GAP Exercises for Less Injury and Higher Performance
Do you hate warming up?
Ya, me too!
Do you hate “wasting time” on low intensity exercises when you need to get in and out of the gym?
Ya, me too!
Do you hate being injured and your performance and results suffering from those injuries?
Ya, ME TOO!!!!
And that is why I use GAP exercises in my program and the programs of all of my athletes.
What Are GAP Exercises?
GAP exercises have classically been referred to as “filler” exercises in many performance training and fitness programs.
They are lower intensity exercises that are implemented to help you gain more mobility at specific joints, activate certain muscles and clean up faulty movement patterns.
I like to refer to them as GAP exercises rather than filler exercises because they help us gap our movement quality and performance. They don’t simply “fill” rest time, and should not be looked at that way. If they are, they will be executed poorly, and then they are a waste of time. Even worse, they will be feeding the problems.
When performed properly and with intent, GAP exercises help you achieve the necessary range of motion, greater stability and activation of muscles, proper movement patterns linked to long term health, more resiliency and higher performance.
Why You Need GAP Exercises
As just touched upon, GAP exercises will help you gain and maintain the necessary range of motion at joints, fire up the right muscles and correct faulty movement patterns. This is important if you are planning on being in the training game for the long run without injury.
Another huge benefit of GAP exercises is that they do indeed “fill” time where you can and should be resting. But again, they don’t simply fill time, they GAP the realms of lower intensity movements with higher intensity outputs.
Using them between higher intensity outputs while you are “resting” allows you to spend less time on the warm up, and also allows you more repetitions with these important exercises…without dedicating an extra specific block of time to them.
Typically programs will have you complete only one set of these movements in the warm up a couple times per week. It is hard to get the result desired with a couple sets per week. Or on the other hand, they will put aside another 10 minutes after the warm up to “activate and correct” muscles and patterns (I used to only incorporate both of these approaches). With this layout you will likely be spending 20-30+ minutes on the warm up and pre training block. This isn’t good if you are a busy individual (who isn’t busy?!).
So basically they help you become a higher performing, more resilient individual all while reducing your time in the gym.
Where Do GAP Exercises Fit In Your Program?
There are a few key times to incorporate GAP exercises.
While I just spoke about how programs only incorporate 1 set of a GAP exercise into a warm up, it is not that it isn’t good, its just that it is not enough to achieve the desired effect.
But, I do like to incorporate 1 set into the warm up as well in order to get things going. After you are finished with any soft tissue work that you do, it is time to get the body greater ranges of motion, to activate certain muscles and to start correcting movement patterns.
So the warm up is the first place you will use GAP exercises for a set (or two if you want).
The second, and most beneficial place to program your GAP exercises is in between your higher intensity compound movements.
When you are squatting, deadlifting, lunging, pushing, pulling or carrying something heavy and/or moving at high speeds, you will need to take a break in order to keep the quality of training high. Instead of just sitting or walking around, completing low intensity GAP exercises allows you to continue to work on the “little things” that make a huge difference in your training outcomes.
If you have a range of motion deficit for example, this is a great time to work on it. Or if you have trouble firing a certain muscle, or completing a certain movement pattern, this is an opportunity to work on it.
I like to pair my high intensity lower body movements with upper body GAP exercises, and my high intensity upper body movements with lower body GAP exercises. This prevents any sort of fatigue to be accumulated on the main muscle groups or patterns during your rest period.
For example, I like to pair trap bar deadlifts with wall slide variations. Not only will the wall slide keep from negatively impacting the deadlift, but the upward rotation of the shoulder blades you are achieving is counterbalancing the downward pull from the deadlift…at least slightly.
Or you can take a challenging set of pull ups and pair it with a half kneeling hip flexor mobility…more examples to come.
The last section of your program to incorporate GAP exercises is during rest periods of conditioning work, or at the completion of your main training program.
If you are performing higher intensity conditioning (intervals, circuits, sprints, etc.) you will be taking a rest period in between rounds. This is just like the higher intensity compound exercises, and a great time to complete more GAP exercises.
You should also be cooling down a little after training, and by completing some lower level mobility and activation work with GAP exercises you are achieving more crucial receptions while you are bringing your body through a “warm down”.
You don’t have to go crazy here as you don’t want to spend another 15 minutes in the gym, but a couple minutes will do wonders.
The Best GAP Exercises
Just like any exercises within your training program, GAP exercises should be tailored to you. With that being said, there are some very common “issues” that most of us will need to address.
Here are some of the best GAP exercises to help improve on those issues…in no particular order of importance.
Core Activation GAP Exercises
Many of us need to better activate the core musculature to keep the spine in a solid position, and to keep the hips from tipping forward or rotating. This is where these GAP exercises can come in and help you enhance your ability to do so.
Wall Press Leg Lowering
Plank work (and variations of)
Glute Activation GAP Exercises
Like the core, many of us have a hard time activating (turning on) our glutes. The glutes are major players in almost every lower body action, from stabilizing the hip joint to producing massive amounts of force…so we need to turn them on.
Side Lying Clam and Side Bridge Clam
Rotator Cuff and Para Scapular (around the shoulder blade) Activation GAP Exercises
Another area where many of us need more work turning muscles on is at the shoulder joint and shoulder girdle.
The rotator cuff and the muscles around the shoulder blade help to maintain the integrity of the shoulder complex, so we need to get them to activate and do their job.
Shoulder External Rotations
Band Pull Aparts
Lower Body Mobility GAP Exercises
When the hips don’t move well because of muscular stiffness it makes it difficult for you to complete lower body exercises (squat, deadlift, lunge, etc.) efficiently, and without working through compensatory movements (like low back extension instead which leads to low back pain all too often!).
The hips need to be able to move in 360 degrees in order to keep overall movement solid.
Hip Flexor Mobility
Upper Body Mobility GAP Exercises
Like the hips, the thoracic spine and shoulder girdle require sufficient range of motion in order to complete upper body movements efficiently.
Quadruped Extension Rotation
Wallslide to Liftoff
What Does GAP Pairing Look Like
Ok, now that we know what GAP exercises are, why they are important and some examples of which exercises you can use, lets put it together for you. Here are some GAP exercise pairs that you can use during your high intensity outputs.
Deadlift or Lunge Variations and Wallslides / Lat Stretch
During the deadlift or lunge variations you are holding heavy resistances in your hands. The heavy resistance places a downward pull on your shoulder joint and girdle. They also place a heavy emphasis on your lat activation, which is a good thing, but when the lats are too stiff or short they can cause problems.
By pairing it with a wall slide variation or lat stretch, you can help combat the excessive forces being placed on your shoulder and lat, helping you to prevent unwanted injury and compensations from those forces.
2) Squat variations with Shoulder External Rotations
During most squat variations (goblet squat, landmine front squat, front squat, back squat, etc.) the shoulder is working to some degree, but shouldn’t be overtaxed. The exception here is the Kb racked squat which requires a greater degrees of shoulder stability.
Because the shoulder isn’t overly taxed, this is a good place to add in some extra rotator cuff work for the shoulder.
3) Heavy Upper Body Strength Work with Lower Body Mobility / Activation Work
This is a little more of a broad recommendation, as their are multiple options. When you are getting after heavy pressing (bench press, db press, landmine press, etc.) and pulling exercises (db rows, pull ups, chin ups, etc.) the lower body is not being used to a great degree.
Because of this, this is a good opportunity to implement more lower body mobility and/or activation work which won’t negatively impact the performance of the upper body.
4) Conditioning Work with Your Greatest GAP Need
During high intensity conditioning work such as battle ropes, sled pushes, assault sprints, sprints, dynamax work, etc. you will have periods of time that you are resting. During these periods of time is another great opportunity to add in some of the most valuable GAP exercises to help address your greatest needs.
If you need extra hip mobility work? Throw it in.
Need more scapular stability? Here is a great place to work on it.
Have glute activation issues? Spend some of your rest turning on your glutes.
Fill The Gap
There is one other great time to complete some quality GAP exercise sets: on your off days from training.
This doesn’t have to take long, especially if you pair them systematically in a circuit fashion.
For the best info on how to do this, check out my previous article “Daily Movement Medication”.
Taking this information and putting it to use is one of the best things you can do to help enhance your training results, reduce pain and build a better performing and more resilient body.
Use GAP exercises, and make sure to execute them with intent!