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Importance of Warm-Ups and Cool-Downs!

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by: Justin Nickel

Why do we stretch and warm up before every CrossFit workout? If you have not noticed, every programmed workout includes some sort of individual and/or coach-led warmup. You are never asked to walk into the gym and immediately start squat cleaning at 90% of your 1RM. Why? Unless you ran to the gym, or maybe rode a bicycle, chances are the majority of your day has been spent in a less-than-active state. Sitting at a desk, driving your car/truck, or maybe you’re one of those “unique” 6-AM types who just rolled out of bed in the last hour. Before we start tackling the WOD, we need to prep our bodies. A proper warm up consists of 2 (or really 3) parts. Step 1 is elevating your body temperature – maybe this would be a fantastic time to knock out some double-under practice – or a Tabata row sequence – or take a ride on everyone’s favorite piece of cardio equipment, the assault bike. Find something to get your heart rate going and your body temperature up. The colder the weather, the more important this becomes. Step 2 involves knowing what you’re in for during the day’s WOD. If it is deadlift day, it would be wise to focus on stretching your posterior chain – hamstrings, glutes, lower back. This doesn’t mean you neglect the rest of your body because chances are, you’ll be doing compound movements throughout the WOD – utilizing your entire body – but initially, focus on those body parts that are #1 on the WOD menu. You can always stretch even more in between sets of deadlifts or squats. The final part of a proper warm up is pretty easy – working up to your starting or target weight. If we’re doing 5 sets x 3 reps of back squats, you’re not going to throw 300# on the bar and go. You would be wise to do some air squats, then maybe some empty barbell squats – hey, you might even do some pause squats and focus on driving your knees out and staying active in the bottom position! Work your way up slowly, get in a LOT of reps at a light weight before you start stacking plates on.

Stretching shouldn’t just be about individual muscles or joints – think about stretching movement patterns (FMS – Functional Movement Unplugged – Two of my new favorite stretches are the “Bretzel” and the “Bretzel 2.0”. The Bretzel is a great way to hit your quad, glutes, IT band, hip flexors/piriformis and low back. Ensure you have support under your head to take stress off of your neck – you do not want your neck muscles flexed in any way during this stretch. Start by laying on one side, keeping your shoulders “stacked. Bend your “top” leg (if you are laying on your right side, your left leg – and vice versa) at the knee and hip until it is past 90*. Grasp your top leg above the knee with your “bottom” hand (the opposite hand from your leg – left leg, right hand, and vice versa). While still keeping your body stacked on its side, bend your bottom leg at the knee ONLY, drawing your heel towards your butt – grasp your foot, preferably at the ankle or slightly above, at the base of your shin. Don’t worry about keeping your foot on the ground at this point – and also, be careful to not torque your knee. If you have trouble grasping your ankle, use a towel around your ankle to make up that distance. At this point, still, try to stay as stacked as possible on your side (shoulders stacked as well) – pay attention to your breathing – deep, slow breath in through the nose, slow breath out. Now, with each breath, start to slowly rotate your top shoulder to the ground (twisting towards your back). Keep your head/neck supported, keep your top leg bent above 90, and think about trying to get that bottom leg/foot closer to the ground if it is not already there. You should be in a position like the image below:



The Bretzel 2.0 is a different stretch that is fantastic for hitting your glute medius, glute minimus and pyriformis. For this stretch, start on your hands and knees. Bring the outer thigh of 1 leg to the ground – think about making it parallel to the wall in front of you. Your arms should be extended in front of you and your torso relatively upright, but bent over your thigh. Square your shoulders to your thigh and ensure that the majority of your weight is supported by the arm/hand of your SAME SIDE of the thigh in front of you. Do not bend that arm – keep it as straight as possible. You should be in a position similar to the image below:


Keep working to square your shoulders up – you can even reach your non-weight bearing hand (opposite hand of the thigh being stretched) over and on/under your other hand, to help increase this stretch. Again, you should feel this in your hip/glute area. Work these stretches on both sides – remember to keep your breathing in check – nice slow breaths – don’t panic, don’t have short, “choppy” breaths in and out – and take notice to any differences from one side of your body to another. These stretches are great for any day we do ANY kind of squatting – so basically, every day – and they can be done before OR after working out (preferably both) – or while you are at home watching TV, before bed, etc.

As a final note – stretching isn’t just an important part of warming up – it’s a vital aspect of cool-down too. Once you’ve finished thrashing your muscles, take a few minutes to do a cool down stretch, or at least some foam rolling! Don’t just grab your bag and take off. Recovery starts as soon as the timer beeps to end a WOD. If you have any questions or would like me to walk you through these stretches in person, grab me anytime and I’d be happy to help you out!