Physical Therapy

Warming up for CrossFit and Gym-Goers

Published September 28, 2020
By Health Loft

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Getting ready for your workout

A proper warm-up is a crucial part of any good training session, whether you are a competitive athlete or a weekend warrior. Many tend to glaze through their warm-up in a rush to get to the meat of their training program, but this portion of your workout is just as important as the actual training. A proper warm-up allows you to prepare for the day’s movements by gradually raising your body temperature and increasing blood flow to your muscles. Additionally, by taking your body through the range of motion needed for the day’s training, your body will be better prepared to accept the loads placed on it, decreasing risk of injury. Warming up may even reduce soreness following your workout. We’ve prepared a general guide on how you should structure your CrossFit warm-up, a warm-up example, and an analysis from our physical therapists in regards to findings about static stretching and foam rolling prior to your CrossFit or gym workout. 

What Should be Included in a Warm-Up

You wouldn’t walk up and do a max deadlift without working up to the weight. This same mindset should be used for all of your training sessions. A great warm-up doesn’t need to take a long time but should appropriately prepare you for that day’s training. 10 to 15 minutes prior to lifting should be enough time to prepare your body’s system for the day.  

General warm-up

The first portion of your warm-up should be spent on generally warming up your body. Light cardio, such as walking or biking, will start to raise your heart rate and get blood flowing to your muscles. This should not be strenuous, but a gradual build up, where you are still able to hold a conversation. 

Next, it is recommended to go through full body dynamic movements. The focus here is still on warming up your full body, so such motions as lunges, squats, leg swings and arm rotations are appropriate. Remember the goal is priming the body so stick to a few sets of 10-15 reps, with light or no weight. 

Mobility work

Next, take focus on areas where you have specific mobility deficits or tightness. As someone with poor ankle mobility, if I have a WOD (workout of the day) with a significant amount of squatting I am going to work on ankle mobility work prior to that day’s training session. 

If you aren’t sure what movements would be helpful to you, ask a coach or your physical therapist to assess where you may not be moving as well and what exercises might be helpful. Mobility work can improve your range of motion, and decrease risk of injury. 

Training specific

The end of your warm-up should be dedicated to specifically the movements you will be doing during that day’s workout. For example, maybe today’s workout is heavy on barbell thrusters. You might then choose to focus on an overhead press and squats, in addition to stabilizing in the front rack position. Goblet squats, kettlebell overhead walks, kettlebell presses, or an overhead kettlebell squat are also all great options. Again we are focusing on preparing the body for the day’s workout so each movement, corresponding weight, and number of sets/reps will be kept fairly light (think 1 or 2 sets, and up to 15 reps each for each). 

A longer, or more complex training session may require you to warm-up with more movements and body areas. Overall, you should be focusing on compound movements that are relevant for that day, spending 5 minutes or so running through them. 

Sample warm-up for crossfitters

So what does this all look like together? Below is a sample warm-up.  Your warmup should be based on your specific areas of need, and that day’s training (consult with your coach or physical therapist for more details).

  • 5 minute light jog
  • Hip swings forward and back, 2 x 15
  • PVC arm rotations, 1 x 15
  • Walking lunge with thoracic rotation (upper trunk), 1 x 15
  • Banded couch stretch, 3 x 20s
  • Goblet squats, 2 x 10
  • Single arm KB snatch, 2 x 15
  • KB walks, 3 x 25 yards


Should I Include Static Stretching in my Warm-Up?

Static stretching was a staple of all school gym classes for most of us, so it should be included, right? Not so fast. Studies have actually found that static stretching prior to training can result in decreased performance due to decreased strength, power and explosive muscular performance. Due to this, our physical therapists recommend dynamic stretching should be chosen over static stretching pre-training, like the examples listed above. If you find benefit from static stretching, this is best performed at the end of your training.

Potential benefits of static stretching are increased range of motion at a joint and overall flexibility. To perform, you will stretch until you feel a pull at your end range and hold 20-30 seconds. Do not bounce or jerk in this position as it can cause injury. As you feel a loosening of the tension, you can stretch a little further and take up that slack.

When should I Foam Roll?

Over the last few years, foam rolling has become a popular staple of many gyms. Foam rolling is a form of self-myofascial release used to decrease muscle tightness and release trigger points. You can identify trigger points as areas of muscle tissue where it feels “balled up” and is more tense or sore than the surrounding tissue. Foam rolling is typically performed using a foam roller, or a solid foam cylinder, and rolling back and forth over an identified muscle. Once a trigger point or area of concern is identified, you will spend 30 or so seconds applying pressure to that area or gently rolling over it. Another favorite is to find an area of tension and then slowly move a distal joint while holding firm in that area. For you quads this might look like finding a particularly sore spot mid quad, holding that position but then slowly bending and straightening your knee.

Some of the potential benefits of foam rolling are decreased pain and soreness, and increased flexibility. This is not true for everyone. There have been studies done that found that many participants did not feel meaningful effects. That being said, many other individuals do find improvement in their movement and symptoms following foam rolling.

So should you include foam rolling in your training? If you feel an improvement with it, then absolutely! Whether you perform it before or after your training depends on your goal with foam rolling. You might incorporate foam rolling into your warm-up as part of your dynamic stretching routine if you are looking to “loosen” up prior to your training. Focusing on areas where you are generally tight – quads, upper back, etc. – may be helpful. Foam rolling may also be incorporated at the end of your workout as part of your cool down. If your goal is overall improved flexibility, you may find that foam rolling after your workout, particularly your quads or hamstrings, helps you to achieve this goal. 

No matter how you warm-up or whatever gadgets you may incorporate, make sure you are spending 10-15 minutes before your training warming up to gradually prepare your body for that day’s workout, paying close attention to what that training entails. Not only will this help you perform better but will also help prevent injury!

For an individualized treatment plan to help you with your crossfit injury or mobility goals, consult with one of our Health Loft physical therapists in Chicago (virtually via our telehealth platform or in person) by calling us at (312) 374-5399 or by scheduling an appointment online. If you have further questions regarding dry needling, we would also be happy to answer them.  Remember to also check out our FacebookInstagram, and Twitter pages for more fun facts and articles on nutrition, physical therapy, and exercise!


Submitted by Rachel Horton
Edited by Alex Franz
Reviewed by James Caginalp PT, DPT, CSCS, CES, PES



  1. Law, R. Y., & Herbert, R. D. (2007). Warm-up reduces delayed-onset muscle soreness but cool-down does not: a randomised controlled trial. Australian Journal of Physiotherapy53(2), 91–95. doi: 10.1016/s0004-9514(07)70041-7
  2. Simic, L., Sarabon, N., & Markovic, G. (2012). Does pre-exercise static stretching inhibit maximal muscular performance? A meta-analytical review. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports23(2), 131–148. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0838.2012.01444.x
  3. Walsh, G. S. (2017). Effect of static and dynamic muscle stretching as part of warm up procedures on knee joint proprioception and strength. Human Movement Science55, 189–195. doi: 10.1016/j.humov.2017.08.014
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