How to Warm Up Like a CompTrain Games Athlete

Sunday December 22, 2019
Christine Bald

Warming up is not a sexy topic. Let’s get that out of the way first.

We’re going to talk about it anyway. Why? Because you want to get to the next level, and winning the warmup is how you get there.

Watch any pro athlete warm up for training or competition ad you’ll notice a few things. One, it’s a multi-step process. They don’t just hit a casual bike then start throwing weights on a barbell. They are systematically working through a pre-designed routine with specific objectives. Second, each part is given their full focus and attention. The pros are not going through the motions. Every rep and stretch is thoughtful. They’re moving well, paying attention to their body, and making small adjustments as they go.

I know what you’re thinking. “I know warming up is important.” Of course you do. Every serious CrossFit competitor knows that warming up well improves your performance.

Here’s the problem: “Everybody already knows that” is very different from “Everybody already does that.”

We have a tendency to undervalue answers that we have already discovered. We underutilize old
solutions—even if they are best practices—because they seem like something we have already considered. Just because a solution is known doesn’t mean it is utilized.

Nowhere is this more true than warming up.

What Makes A Good Warmup?

Your results on the competition floor are a reflection of your training. If you take that logic and extend it back further, you arrive at an unassailable truth: Your performance in training is a reflection of your warmup. You simply cannot maximize your potential if your body isn’t fully primed.

Here’s what we’re trying to accomplish in every warm up:

Increase body temp and heart rate
Improve flexibility
Involve the whole body via functional movements
Provide practice for basic movements
Prepare for rigorous training

Done consistently, this kind of warmup will help you:

Move better, which will help you go faster and heavier
Improve skills and develop your capacity for performing them in workouts
Optimize every training session, so that you get better faster
Reduce your risk of injury
Speed up your recovery, which allows for bigger and better training sessions

How To Warm Up Like A CompTrain Games Athlete

CompTrain Games athletes spend about an hour working through a 5-part warmup routine designed to hit each of the areas outlined above. Here’s what it looks like:

Mobility/Soft Tissue Work

The first thing our athletes do when they get to the gym is mobility. This includes static and dynamic, as well as soft tissue work like foam rolling, lacrosse balling, and barbell smashing. The goal is to improve flexibility so that you can move better. It’s not an accident that the top CrossFit Games athletes are also the best movers. Getting to the next level requires moving faster and heavier, and all the fitness in the world won’t save you if you have a hard time moving through certain ranges of motion.

Total Time: 10-12 minutes


Activate Shoulders & Hips

Next up is activation of the shoulders and hips. These are the two joints that get worked the most in CrossFit, and taking special care to prime and activate the surrounding musculature is critical to optimizing performance. The process of warming up your hips and shoulders requires you to pass through a lot of different ranges of motion, so you’re also warming up the other musculature throughout your body. There’s a lot of injury prevention that comes from warming up your hips and shoulders, because a lot of injuries originate from those ball-and-socket joints.

Cole Sager, like many CompTrain athletes, relies on Crossover Symmetry for this part of his warm up. “It trains your shoulders to move better,” he says. “The exercises are designed to mirror the functional patterning of sport-specific movements. They target common deficiencies and muscle imbalances to improve movement and athletic performance. I’ve used the band system for my shoulders every day for years, and I really like the new HipHalo for my hips. I’m a big fan of Crossover Symmetry. It’s a weapon that should be in everyone’s arsenal.”

Total Time: 4-8 minutes


Katrin Warmup

Part three is getting sweaty. Katrin began incorporating long, low intensity pieces into her warmups in 2015, the year she won her first Games title. They’ve since become a CompTrain staple, out of sheer utility—these warmups check a lot of important boxes: increasing body temperature and heart rate, recruiting the whole body via major functional movements, providing practice for basic movements, and preparing for rigorous athletic training. Here’s an example:

EMOM x24:
Min 1: 200m Run
Min 2: 15/12 Cal Row
Min 3: 15 Kettlebell Swings
Min 4: 1 Round of “Cindy”

Though Katrin Warmups can often pass for an actual workout, these are not designed to wear you out. The example above might be light work for a Games level athlete, but might be challenging to an intermediate athlete. You should be able to hold a light conversation throughout; if you find yourself gasping for air between stations in round one, consider cutting the reps down.

One benefit of warming up this way is the huge aerobic base it builds. “The conditioning piece is what most people neglect,” says Ben Bergeron. “This kind of warm-up contributes to what we’re trying to develop: aerobic capacity. It’s the base of everything we do, and it’s a huge competitive advantage that our athletes have. They’re getting fit in their warmups while most people are doing spidermans.”

Katrin, who programs this part of the warmup herself, has several other goals in mind. “I love to get sweaty, but I’m also picking movements that will compliment today’s programming and build capacity in areas that are a priority for me. Getting in 25-30 strict pullups in during my warmup is an awesome way to get extra volume or focus work in.”

Total Time: 25-30 minutes


Workout-Specific Movements

Now that you’re mobile, activated, and sweaty, it’s time to start preparing for today’s training. This part will vary day-to-day depending on the movements programmed, but the idea is to prepare for the intensity you’ll bring in the workout by building up to it gradually. The more specific you can get now, the better you’ll perform when training starts. Warming up for a track session will look very different than warming up for an Olympic lifting session. Do your homework, develop your knowledge, and have a plan for every session.

You don’t need to warm up every single movement programmed each day. Amanda Barnhart decides what to include in her specific warmup by looking at all the movements for the day and pulling out the most complex ones. “If the workout has squat snatches, chest-to-bar pullups, and double-unders, I’m going to focus my warmup on the squat snatch,” she says. “I’ll do barbell warmup and the Burgerner warmup with an empty bar. Then I’ll do some muscle snatches, power snatches, and overhead squats, adding weight as I go. Once I’m ready to start squat snatching, I’ll start from various positions, starting from the high hang and working my way down to the floor.” Amanda points out that this is done with focus and intention. “My coach is watching the whole time, and we’re making adjustments to my technique and movement, even when the bar is really light. I’m trying to get better during every minute of training, even the warmup.”

Total Time: 10-15 minutes


Practice Round

Warming up mentally is just as important as warming up physically. Part of your performance is driven solely by your brain, such as your strategy and pacing. Doing a practice round prior to the workout gives you the chance to develop a more accurate plan, which greatly improves your execution and thereby your overall fitness.

“Before every metcon, I do a mini practice round,” says Brooke Wells. “If the workout is Fran, I’ll do something like 4-3-2 of thrusters and pull-ups. If it’s something monostructural like a 2k Row or “Big Bang,” I’ll row or do reps for a minute and focus on dialing in my pace. Something I’m always asking myself during these practice rounds is ‘How fast can I go without having to slow down later?’ Nailing your pacing make a huge difference in how much fitness you get out of every workout.” Brooke also uses the practice round to hone her strategy. “A lot of times, the practice round will reveal something I hadn’t thought about, like a tough transition or how grippy it’s going to get. If can adjust my plan before the workout starts instead of halfway through it when the damage has already been done, I’ll get a better score, which equals more fitness.”

Total Time: 5 minutes


The Game of One Percents


In the sport of CrossFit, the field improves at a rate of about five percent each year. If we can pick up one percent here and there, over the course of a year it makes a huge difference. In our sport, warming up is an underutilized area to pick up one percents.

It’s easy to overestimate the importance of one defining moment and underestimate the value of making better decisions on a daily basis. So often we convince ourselves that change is only meaningful if there is some large, visible outcome associated with it. We put pressure on ourselves to make some earth­-shattering improvement that everyone will talk about.

But that ain’t it.

Improving by just one percent may not be noticeable day-to-day, but it adds up in the long run. As time goes on, these small improvements compound and you suddenly find a very big gap between athletes who make slightly better warmup decisions on a daily basis and those who don’t.

Be a pro—own your warm ups and take your training (and results) to the next level.