When it comes to warm ups and cool downs, the vast majority of us don't give them the attention we should. It's often left to the athlete to get warm, and stretch after a workout so that more can be fitted into the class. This, in theory, is fine as long as the athletes know what they are doing, and more importantly, do it! Next time you need to get warm for a class, use this simple checklist to get the best from your 5-10 minutes prior to starting the class.
Get the blood flowing - Regardless of what's written on the WOD Screen, you need to raise the heart rate a little, which begins to prime the CNS, but also start the blood flowing to the muscles and wake the synovial fluid up that sits all around the joints. A quick 3-5 minutes cardio (run, bike, row etc) should do the job.
Read the board, mobilise for the movements required - I can't tell you how many times I have to watch people stand around idly performing PVC pipe pass-throughs whilst chatting to each other, right before heavy back squats! Yes we need a little shoulder mobility to back rack a bar, but those great big hip and knee joints need waking up, not to mention the often problematic and limiting ankles. Keep it dynamic, don't hit a static stretch, now isn't the right time for that, but rather move in and out of your end range of motion in a controlled manner. Pick a movement (squat therapy is a great primer for squats) and try to ease slightly further into the position with each rep.
Move - Use animal motions, flows and sequences to prepare your body for both the known and the unknown. You never know when you might catch a lift slightly out of position, or turn at a funny angle during a jump. Preparing the body for these eventualities reduces the risk of injury and turns missed lifts into successful ones.
Build to the weight, or movement in stages - If it's a lift, start with a couple of empty bar sets, 8-12 reps, then a couple of smaller sets with a low weight. Whilst the exertion level is still low, switch to the rep scheme you are going to perform. You won't successfully prepare the body for heavy singles or triples, with medium to heavy sets of ten. Additionally, if you are looking to find a max, these larger sets earlier on will detract from your true number once you get there. If it's a movement, chest-to-bar pull-ups for example, then start working through some progressions. Ease in with some ring rows, becoming gradually more explosive as you go. Try a few jumping reps, with a slight pause in the top of the pull-up. Once you've done this, go through some kipping beat swings, before performing a couple of strict single reps, focusing on form and explosiveness.
Post WOD, getting people to stretch, is usually slightly easier. They're shattered from the workout and quite happy to sit down and chew the fat with their friends. All of this is fine, but let's make sure we put this time to good use. Here's your checklist for stretching off.
Flush the muscles - sitting on a stationary bike, or going for a slow jog are great ways to flush lactic acid from the muscles, to help reduce the effects of DOMS and enable us to recover better. This should be done very soon post workout, and only need last 3-4 minutes. It is also great for gradually returning the heart rate to normal, preventing blood pooling and resetting the CNS.
Keep warm - This doesn't take much to get people to do right now - it's cold - but it still applies in the summer. Your body will begin to cool rapidly once you stop working out. Putting a jumper, maybe a pair of jogging bottoms on too, whilst you stretch, can work wonders at making the stretches more effective.
Start big - Stretch the biggest muscles first. By freeing up the major muscle/muscle group worked, this will allow us to target the smaller muscles more easily further on. Advice on times to hold a stretch vary, but a minimum of 30 seconds is a good place to start. If you have a particularly tight, or well used muscle, a bit of developmental stretching in excess of a minute may work well too. After a big deadlift session, I would always advise hitting the hamstring first, then the lower back, before targeting more specific areas as required.
Now it's time for static - Static stretches here are good. We want to hold a position for long enough to ease the muscle fibres off after repeated or sustained contractions in the session. We might find, however, we can't get far enough into positions to make a difference. This is due to tightness, and the stretch reflex (myotatic reflex) and will be more obvious on the larger muscles. We can overcome this by stretching for about 15-20 seconds, coming out of the stretch, then easing straight back into it, trying to surpass the previous effort.
So there you have it, whilst the exact stretches and exercises need to differ and be appropriate, having a little structure to follow will certainly help!