Components of an Effective Warm-Up and Why You Should do Them

We’ve all been there…twenty minutes into a CrossFit class and you’re thinking to yourself, ‘Is this the warm-up or the workout?’ Oftentimes, warm-ups can be underappreciated because their value and importance is not fully understood. However, warm-ups can arguably be the most important component of a CrossFit class. They serve many different purposes with the most important being injury prevention. So, the next time you start to complain (whether audibly or in your head) about the length of the warm-up, think about these components of an effective warm-up and why they are important.

Increases the Body’s Core Temperature

A good warm-up usually starts with some type of monostructural movement (rowing, biking, running, skiing) to literally get the athletes warm. This is important because it starts to loosen up muscles and tendons which decreases the chance of muscle strains; it increases blood flow and oxygen to muscle tissues; it increases enzyme and metabolic activity; and improves the efficiency of muscle contraction and activation of neural pathways. Dropping a few beads of sweat in the warm-up is perfectly normal and is all part of preparing the body and brain to perform more difficult movement patterns that are likely to be seen later in the workout.

Elevates the Heart Rate

Warm-ups are also important for increasing an athlete’s heart rate. For example, let’s say Fran is the workout of the day. If you’ve done Fran before, then you know that thrusters and pull-ups are a deadly combination that can immediately spike your heart rate and leave you gasping for air. Therefore, in order to avoid the initial shock of this workout, it is important to increase an athlete’s heart rate before the workout even begins. An example of this could be completing a short workout with movements similar to those in Fran, something as simple as: 3 rounds – 5 cals on the Assault bike, 5 thrusters, 5 ring rows. The goal is to increase the heart rate, not kill the athlete before they do Fran, so you want them to work at a fast pace, but not an all-out sprint.

Preps the Joints and/or Movement Patterns

This warm-up component is especially important when the workout contains higher-skilled gymnastics movements or heavier and more technical lifts. For example, if heavy back squats are programmed for the day, it is important to first of all, prime the joints and muscles involved in the movement (hips, knees, ankles, glutes, hamstrings) and then secondly, to slowly build in weight to what the athlete will be working at. Using a small band around the athlete’s ankles or right above their knees and performing monster walks and skater walks down the length of the gym is an excellent way to target the posterior chain. Having the athlete perform Russian kettlebell swings to practice hinging at the hips or tempo goblet squats to warm up the knees and ankles are two more movements that help prep an athlete’s joints for more difficult loading.

Skill Practice 

Lastly, a warm-up is the perfect opportunity to practice skills that an athlete is lacking. For example, one great way to spike an athlete’s heart rate is to have them perform several sets of double-unders (either for a set amount of time or a specific number of reps). An added bonus: if athletes struggle with double-unders, they can use this time to practice using drills such as double taps, going back and forth between doubles and singles, etc., to improve their efficiency with the movement.