Body screaming “no!”
I’m not sure what your warmup feels like, but these are all things I experience in the first few minutes of my CrossFit warm up.
As…not pleasant as these things sound, I often consider the alternative.
Knees cracking…under a heavy barbell.
Shoulders popping…hoisting up a heavy dumbbell.
Body screaming “no!”…15 seconds into my competition qualifier WOD.
A CrossFit warm up may not be the most fun part of your training day.
But it might be the most necessary part.
What are the benefits of warming up and what kinds of CrossFit warm up approaches are there? Glad you asked; you’ve come to the right place!
Table of Contents
Benefits of a CrossFit Warm up
If you’ve ever walked up to a loaded barbell and attempted a heavy clean without warming up, you can probably speak to the importance of a good CrossFit warm up.
Things feel slow and hard.
You don’t have any speed or explosiveness.
It feels like you’re catching a log as your knees scream out in agony.
If you haven’t done this before, I wouldn’t suggest doing it. However, doing so will give you a much greater appreciation for properly a proper CrossFit warm up!
The most important benefit that warming up provides is general injury prevention. Cold, unadapted muscles and ligaments are more susceptible to injury.
Think about it on a larger scale:
Ask a man who runs three to four miles every day to run his best mile for time against a man who has never run more than a couple hundred yards in his life.
Because the first man’s body has adapted to distance running over time and his body has slowly “warmed” to this feat, he is easily able to complete this task.
The second man’s body has not adapted to anything (other than the cushions on his couch) and such a task would provide a major shock to his system.
He would be courting injury as none of his muscles or tendons would know how to respond to the invasive stimulus, yet alone be capable of handling it.
A pre-CrossFit warm up is a largely condensed version of the first man’s training regimen. Investing even 5-10 minutes in it will largely reduce your potential for injury.
Warming up also promotes blood flow throughout the body. An important benefit of this flow is the efficient movement of oxygen throughout the body.
Can you actually feel these effects, though?
I know I can.
It’s always the same story when I am warming up: I am in the middle of rowing or light thrusters and start to feel pretty gassed. I immediately think to myself “how can I feel this tired in a warmup? My actual workout is going to kill me!”
These thoughts are hitting me just as my body starts to amp up the blood flow and oxygen delivery throughout my body. By the end of my CrossFit warm up, I’ve caught my breath and settled down, ready to absolutely crush my first lift of the day.
Without my warmup, I’d be experiencing that fatigue during my second set of squats or third set of snatches. My performance would be limited as my body rushed to catch up.
Get your blood flowing early so you can avoid compromising your first few working sets.
A final benefit to warming up is the opportunity to work on session-specific movements early in your training session. These are generally performed in the second portion of the warmup, after mobility exercises. We’ll discuss this element shortly.
General Warmup and Mobility
I stumbled upon Tom Morrison’s work a few years ago when I first began my garage gym training. I was used to a good old CrossFit warm up and movement-specific work, but wanted a general mobility routine that I could set my watch to.
I never subscribed to his Simplistic Mobility Method program, but have found the following sequence to be effective while also being easy to remember:
The little tests he includes have also been useful to me over the last few years. I have definitely found that my knees and glutes have become more resilient over time.
If your programming only includes workout-specific warmup work, I suggest performing this sequence immediately prior. Once you have it memorized, you can get through it in 3-4 minutes and your body will be more prepared for more intense work.
Training Session-Specific CrossFit Warm up
Knowing that you have a WOD with plenty of box jumps later in your workout, throwing in a few low-height jumps, is ideal. Practicing the movement when the stakes are low allows you to focus on your form and reminds your body what the movement pattern feels like.
The good news is, this strategy works for all exercises and movements!
An example of this on a day where you’ve programmed heavy strict presses with a rowing and ring muscle up WOD afterwards might look something like this:
3 rounds of: 15 cal row, 10 & 10 single-arm dumbbell presses, 20-second static hold, 10 hollow rocks
In this warmup, every movement you’ll be performing during your training session is mimicked. By the end of the warmup, your blood is flowing, your body is primed, and every exercise feels familiar.
Movement-Specific CrossFit Warm up Example: Squat Warmups
If you do CrossFit, you squat a lot.
If you do powerlifting, you squat a lot.
If you do weightlifting, you squat a lot.
You can probably see where I’m going with this…
Squatting is something all performance athletes regularly do. Whether we are performing a traditional back squat, overhead squat, front squat, or air squat, we can’t seem to get away from the “King of Exercise”.
Because of this, I find it particularly important to warmup before getting under the bar; I personally have a number of go-to exercises.
Nothing clears the cobwebs in my knees out better than walking lunges. If I am squatting or front squatting that day, lunges are non-negotiables.
3 sets of 10-15 steps (each leg) generally does the trick and it is really fun feeling the progression from the first set (“oh gosh! My knees feel like they’re going to implode!”) to the third set (“do people really only squat to parallel?! My knees were made for ATG!”)
Medicine Ball Squat Jumps
Truth be told, I use a wall ball for these, but the effect is the same. The movement pattern of the squat combined with the explosiveness that the light resistance presents is perfect for me. It gets my body primed to get low and bounce out of the bottom and through the roof.
Doing 3 sets of 10 is sufficient here. Using a ball instead of a barbell is a safety benefit; jumping with a barbell on your back or in a front rack is an unnecessary risk. A med/wall ball does the job just fine.
Deep Squat Sequence
The guys at Squat University aptly named their channel. Watch enough of their videos and you deserve a B.A. in Squat!
The deep squat sequence of movements is excellent for opening up the hips, priming the ankles, and promoting the all important core stability for the weighted movements to follow. It perfectly complements the two previous movements. One deep squat sequence is sufficient for your working day squat warmup needs!
While the previous warmups are effective for just about any squat variation, if your workout calls for overhead squats or full snatches, you might want to consider these movements:
If you’ve been neglecting your core stability and overhead mobility (like I have) performing this exercise with weight is going to be torture. Definitely opt for a training bar or a PVC pipe when first performing it.
Thankfully, the SOTS press benefits outweigh its learning curve. Even with light weights, it promotes the necessary stabilization for performing overhead squats and Olympic lifts.
As a non-warmup/regular training exercise, the SOTS press can be used to better develop core strength. They can also promote shoulder and pressing strength, in the generally less stable squatting position.
The Snatch Balance is another workout that is found in both warmups and in regular training programming. As a CrossFit warmup piece, it preps the body for receiving the snatch and for controlling temporarily non-static weights overhead.
An additional benefit is the degree of speed that is demanded in quickly descending into a squat with the bar rapidly ascending overhead.
If you can maintain stability in this environment, traditional squats will feel like cupcakes!
WOD-Specific CrossFit Warmups
There are a number of occasions where certain movements should be done at length before undertaking a specific WOD or heavy lift.
The CrossFit Open workouts receive A LOT of attention, largely because ANYONE can participate in them. Ready to help all comers devise their best strategies for Open domination CrossFit training organizations regularly put out videos such as this one:
Many of these organizations take things a step further. Instead of solely focusing on WOD strategy, they walk you through warm-up regimes that will prepare you for the upcoming gauntlet.
Training Think Tank, a renowned CrossFit training facility, released this shortly after Open Workout 21.1 dropped.
Here, the pros discuss strategies to get the body primed for the workout. They delve into warmups for the specific movements (double-unders and wall walks) that comprised the WOD.
WOD-specific warmup put you right where you need to be. The body is already assimilated to the upcoming stimulus and there is no need for adaption during the workout.
Less renowned WODs (or pretty much any WOD not in the CrossFit Open) are not likely to have dedicated videos like these. If so, YouTube would be full of videos of people warming up!
That said, you should watch a few, try them out, and get a feel for what the WOD-specific warmups are trying to accomplish. Do this enough and you should be able to devise these types of CrossFit warm ups on your own!
Heavy Lift-Specific Warmups
Earlier, we looked at the wonderful Deep Squat Sequence from the guys at Squat University. This is great for priming the lower body for the day’s rigors, but what if you’re looking for something that will prime you for a PR attempt?
Here the guys walk through a series of movements to prep the body for the stresses of the heavy squat attempts to come:
The second half of the video discusses more general training methods with a world record holding powerlifter. He provides a lot of excellent insights into his warmups and how they enabled him to crush so many existing records.
If Matt Wenning and his ~900 pound squat tells me that a specific warmup regimen can get my PRs higher, I’m inclined to listen to him!
As opposed to warming up the body for specific WOD movements or lift, a good gymnastics warmup is going to activate everything from the neck down.
Not to be confused with mindless stretching, gymnastics warmups are intended to “wake up” muscles that are lying dormant. This particularly applies those we have to consciously think about using.
Imagine trying to hit a muscle-up cold. Nothing is working, nothing is awake.
I’m not sure if it feels painful or just feels gross!
Gymnastics exercises are so dependent on our own body’s control over itself and efficiency of movement (as opposed to the manipulation of a barbell or dumbbell). It is especially important that we have all of our body’s muscles ready to chip in!
No explanation is needed here and in a just a few minutes, you can put your body through 100 repetitions of gymnastics-priming goodness
Frequently Asked Questions
Your warmup will largely depend on what you’re doing during the day’s training session. However, with the primary Tom Morrison mobility portion included, I would never suggest going over 20 minutes.
If you go much longer than 20 minutes you start to feel as though the warmup is the workout. Plus, if you’re following any of the warmups above, at this point, your body is sufficiently primed.
Matt Wenning mentioned he limits his dynamic, world-record enabling warmups to 15 minutes.
I suggest having a base, mobility warmup that you are able to remember and perform in your sleep (such as the Tom Morrison routine). Other than that, your warmup should change based on what your workout entails.
It is possible you will do similar movements more often than others (I love my lunges and medicine ball jumps on squat days). However, in order to get the most out of your CrossFit warmups, there should be some intentional design.
Your body needs to be ready for the rigors to come and should be sufficiently activated to override any “shocks” to the system. However, if your warmup leaves you so depleted that you are unable to perform lighter sets with ease, you may want to tone things back a bit.
You don’t want to warmup for your warmup!
You’re Gonna Warmup Now…Right?
The most exciting thing about a CrossFit warm up is that there isn’t the CrossFit warm up. These pre-workout routines are as varied and dynamic as the WODs themselves!
Try some different warmup mobility routines and start linking your CrossFit warm up to your training exercises. Your short-term performance gains will feel like magic!