercise, don’t max out the weight. Start with something lower than you would grab for a shoulder press or traditional muscle-building deltoid exercise. Start light and don’t get crazy with your range of motion. Focus on keeping your arm vertical, palm to the sky.

As you drive up, from laying on your back to your side, use your big muscle groups (hello, glutes!) to move your body. Any rotation in your core body should start in your hips and glutes, not your shoulder, thoracic spine, etc.

Once you master the basics, you can add a shoulder rotation in the top, extended position, rotating just a few degrees in each direction. Make sure the movement begins and ends within the shoulder.

5. Bear Crawl

Get back to the movements of your childhood with this exercise. We learn to crawl before we walk as infants, and now it’s time to learn to crawl yet again. This exercise will challenge your dynamic core stability while loading your upper and lower extremities (arms and legs).

Anterior pelvic tilt (APT) and other spinal movements that move our body outside its normal range of motion lead to compensation in other parts of the body. By compensating, other muscles can become overstretched and overused, which can lead to injury. Having a strong, stable core is fundamental to safely and effectively progress in fitness, whether that’s yoga, powerlifting, or circuit training.

The bear crawl will also help you become more body aware. Having a good sense of body awareness can help you maintain proper form during all exercises, not just this one. If you’re unsure about whether or not you’re maintaining proper form, use a cone (as seen in the video), record yourself, or have a trainer watch you and provide feedback.

These prehab exercises all have progressions available. Once you’ve mastered the moves above, take things to the next level with bottoms-up positioning for your kettlebell, for example.