Why a Better Warm-Up Can Increase Your CrossFit Training Gain


In most traditional gyms, a typical warm-up involves about 15 to 20 minutes on a treadmill or stationary bike. That’s it. While most fitness experts note that “this is better than nothing,” getting ready for an all-out CrossFit session requires more than this type of cursory warm-up.

Several CrossFit websites noted the reasons for warm-ups:

  • Increase body temperature and heart rate
  • Put muscles through their entire range of motion
  • Stimulate the entire body and major bio-mechanical functions
  • Help the athlete practice and perfect basic movements
  • Prepare the athlete (and their nervous system) for intense exercise

Warm-ups serve two important functions. They enhance performance and prevent injuries. As such, an effective warm-up has both physical and mental benefits.

All too often, those trying to keep fit are pushed for time. They have jobs to do, kids to pick up, dinner to cook and any number of other responsibilities. As a result, they often join a work-out session in progress and immediately begin the group’s activity at full speed. This is a recipe for disaster.

Warming Up the Blood

According to Gale Bernhardt, a former Olympic Triathlon coach, the 10 or 15 minutes period before the actual workout begins is critical to getting the optimal benefit of the activity.  She notes, “Relaxed, sitting in your chair and reading this column produces a relatively low 15- to 20-percent of blood flow to your skeletal muscles. Most of the small blood vessels (capillaries) within those muscles are closed. After 10 to 12 minutes of total body exercise, blood flow to the skeletal muscles increases to some 70 to 75 percent and the capillaries open.

“Along with more blood flow, comes an increase in muscle temperature. This is good because the hemoglobin in your blood releases oxygen more readily at a higher temperature. More blood going to the muscles, along with more oxygen available to the working muscles, means better performance.

“An increase in temperature also contributes to faster muscle contraction and relaxation. Nerve transmission and muscle metabolism is increased, so the muscles work more efficiently.”

Injury Prevention

Injury

The most likely injury resulting from a CrossFit athlete failing to warm-up properly is a muscle strain or even a muscle tear. When the muscles are stretched during a warm-up, it is more difficult (taking considerably more force) for them to be injured.  While muscle strains can be painful, there is also a more serious result in the failure to warm up properly.

In her article Bernhardt noted, “There have been human studies on sudden, high-intensity exercise and the effects on the heart. One particular study had 44 men (free of overt symptoms of coronary artery disease) run on a treadmill at high intensity for 10 to 15 seconds without any warm-up. Electrocardiogram (ECG) data showed that 70 percent of the subjects displayed abnormal ECG changes that were attributed to low blood supply to the heart muscle.

“To examine the benefit of a warm-up, 22 of the men with abnormal results did a jog-in-place at a moderate intensity for two minutes before getting on the treadmill for another test of high-intensity running. With that small two-minute warm-up, 10 of the men now showed normal ECG tracings and 10 showed improved tracings. Only two of the subjects still showed significant abnormalities.”  

Yogi Was Right

Yogi Berra

The former New York Yankee catcher, , was famous for his malapropisms, especially about sports. One of his most famous was his brilliant, yet goofy, description about the mental aspects of baseball. Yogi deftly opined:

“Baseball is 90% mental and the other half physical”

Of course, this analysis can be made about a CrossFit warm-up session as well!

A proper warm-up prepares the athlete for the rigorous activities that await them. When the warm-up sessions are consistent – meaning the same activities are done as warm-ups in each session – the CrossFit athlete does not have to “think” about anything. They can just DO.

Many CrossFit trainers use the same warm-up regimen for each workout session for this reason. This allows the athletes to focus on preparing mentally for what will very likely be new activities, arranged in novel ways.

A Great CrossFit Warm-Up

There are as many CrossFit warm-ups as there are CrossFit trainers. However, following the KISS principle is always the best policy. According to Greg Glassman, the founder of CrossFit Inc. and the publisher of CrossFit Journal, here are simple warm-up activities that are excellent ways to get ready for the WOD.

Samson Stretch

Overhead Squat

Sit-up

Back Extension

Pull-up

Dip

Rally Fitness

He notes, “The essential features of our warm-up are that they include a stretch and major hip/leg extension, trunk/hip extension and flexion, and pushing and pulling movements. The combinations are limitless and might include more challenging movements like good mornings, hollow rocks, rope climb, or handstand push-ups in place of back extensions, sit-ups, pull-ups, and dips. The movements used will largely depend on your athletic development, but over time the more challenging movements can be included without being a whole workout.”

No matter how pressed you are for time don’t skimp on the warm-up phase of your workout. If you work out at a CrossFit facility, follow the lead of your trainer and if you have a home CrossFit gym, use these suggested warm-up exercises. Your workout will be better for it.

What do you do for your warm-up? Leave a comment and we’ll share with our readers.

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