How to Warm Up for a Workout

By Sarah RushWhen you walk into a CrossFit gym, you can typically tell the novice and advanced athletes apart by the way they prepare for their workout. Newer athletes likely lean heavily on increasing body temperature, then skip straight to the movements that appear in their workout. More advanced athletes often move more methodically toward the starting line. The good news is that warm ups are, in some ways, methodical, which means you can learn how to be great at them. You can work your way through a simple checklist to optimize your warm up and boost your overall performance. I’ll lay out this general framework for how to build your own warm up for whatever workout you’ve got in front of you. Then we’ll apply it for some specific comparative examples. First: background reading! *groan* Way back when, Lumos Coach (and fearless Owner) Noah wrote about group class warm ups. Check it out! It’s a great ‘why’ complement to the ‘how’ that we’re about to get into. As Noah lays out, the elements of an effective warm up include:

  1. Increase body temperature
  2. Joint prep and/or pattern grooving
  3. Movement/skill/strength practice
  4. Proportional to workout
  5. Fun and varied

The coaches at Lumos lean on these principles for every class we lead! All of that knowledge applies when you’re thinking about your own warm up too. *Bonus: Next time you’re in class, examine the group warm up. Can you spot the method to the madness? With that background in mind, here is the framework that I use to build my own CrossFit warm ups:

  1. Warm Up (3-5 min.)
  2. Mobilize (3-5’)
  3. Stabilize and Activate (3-5’)
  4. Pattern Grooving and Movement Prep (5-10’)

As we work through this, you may notice that these divisions are a little bit artificial. Sometimes dynamic warmup looks like mobility or activation looks like pattern grooving. But setting that aside, let’s dig in!Warm Up – Literally!I start with getting my heart rate and body temperature up. This is simple – both in concept and in execution. It includes both monostructural movement, like running, jump rope, biking, burpees, along with some dynamic stretching, such as leg and arm swings, hip circles, PVC-pipe pass throughs, etc. It’s where you get to shake off any mental and physical lethargy, and let your brain know that it’s time to get ready for action.MobilizeThe next piece of my warm up is targeted work to mobilize limiting factors. Okay, that’s a loaded sentence! Let’s break down some of the key words:

  1. Mobilize: Mobility is the ability of a joint to move actively through a full range of motion. To mobilize, I intentionally take my joint through that full range – whether that’s flexion, extension, destraction, gliding, etc. Common examples of pre-workout mobility work include banded joint mobilizations such as banded ankle stretch, the pigeon stretch for your hips, and cat-cows for thoracic mobility.
  2. Limiting factors: Those joints that don’t have such squeaky clean active full ROM. Maybe it’s genetics, maybe it’s an old injury, maybe it’s Maybelline. For various reasons, we all seem to have joint(s) that don’t like to keep up with the rest of the class. 
  3. Targeted: Mobility is perhaps the second most (over)utilized piece of warm ups, after increasing body temp. It’s easy to spend time sitting in a deep goblet squat or spiderman stretch, trying to get everything to “open up”. But before a workout, mobility is best used in moderation to target specific ‘problem’ areas or for those positions that will be particularly taxed in the upcoming workout. 

How does this look in practice then? Typically, I arrive at the gym after sitting all day, so I always do a brief banded hip mobilization. Then, because I have permanently sticky lats, which affects my shoulder mobility, I always include extended lat work, regardless of exercises I have on the docket. From there, I move on to workout-specific mobility, like ankle and wrist work on front squat day or shoulder internal rotation on snatch day. Your targeted mobility work likely looks different than mine! Maybe you have ‘bad’ ankles, poor thoracic extension, or limited external rotation of your shoulder. That would come into play here. Don’t worry about identifying all of this for yourself. Your coaches at Lumos can not only help you pinpoint these opportunities, but give you some guidance on appropriate mobility add-ins.  Stabilize and ActivateStability is the flip side of mobility that is often ignored! Stability is the body’s ability to LIMIT excessive movement. For example, the ability to hold a neutral spine while you deadlift rather than let it flex or extend excessively. Once we can get into a position (mobility), we need to be sure that we can bear load safely there. Stability helps us maintain proper positions – or “control” our joints – under duress without compensation. If “stability” is the light bulb, then “activation” is the switch. Whether we say “activate” or “turn on” or “wake up”, we’re really talking about sharpening that mind-muscle connection to recruit all the necessary muscles to protect and support (i.e., stabilize) us through movement. Almost by definition, CrossFit means that we’re very often doing compound exercises or working multiple muscle groups, not training in isolation. You can generally assume that you need a lot of the same muscles for each training session, so there’s a lot of repetition at this step.For my warmups, I first focus on global (or whole body) stability. In CrossFit, we talk constantly about core-to-extremity movements, midline engagement, bracing, etc. That’s because our core is central (pun intended) to our global stability. I do core and spinal stability work before every workout. That can be dead bugs, bird dogs, pallof presses, and more. This often bleeds into pelvic stability work. Almost as frequently, given how much we ask of our shoulders in CrossFit, my warm up has a shoulder stability component. That can be windmills, IYTs, Sharpovas, banded pull apart hold, and a million other things. Then I start to look at workout-specific activation to target big movers, whether that’s glutes (i.e., glute bridges), hamstrings (i.e., single leg RDL), lats (i.e., PVC pipe pull down), or something else. Long story short: always include a core/spinal stability piece, then add in more specific work if it makes sense for you and your program (it probably does). Long story longer: Stability should be a bigger piece of the fitness pie than just warm ups, and there’s lots of fun programming that can be built around it. Instability and poor recruitment patterns can’t be fixed in a brief warm up. But a short – and simple – stability addition can improve your performance within a reasonable limit right away.] Pattern Grooving and Movement PrepAt this point, you may feel like you’re doomed to an hour-long warm up. But I promise, you’ve been reading this article for longer than the previous steps will take. Now, we move into something that looks a little more familiar. At this stage, we look more closely at the movements in our workout. As Noah said in his article: “Pay special attention to movements that are high skill, challenging, or heavy.” We are going to break those movements down into their component parts, and move from simple to complex until we are ready to do the full movement unloaded and loaded.Let’s say we’ve got squat cleans in a workout. When I look at that, I see: hinge/pull and squat. So after I’ve done some hip and front rack mobility, some core stability and glute activation, I am now ready to do some pattern grooving and unloaded and loaded movement! In Lumos group classes, this sort of thing often shows up in our Rounds for Quality warmups. (We often blend our stability and activation work into this too.) For squat cleans, a progression might look something like:

  • HINGE: 10 KB kang squats —> 10 empty barbell RDL—> 10 loaded barbell deadlifts
  • SQUAT: 10 KB goblet squats —> 10 empty barbell front squats —> 10 loaded barbell squats

You can move progressively through the 6 movements, alternating between hinge and squat pieces, until you’re ready for the real thing. Likely your workout is more than one movement, so you’d do the same with other movements as well. [Check out the example below for a full breakdown.]Workout TimeFinally, you get to workout! You should feel both mentally and physically prepared for an intense workout. If not, consider it data to help you optimize your next warm up. Now’s a good time to bring attention to Noah’s 4th point: A warmup should be proportional to the workout. He uses the following guideline: “A short workout needs a long warmup, a long workout needs a short warmup.”  The framework I laid out can easily lead to an hour+ warm up for any workout. If you’re going on a 20-mile run, you probably don’t need that. Conversely, if you’re sprinting, you definitely need some major prep to avoid injury and make sure you’re capable of maximum output. ALRIGHT!That’s it. I hope these principles and examples help you feel capable of drawing up your own warm ups. Keep it mind that this is only a framework. There is a lot more to play around with and ways to make it more complicated and specific. But I encourage you to start simple, work within this framework, and lean heavily on movements you’ve done in the past. Lumos group classes are great resources for this! Please, steal our intellectual property! But don’t just copy what we do (we’ll be flattered), but ask us why we did it. That can help you when you’re on your own.  Now, let’s see how we can apply these guidelines to a few different workoutsWorkout30 ring muscle ups for timeDT5RFT12 deadlifts9 hang power cleans6 push jerksNancy5RFT400m run15 OHS (95/65)Warm up2 minute row/bike/runDynamic joint mobilizations (ankle, knees, hips, thoracic, legs, arms, wrists, elbows, neck)400m runMobilizeArm swingsBanded lat stretchesPec stretchBully stretchPVC pass throughFront rack stretch (lats, external rotation)Pec stretchHip mobilizationAnklesCalvesArm swingsLeg swingsPVC pass throughStabilize  + ActivateCore: hollow-to-arch roll, windmillsShoulder: 

  • Scap pull up
  • Banded internal and external rotation with hold

Glutes/hips: glute bridgeCore:

  • bird dog, offset overhead/front rack holld


  • half-kneeling pallof press


  • Barefoot single leg KB RDL


  • wall walk with 5” hold at top

Pattern groove + movement loadRound 1: 

  • Pull up with hold at top
  • Push up with pause at top and bottom

Round 2:

  • Kipping pull up on bar
  • Ring dip

Round 3:

  • Hip to rings

Round 4: 

  • RMU singles

Round 1:

  • 200m run
  • 10 PVC tall snatches
  • 10 air squats

Round 2:

  • 200m run
  • 10 PVC sotts press
  • 10 PVC overhead squat

Round 3:

  • 200m run
  • 5 empty barbell snatches
  • 10 empty barbell overhead squats

Workout!3, 2, 1, GO!