How to Warm Up Properly for CrossFit

I’ve done five competitions this year and one thing I’ve noticed is the majority of competitors warm up like crap. Most CrossFitters warm up with dynamic stretching and lifting, with either the same or lighter weight from the WOD. This is useful for prepping the muscles and joints, but the areas that are neglected are the aerobic energy systems. I blogged about the role of the energy systems in CrossFit previously.

Here’s an example of how the right warmup can affect you. The Summer Crush Games WOD “Greyhound” started with a 400m sprint on a dirt track, followed by 4 movements that alternated with a 25M walking lunge with weight. The total WOD time took me about 9′, which was average time-wise.

This WOD impacted all three major energy systems: aerobic, anaerobic threshold, and ATP-CP. The weights were relatively light and it was a longer WOD, ie metcon. I’d guesstimate it broke down to about 75% aerobic, 23% AT, and 2% ATP-CP.

Since there’s a HUGE demand on your aerobic and AT systems, at 75% and 23% respectively, it’s a must to activate these systems prior to the competition. Lifting weights for a handful of reps is not enough. In fact, if you only lift a few reps here and there, you’re only warming up the ATP-CP system, which is the system that provides the juice for the first 5-8 seconds of an explosive movement.

Virtually all CrossFit workouts use all three energy systems, and most of them break down to 70-23-2  split between aerobic, AT, and ATP-CP.

If you go cold into a heavy aerobic workout at full blast, you’ll shock your central nervous system and overload your aerobic systems. What that will feel like is an out-of-control heartrate, shitty recovery, and like you’re “hitting a wall” in the middle of the WOD.

If you’re really fit, like at the top of your game, and you’ve warmed up adequately, you should always feel like you’re in control but just barely, right at the edge, despite a high heartrate. I call this operating in 6th gear.

Here was my warmup for Greyhound along with the systems they warmed up:

  • 20′ of dynamic stretching
  • Jogging around the parking lot for 10′ (aerobic)
  • 6 x 100m sprints in the parking lot with jogging backwards to starting line (AT)
  • 5′ of walking lunges, no weight (aerobic)
  • 10-20 reps at the same weight from the 3 weighted movements (sandbag squats, dumbpress press, KB SDLHP) (ATP-CP)

When I warmup, my goals are: 1) sweating by the end, 2) breathing hard at several points and for differing lengths, and 3) simulate roughly the work I’ll be doing in competition. I never worry about warming up too much or fatiguing my muscles. From my rowing and running background, I know that I can warmup for up to 45′, sometimes more, for a very short race, and never be negatively impacted by the volume.

I thought that warmup served me well on Greyhound. My neural net didn’t feel shocked by the sudden load or high aerobic demand. I always felt in control albeit right on the redline.

One movement that is an excellent all-purpose warmup is the rower. It hits all the major muscle groups and you can goose all three systems with minimal muscular impact. Since Greyhound had a significant running component, I decided to run instead of rowing. For the second WOD, which was a chipper, I did use the rower.

If you want to design your own aerobic warmup, it’s easy. The outline you need is the following:

  1. Aerobic – 10-20′ of light movement like jogging or rowing. Even biking is good. You should be sweating by the time you’re done and have controlled breathing.
  2. AT – Short sprints, like 100m to 200m of fast running, with short recovery time in between. I might do one long interval, like a 400m sprint at 90% speed, but ONLY one.
  3. ATP-CP – Short explosive, such as 5-10 reps of weight lifting with several movements.

Take the outline above and match it up to the WOD for best results. If there’s a bunch of running, do a running warmup. Rowing, do rowing. If your WOD doesn’t have any running or rowing, I suggest rowing for the reasons stated above. ALSO, don’t forget to do dynamic stretching to further prep the joints and muscles.

Agree or disagree? Let me know your warmup in comments.

  • Anonymous

    Great advise Ben. Each athlete is different in how they warm up, especially in regards to age. Also how active you keep yourself active in between events is important.

    When I swam I used to hit a quick warm up at the beginning of the meet, then quick warm up before the each event. I was never one for long warm ups. Just enough to get a sweat and have that warm feeling.

    I might have to give your warmup a shot..will warm up with you for Infidel Throwdown!

  • Great! Would love to get your feedback. I figure athletes from other sports (running, swimming, etc) would have pretty specific warmups they bring into CrossFit.

  • Jennmccall73

    I think this is great advice. I’ve been warming up with the rower or jumping rope in addition to the usual stretching routine and although I don’t think I’m quite at the level to see a difference in my times, I do find it easier to move into the WOD.

  • Samantha

    Thanks for this!! I’m doing my first crossfit comp this weekend and will utilize this outline to warm up. Question though, when doing multiple wods in a day, how should you cool down and then warm up again for the different events? The wods I’ll be doing are, 1) 7 min AMRAP 10 burpee box jumps and 20 slam ball #20. 2) Clean and jerk ladder #95, 115, 130, 140. 3) 30-20-10 OHS #75 and DU. Thanks for your input!!