What’s in warm-up? Why we do what we do at our CrossFit Gym

By: Michael Collette (Head Coach/ Co-Owner at CrossFit Prototype)

We get this question quite often from our interns or personal trainers in our development program as to “what’s the purpose of X exercise in the warm-up during CrossFit training?” or, “why do you order the warm-up drills in that order?” There are more questions that can be asked, but in order to be able to answer those questions, you need to have a purpose and a system for your warm up. I am a firm believer that corrective exercises should be individualized based on assessment and how someone moves, to that end, a general and specific warm up for the WOD that day can be a little different and more generalized for a large group. We have seen many members and athletes from CFP and conducted our Prototype Movement Assessment in order to create a specialized plan for each person to get them moving better specific to their movement limitations. With that said, let’s dive into the high level basics “WHY” we warm up and don’t just jump into a workout:

Why should you “warm up” before CrossFit workouts?

  • increase blood flow
  • raise heart rate and tissue temperature
  • prep the nervous system for movement
  • activate or even “turn off” specific muscles that are inhibiting movement quality
  • skill quality of movement for particular exercises
  • result=decrease risk of injury
  • result=move better
  • result=increase in performance output

Above we list out at a high level the “why” you warm up but to answer the question presented in the heading of this article, “What’s in a warm up?” we can get more into the finer qualities and details and to do so I will take you through our system and reasoning at CFP. If you are interested in seeing an in depth look at what an actual CrossFit Class at CFP would like like, just click HERE. Below is the outline for how we structure our warm ups for a CrossFit class. NOTE: this is not necessarily the same for an individualized warm up

Soft Tissue Prep

When we talk about soft tissue prep what we are talking about is utilizing an object such as a foam roller or stick to increase blood flow and tack down on “knots” that are formed in the soft tissue. This is basic self myofascial release and should be done everyday prior to your workout. Now, you don’t need to spend 30 minutes on soft tissue work but a general soft tissue mobilization for those “tender and tight” spots is important as well as a general prep for the muscles you will be really utilizing during your workout. 3-7 minutes should be spent here for your soft tissue prep. As a side note, always work your way up the body; think calves to shoulders.

General mobility and activation

In this portion of the warm up, we dive into general active mobility drills that are specific to the workout of the day. In addition, we incorporate basic muscle activation drills to fire certain muscles groups that require stability for the exercises we are doing that day. We like to perform 4-6 of these “general” movement prep exercises as part of our warm up. More specifically, we start from the floor (if need be) and work our way up to a standing position or to a more dynamic movement.
Here is an example of a WOD (workout of the day) and what a warm up look like for that day:
Overhead press 7×3 @65% 1RM
10 min AMRAP
30 Double Unders
7 Handstand push-ups
General Warm-up:
-SMR (soft tissue work; 3-7 min)
-Deadbugs (5/5)-midline prep and shoulder flexion/scap prep-WATCH VIDEO HERE
-walk the dog-calve mobility and shoulder stability (2-3 sec x 10 each leg)
-pike pass through-shoulder mobility/ activation and midline stability (x10)
-PVC pipe Lat stretch-lengthen mobilize Lats for overhead position (:30-1:00 moving)
-Wall facing slides- upward rotation of scaps, fire upper traps (x10 w/ breath maintaining rib position)-WATCH VIDEO HERE
-Back to wall shoulder flexion- upward rotation of scaps, fire upper traps, challenge midline stability (x10/w breath maintaining rib position)- WATCH VIDEO HERE
So as you can see the how the movements coincide with the movements for the workout but in addition, the flow of the movements start from the ground and work up to a standing position. This is important for 2 reasons: First, positions attained on the floor are easier to get into vs. in a standing position (think flexing shoulders in a dead bug on the floor vs. a back to wall shoulder flexion), second, these drills are progressive and create a better overall flow for the class vs. laying down, standing up, kneeling, standing up, sitting down etc. The flow is just off when you do that and it makes for easier progressions and speed of warm up in this fashion.

Specific Warm-up/Nervous system prep

After we complete the general warm up with our specific mobility and activation drills, we now can get more specific into the movements we are going to be training for the day a hand. The importance of this section is not just another layer of the warm up but a “nervous system” preparatory focus to get the body moving like how you will want it during the workout, skill and drill the movements at hand and also from a coaching perspective, examine the movement quality of the individual to make sure they have the proper skill acquisition to complete the exercise. The list of these movements is really specific to that day, meaning there might be more depending upon the difficulty or skill of the movement such as an Olympic lift. Below is an example of  a specific warm up for the above workout:
Specific Warm up:
5 yoga push ups- great for scapular movement but also to understand finish position or modified inverted position of HSPU
10 band pull aparts-activate muscles of upper back and posterior shoulder to create stability in pressing movements
15 Double Unders/30 singles- specific skill prep and practice for the double unders in the conditioning portion
5 Overhead press (w/ light bar)- specific skill prep and practice for overhead presses in the strength portion
Again, the format of the specific warm up should flow similar to that of the general warm up to keep it moving and in a smooth fashion. The trouble I see many facilities and coaches getting into is putting an over focus on this section to early before doing any movement prep. That’s like putting the “pedal to the metal” after just starting your car. It doesn’t make sense. You need to prime the body for movement before you really move.
If you are interested in getting an assessment to see what your movement limitations are, feel free to contact us at info@crossfitprototype.com to get evaluated and allow us to help you on your road to moving better!