The General Warm-up: More Than a Placeholder

In our third installment of the class framework series, we dissect the general warm-up component of a group class. Here are the links to the previous two posts on The Importance of a Consistent Class Framework and The Whiteboard: The Bookends of a Great Class.

A quick Google search for 'general warm-up' produces 34,700,000 results. It’s safe to say that there is a lot of information out there on the topic and the consensus is pretty clear (and somewhat obvious) that a general warm-up addresses the physical needs of the athlete.

Physical

The goal of a general warm-up is to warm the joints and body, prevent injury, elevate heart rate, and prepare the body for exercise. In the case of CrossFit, much has been written on the importance of using the general warm-up for the focused and dedicated development of basic human movement patterns.

While the physical aspects of a warm-up are important to fulfill, two additional components make for a complete and useful general warm-up - coaches development and community.

The goal of a general warm-up is to warm the joints and body, prevent injury, elevate heart rate, and prepare the body for exercise.

Coach Development

An effective general warm-up should provide opportunities for a coach to develop and do work. I don’t mean “do work” as in workout with clients, that should never happen in a group class setting. In using the phrase “do work”, I mean that a warm-up should provide the coach with the chance to improve, learn, and become a better coach. Whether it be through the effective management of group class and execution of a timeline, or another place to develop cues and corrections, coaches should put forth the same level of involvement and effort to this portion of the class. The bottom line is that a warm-up should enable the coach to hone and test their coaching skills.

Community

This one might come as a surprise to some, but I believe a general warm-up should bring your community together and provide opportunities for athletes to connect in ways they might not do during a workout or when given a chance to interact only with the people they know.

The workout builds community because it delivers on the “we’re all in the trenches together” feeling and emotion. We all sweat and suffer through the same workout and that bonds us in ways that we can not always articulate, but that we can feel. The warm-up builds community through the process. By running 400m together we engage and talk to one another, we piggyback off of conversations we overhear, and we open up and laugh a little through fun or goofy things we throw into warm-up on occasion. And often, this is where athletes make a new friend or connection.

Here’s What We Do at Roots - Coach-Led Warm-up That Changes Daily

At Roots, we design a different warm-up for the workout each day, and the coach leads, instructs, and coaches athletes through the warm-up. Based on a recent SugarWOD survey, it appears that many gyms follow this protocol, and for good reason as there are many benefits to this system.

Our Facebook survey results showed that most athletes attend group classes where a coach leads a warm-up that changes daily.

At CrossFit Roots, our warm-ups take about 10 minutes in our WOD Plan. In addition to preparing the body for exercise, the warm-up is designed to address the movements or movement patterns that we do in the workout.

They are not intended to be overly difficult or strenuous and do not ever mimic a “mini workout.” Listen, folks, I get it, everyone wants to be extreme and hardcore in their CrossFit hour, but save it for the workout, not the warm-up. Be the coach and lead your athletes through a warm-up that you know is good for their health, longevity, injury prevention, and most importantly, is one that enables their ability to reach a maximum intensity during the workout.

Now, our warm-ups do incorporate many different core competencies and the development of them over time. Our warm-ups include everything from running to kipping to jump roping and handstand holds. Athletes enjoy this time to get going, have a few side conversations with friends, and make the mental shift to get ready to work hard.

A few benefits to this style of warm-up are:

  • It exposes athletes to a consistent and wide variety of movements and movement patterns throughout a week. As an example, if we do not have handstand push-ups in the workout that week, we will incorporate either a handstand hold, overhead support, or handstand push-up (with scaled versions) into the warm-up. (Physical)
  • When the coach leads the warm-up, they have the opportunity to coach athletes within that portion of the class. (Coach Development)
  • Writing a different warm-up each day means the coach who writes the WOD Plan will have to think critically about what to include in the warm-up and how long it will take. This is a useful task to help drive coach development. (Coach Development)
  • It allows athletes to accumulate reps of a movement to put in their “total rep bank” over time. One of our goals at Roots is to expose athletes to reps of movements and not always within a workout.
  • This added number of repetitions contributes to an athlete’s long term development and future ability to gain new skills. An excellent example of this is the Burgener warm-up with PVC pipe as it teaches muscle memory, gets people moving, and accomplishes the goals of a general warm-up. (Physical)
  • It enhances your product. In an earlier post, I talked about how the workout of the day is your product. There is a tremendous amount of opportunity to make better athletes with thoughtful use of warm-ups and this, in turn, sets your product apart from the rest. By realizing the warm-up needs of the everyday athlete, you strengthen your community and in turn, your product. (Community)

Here is an example of a warm-up we used at Roots based on the CrossFit mainsite workout we did that day:

Workout:
12 minute amrap
30 air squats
20 handstand push-ups
10 deadlifts (225/155)

Warm-up:
3 times through, together as a group:
Run 200m
:30 second wall-facing handstand hold (scaled options: position feet lower on wall or do from a box)
15 kips on the bar

Thought Process:
The 200m run gets the body warm and is a time for athletes to chat to one another (physical and community). It also gives the coach a small downtime when everyone is outside the gym. This can be helpful if a coach needs time to themselves to make a plan for an athlete that has just notified them of a special modification need (coach development). The wall-facing handstand hold warms the shoulders, gets the athletes upside down before diving into handstand push-ups, and allows athletes to practice a hollow body position statically (physical). This is a time when a coach can start to assess where athletes will fall in the range of handstand push-up scaling options and allows them to coach and cue athletes in the handstand (coach development). Finally, the kip will warm the shoulders and allow athletes to refine and practice a basic movement pattern that will not be used that day (physical). Incorporating kipping into the warm-up when there are no pull-ups or toes-to-bar teaches athletes to work on a basic skill without a direct daily application to the workout at hand (physical, coach development).

There are obvious drawbacks to any system, and a coach-led warm-up that changes every day requires the most amount of work. Also, for less experienced coaches, it can be a lot to learn to manage an always changing warm-up and keep it within a timeline; however, we have found that this develops great coaches!

Other Methods for Warm-up

There are a few other styles of warm-up out there, and we’ll review each as they all have some merit. Circling back, we believe an effective warm-up will exhibit physical, coach development, and community qualities.

Athletes Perform a Warm-up of Their Choice on Their Own

In this example, athletes are given 10 minutes at the start of class to go through a warm-up of their choosing and design. In our SugarWOD survey, we found that 2.6% of athletes reported that their gym employs this method.

Pros:

  • Athletes have some autonomy in a class environment to do what they need to prepare for class

Considerations:

  • The majority of group class athletes either don’t know what to do, try to do way too much, or end up talking with friends instead of warming up. My favorite example is the well-intentioned yet schizophrenic athlete who designs a different warm-up every day that addresses every possible mobility issue and body part - only to find that it will take them 25 minutes! For most of your clients, they are there to get instruction, guidance, and coaching and this includes, “What should I do for warm-up?”
  • When everyone warms up on their own, we eliminate potential member interactions. Sure, friends may talk to each other, but in my experience, when folks warm-up next to one another who don’t know each other, conversation ensues and they make more connections. Obviously, athletes are not going to talk to one another during the workout, so there is limited time to enable interaction - the warm-up is a very good time for this.
Athletes Perform a Designated Warm-up on Their Own

In this example, the coach will write-up the warm-up for the day on the whiteboard or the affiliate will utilize the same warm-up every day. In the second example, the warm-up is usually published, laminated, and mounted on the wall for reference. At the start of class, athletes are turned loose to work through the warm-up on their own time. In our SugarWOD survey, we found that 10% of athletes reported that their gym employs this method.

Pros:

  • Athletes can ease into the warm-up portion of class at their own pace. It has a rolling start kind of feel where athletes can jump into the first ten minutes of class as they’re ready.

Considerations:

  • The responsibility is placed on the athlete to do and complete the warm-up.
  • The coach is less able to manage the follow through of all athletes as everyone is spread out and doing things at their own pace.
  • From my experience, 1-2 athletes in a class will be good about warming up on their own, but left to their own devices, over many classes, the average athlete will not get the needed result from the time spent “warming up.”
  • Having worked out in group classes and on my own, I am more thorough in coach-led group class warm-ups as there is an expectation placed on me to do all of the pieces alongside my peers.
  • While it doesn’t have to be this way, in my observations, there is not a lot of coaching that goes on during this time. General warm-ups, just like specific warm-ups and the actual workouts, are prime time to coach athletes and make them better.
  • It does not promote community. Left to their own devices, most athletes will warm-up with the 1-2 friends they have in class and are less likely to branch out.
Coach-Led Consistent Warm-up

In this example, the affiliate relies on a few different yet consistent warm-ups, 2-4 of them. The great Doug Chapman used this model at his affiliate with success. Doug designed a few main warm-ups that fit into the ten-minute window. The warm-ups focused on the practice and repetition of basic skills, and were done as a group.

In our SugarWOD survey, we found that 10% of athletes reported that their gym employs this method.

Pros:

  • There is one component of class every day that athletes are familiar with and which requires less explanation from the coach. This method can allow for coach development as it enables the coach to spend more time working with athletes rather than learning new warm-ups.
  • Athletes move together through the assigned warm-up while the coach cues and corrects the athletes.
  • In the case of Doug’s warm-ups, the movements that were done (jump roping, the bottom of the squat hold, air squats, banded air squats, PVC pipe overhead squats, and running) provided a solid foundation of the basic repetition of skills over time. Athletes practiced the air squat hundreds of times over the course of their warm-ups. This system of warm-up, while some may say mundane, has immense merit as it provides a consistent foundation to practice basic skills, and it worked pretty darn well for Julie Foucher!
  • It gives the coach the opportunity to see the same movement hundreds of times and work to develop better corrections for each athlete over time.

Considerations:

  • In some instances, it is helpful to warm-up a movement in the workout as part of the general warm-up to save time later in the WOD Plan. If the same warm-ups are used, it can limit the options available to the coach given the work that must be done within an hour timeframe.

CrossFit Roots has utilized Doug’s system of warm-up at various times over the past six years with great success. We find that it does provide an excellent foundation of repetition for athletes and has a little bit of a “game face” feel as everyone gets in the mindset to workout.

What Does a Coach-Led Warm-up That Changes Daily Do for Roots?

The majority of gyms seem to follow a coach-led warm-up that changes daily. At Roots, we have found that this style of warm-up properly prepares the athletes for exercise, enables coaches development, and builds community within this section of the group class hour.

What benefits do you see to the coach and athlete with your gym’s warm-up system? Post to comments.

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