Warming Up to Excellence

I’m amused everyday at what people will do to avoid the warm-up (even arm wrestling won’t get you out of it!). The warm up itself isn’t that hard, but feeling motivated to move around when you are cold and tired can be a physical and mental challenge. However, the warm up is the most important part of the hour.

Most WODs (workouts of the day) at CrossFit Lake Forest entail a group warm up, strength or skill component, conditioning, and rolling out to cool down. We like to keep everyone working and sweating for the whole hour, even of the hardest part of the hour is 5-20 minutes. Most people spend the entire time thinking about that hardest part, whether it’s 150 Wall Balls, or heavy Back Squats. We think about how to break up our sets, what to put on the bar – we think about our strategy. While we are thinking about our strategy, most of us spend the bulk of that hour trying to conserve energy and strength. A lot of us mistakenly think doing as little as possible until that 5-20 minute conditioning portion will set us up for success.

It won’t.

When I explained this to one of my classes, my favorite response was “Warming up is what round 1 is for!”. This is funny because there is a hint of truth in it. We can use round one to warm up, and have a better performance in the consecutive rounds. However, that will not give you your best workout or help you achieve the best possible results. At CrossFit Lake Forest, we do not believe in good enough. We truly believe every rep counts. It is my job, as your coach, to push you harder than you will push yourself. That is where you will get the results that you will not get outside our box.

The Dynamic Warm Up

At CrossFit Lake Forest we start our WOD with a dynamic warm-up. What does that mean? We spend time generally warming up our joints, connective tissue, and waking up our muscles.

Most people understand the importance of the dynamic portion of the warm-up. To further educate you, another purpose of the warm-up is to incorporate isometric movements into your daily training. Currently, KB Rows are part of your warm-up. Seem random? It’s not. It came from my observation that many of you lack thoracic spine strength. This means that you round out the top of your back during movements like front squats and deadlifts. In adults, it’s evidence that you sit at your computer all day, hunched over your keyboard. Instead of just doing Bent Rows every couple weeks or so, we are working on this imbalance everyday in the warm-up.

Specific Mobility

We follow that with some specific mobility work. Again, more CrossFit lingo. What is mobility? Simply, it’s stretching, usually more static, but it can also be dynamic. The mobility portion changes depending on the specific movements we are doing that day.

The importance of the mobility portion is another part everyone understands. We have all stretched before, and understand that specific stretching is necessary in preparation for our WOD. However, what a lot of people don’t bother with is intensity, and taking some of these stretches, and doing them at home.

Want to get to RX in thrusters? Not happening unless you can rest the bar on your shoulders (rack the bar). If your lack of mobility forces you to hold the bar in front of your shoulders, you are not doing heavy thrusters because it puts too much pressure on the shoulder joint.

That said, we only stretch that position around 3 times a week. At that rate you are looking at years before you’ll see a lot of improvement. You have to incorporate your goatwork (work your weaknesses) stretching into the warm-up if you get to class early, or when you are at home, in order to see improvement faster.

Position Work

And finally, the part everyone hates the most, our conditioning specific warm up. This varies depending on the workout. However, generally speaking, we do some weightless or light weight (read bodywieght or empty barbell) position work. Once we have good movement patterns for each part of the workout, we move on to preparing our bodies for weight and intensity. In order to do that, you have to get a sweat going and your heart rate up again, and we do that by performing a modified, untimed, version of the conditioning portion of the WOD.

Now we are getting into the two parts many people do not like – position work, and pre-conditioning specific warm-up. To experienced CrossFitters, I’ve notice this becomes the bathroom break, as if only novices have to do it. Or you skip ahead and instead of working progressions with the group, and start doing the full movement on you own. To many, the work seems easy, or only for beginners. However, it is the opposite.

Whether we are novice or veteran, no one has perfect form, and certainly not perfect form through an entire WOD. For experienced CrossFitters, position work addresses bad habits. These habits do not go away as the weight and intensity goes up. The opposite. It usually gets worse. For novices, it’s your opportunity to avoid creating bad habits.

Whether you want to correct bad movement patterns, or make sure you take the time to properly engrain good ones, this lightweight position work is the most important part of your WOD.


The next most important part, and often completely rebelled against, is the pre-conditioning conditioning. This is the part where I tell you to do an untimed shorter version of the workout. Everyone wants to hold back, not exert themselves for th entire hour so that they have all energy possible for the conditioning portion of the WOD. This is the worst thing you can do. Especially in high intensity training.

Warm muscles perform better and protect you from injury. Sweating preps your body to cool more quickly once the work begins, and the strain on your breathing and heart will be decreased because your warm up increased the size of your blood vessels, and now blood can move more rapidly. Blood flow equals recovery. It’s the reason we tell you to shake it out when you feel fatigued. If you avoid exerting yourself before the WOD, you are avoiding warming the muscles, avoid increasing the size of your blood vessels, and avoid recruiting the proper muscle fibers, and you avoid preparing your central nervous system for work. Essentially, you are warm enough about the time the workout is over if you do not perform the warm-up as it is precribed. The more experienced you are, the harder it becomes for your performance to improve. The warm-up is your key for sucess.

In the end, the conditioning portion is 20 minutes or less, but we are working the entire hour you are with us at CrossFit Lake Forest. Take the tools we are providing you, and you won’t be injured, and you will improve both physically and mentally. In short, you will achieve excellence. And you will do more than survive – you will thrive.

Or, more simply – Just Do It!


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