Written by Ryan Brown
CrossFitters tend to love the sentiment of the ever-popular T-Shirt proclaiming “Your workout is our warm up!” This thought process still prevails in many CrossFit gyms across the world. Warm ups aren’t sexy, but they can be the most important part of the workout, ESPECIALLY for the novice.
1. Of course, we want to literally “warm up” during our warmup. We should raise our core temperature and get a little sweat going prior to beginning our workout. However, just coming up with a short workout to get yourself moving wastes the best opportunity that we have to improve the movement of our athletes.
Should you be sweating and active in your warm up? Yes, but that should be a result of a sequence of events planned in your warm up that is designed to optimize your movement efficiency while simultaneously and gradually increasing movement difficulty, amplitude, load, and velocity….. not an AMRAP with wall balls and pull-ups.
2- Mashing. Coming into the gym and spending 30 minutes on foam rollers, lacrosse balls, rolling barbells on your quads, or whatever fancy way you have discovered to perform SMR are not the most effective ways to use your time. Of course, just as breaking a sweat should be part of your warm up strategy, you can integrate SMR work as well.
Can you see some benefit from foam rolling prior to your training? Yes, but it is a small piece of the puzzle, and if you are so bad off that you need to roll out for 30 minutes everyday, then you should quit being such a tight-ass and pony up $60 for a massage! Maybe even rethink your training a little bit…
“If we aggressively pursue the segmental dissection of movement without mapping the pattern matrix needed for functional activity, we show our ignorance of nature and the supporting system behind the structures and energies that move us.” – Gray Cook, Movement
Somehow over the past few years it became increasingly popular to stretch the shit out of yourself so that you can achieve ranges of motion that you have never demonstrated the ability to control… right before lifting weights.
There are two main issues with this approach. 1- Not to go too far down the wormhole about motor control and brain shit, but an overwhelming majority of the time, you don’t have a tissue extensibility problem. Your poor positioning has forced your brain to produce crude stability at a local level, in order for the system to continue to function at some capacity. This is why we don’t want to take that stability away, and then go right into lifting weights. 2- Even if you do have a real tissue extensibility problem, stretching it is only part of the solution. After you gain that range of motion you need to use that range of motion in very controlled positions so that you can ensure that you are learning correct movement patterns. Gaining range of motion and then adding load or velocity too quickly can be recipe for disaster. Unfortunately, often times the stretch may make things feel better in the short term, but then we spend time chasing the problem around the body as it moves from spot to spot.
Can you do some stretching prior to your workout? Sure, but like your fancy foam rolling, it is only a small piece of our overall warm up equation.
It is easy to play internet troll on people and point out everything they are doing wrong. The important thing is not to dwell on that stuff, but rather to move on to how we can fix your warm ups. Rather than give you specific warm ups to do, I will give you a template sequence into which you can plug whatever exercises or stretches fit for you that day.
A- Foam Rolling/SMR
I don’t like for people to spend more than 5 minutes on stuff like this, and if I am the one coaching the class, then they should have done it prior to the start of class.
B- Breathing / Core Activation
I perform some type of dedicated breathing drill in every single warmup for class. The majority of our clients spend most of their day stuck in extension unable to perform proper breathing patterns. Right from the beginning of class we need to begin to re-establish neutral.
After we have re-established neutral and reinforced our breathing/bracing pattern, then we can do some light stretching. It is important to establish the bracing pattern prior to stretching, because stretching into a position that you can’t brace can do more harm than good. Don’t get caught up in this part of your warm up. If you are doing everything else right, then you will notice as you become more well-trained, you’ll have less and less “restriction”. That being said, there is nothing wrong with some light stretching.
Plus, it feels good, and I like to do stuff that feels good.
D- Isolation/Activation Exercises
After you have gained some length, it is a really solid idea to learn to use the muscles that you haven’t been using because they has been so tight/out of position. Activation exercises are best done in stable positions in order to ensure that we are achieving the desired effect. It is all too easy to perform what you think is an activation exercise in which you actually slink back into a faulty movement pattern that you are more familiar with.
E- Active Warmup
This is when we should really start to break the sweat. Parts A-D are aimed more at optimizing the position of our body prior to increasing the amplitude, load, or velocity of the movement.
Depending on your clients, this could be a split squat, goblet squat, or for more advanced clients, a bar warmup.
F- Dynamic Warmup
The last phase of our warmup is going to be our dynamic warmup. After we have introduced multi-joint large-amplitude movements, then we are ready to add velocity and load. Things like skips, jumps, sprints, wall balls, Kb swings could all fit into this category.
Maybe you are sitting there thinking. “Damn, that is a lot of stuff to do for a warmup!”
Well, no, it is not. Even if you spent 5 minutes on each category, which is a ton, then you would only be 25 min into your hour long class. Assuming that you make people do their foam rolling prior to the start of class. That leaves you 15-20 min for strength work, and 15-20 min for your WOD, which should cover about 90% of your classes.
Time is not an excuse to use ineffective warm ups with your clients. Organize yourself logistically prior to class, take charge at the beginning of class, and get your people moving. We only have an hour per day to change lives. Don’t waste it by letting people reinforce poor movement patterns on your watch.Ryan Brown is the head physical preparation coach and owner of Derby City CrossFit /DarkSide Strength in Louisville,Ky. Ryan’s focus is on correcting and perfecting movement/motor patterns to get the most out of his athletes. He has competed in CrossFit, Powerlifting, strongman, and currently Olympic lifting. His clients include; elite level power lifters, national level Olympic lifters, pro MMA fighters, college football players, HS athletes, CrossFitters, old broke people, and pretty much anyone else who wants to do something better. Website, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter