by Coach Ryan Reilly
I often see people in classes blow off the warm up or not take the time to cool down properly after a workout. Long ago, when I was a football player, I thought the same way: rush through a warm up (that probably consisted of a couple squats and a couple seconds of a few stretches), and then get out of the gym immediately after my workout. I get why people do not want to warm up, as I sometimes don’t want to either. It’s usually tedious work consisting of movements that are not as fun or flashy as the movements in the workout, and often people are tired from wherever they may have come from. When this happens, the warm up ends up occurring in the strength portion or during the workout, and this is a VERY, VERY bad thing. You can actually hurt yourself without a proper warm up; or likewise, without a proper cool down.
For an effective warm up you want to accomplish a few things: you want to get your heart rate up, begin loosening muscles and joints with movements that may help slightly recover from the day before, and practice the basic movements that will be performed later with the intention of good form.
When you elevate your heart rate by doing fast paced movements you also warm up your body’s temperature which allows your muscles to get loose and ready to exercise. Without using the warm up to elevate your heart rate, muscles stay tight and cold. This puts the body at a higher risk of injury. Think about a frozen band and trying to pull it apart… how easy would it be to pull apart? Not easy right? But, if the band were heated up, how easy would it stretch? The answer is fairly easy. If the body isn’t physically warm, muscles are at risk to be pulled and torn.
Another great part about the warm up is it helps athletes practice the movements that they will be using later. You should use the warm up to practice those movements with good form. This allows the lighter and easier form of the movements to transfer into the later parts of the workout. Sometimes I see athletes attempting movements such as air squats with the chest folded forward, overhead squats with the PVC pipe in front of the body, kipping without activating the shoulders and lats, etc. If these movements are practiced this way in the warm up, the poor movement can transfer into the workout where the athlete will either perform the movement with poor form or they will try to adjust in the middle of the workout where load and intensity may be higher, again resulting in poor mechanics or possible injury.
Often I see people running late to classes and join mid-warm up, or after it is done, due to work or other obligations. This can be fine depending on how late you are to the class. NO MATTER WHAT, BEFORE YOUR WORKOUT, WARM UP. Even if it means missing part of the workout, so be it. Warming up is much more important than moving straight to a movement that your body is not prepared to handle. This is an easy way to injure yourself. Even if the warm up is a 500 meter row or something short, get the heart rate up and practice a few movements.
So, now that we know what goes into a good warm up, we can talk about the importance of cool downs. Cooling down after a workout provides many benefits to make you feel better after the workout and even the next day. You can also improve your skills as a CrossFit athlete during a cool down. Specifically, cooling down properly helps flush out metabolic waste, reduce the effects of muscle soreness, and can improve flexibility.
Usually after a tough sprint workout (or if I coach you I say it a lot) you might hear a coach recommend you row for 5 minutes at an easy pace or take a light jog. This is because, especially in sprint workouts, lactic acid and other waste products build up in the blood that need to be flushed out. This can create that dizzy and fainty feeling we want to avoid. Slowly bringing the heart rate down and flushing the blood back throughout the body helps you feel more normal after a workout. This can be applied to all Crossfit workouts, as most will elevate the heart rate greatly, but the most danger is in short sprint workouts. So take a light jog, an easy row, or a light bike after your workout to feel a little better.
Performing a cool down can also reduce muscle soreness in the days following a difficult workout. The soreness comes from the repeated use of muscles above one’s personal threshold. This may be the reason why workouts such as “Murph” usually leave people more sore than other workouts. Slowly moving and stretching out the muscles used in a workout can help reduce this soreness. This allows blood to flow to those muscles to help them heal. After workouts I always aim to direct athletes to proper stretches after workout so the next day your quads won’t be tight, your shoulders won’t be immobile, etc. Hit those muscle groups if you want to be less sore!!!
The last benefit of cooling down is something that isn’t thought of as often, and that is flexibility. After a workout your body is already warm and the muscles are primed for movement. Post-workout is the perfect time to stretch and open up our muscles and joints. So if you have problems with front rack mobility, shoulder mobility, hip mobility, etc., this is the optimal time to work on that.
A large reason I see athletes not cool down is because they have somewhere they have to be after the workout, whether that may be work, home, or elsewhere. This is understandable, as it happens often in the adult world where time is limited. So, for those people that must rush out the door, I suggest to simply do what you can. If you have to go to the office, take a break, walk around, and stretch a little bit when possible. Don’t just sit in a chair. Wherever you may have to go there is always time for a little cool down. Trust me it’s worth it!
Here, I’ll give an example of an effective cool down. The workout of the day is “Grace” 30 Clean and Jerks for time. The strength includes Clean skill work as well as additional Clean work in a complex. An effective cool down for this workout could start with a 5 minute easy row. So, for about 5 minutes just take a slow pace and push through the legs and loosen up the hamstrings that were used primarily for the entirety of the strength and workout. After this, stretches could include the couch stretch to stretch the hip flexors and quadriceps, child’s pose to stretch the shoulders, and/or pigeon stretch for the glutes and hamstrings. These stretches can be done for 30 seconds or more at a time, enough to effectively feel the stretch.
I hope this has shown some insight for people about how effective warm ups and cool downs can be. They are not just good, but are essential to have effective workouts for not just short term, but long term. Injuries and soreness play a big factor in people staying out of the gym and not exercising. Effective warm ups and cool downs can help eliminate those barriers and have athletes feeling good with their fitness all the time. No matter if an athlete trains twice a week or 6 times a week, there should always be time made for a warm up and a cool down. All it takes is a little effort in the beginning of class and a few minutes after class.