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A Better Warm-up? Warm-Up Games and the Importance of Play for Adults

 Written by 

Damect Dominguez

 Last updated on 

The warm-up is a crucial part of any workout. It’s the time where you get your heart rate up, mobilize your joints and get your muscles prepped to perform the required movements of the WOD (good mornings for deadlifts, air squats for thrusters, etc.). As such, common warm-ups in CrossFit may consist of a 400m run or row, air squats, good-mornings, or some lifts with an empty barbell. It’s often done in a similar structure to the workout itself—complete this sequence of work for three rounds, then move to mobility, etc., etc. It’s all very straightforward and somewhat…boring. Where’s the fun? Should warm-ups even be fun?

As it turns out, having fun and ‘playing’ during a warm-up is important for a number of reasons. We know that childhood play is essential for brain development, but a number of reports, articles and studies suggest that playtime should extend into adulthood. Dr. Stuart Brown, head of the National Institute of Play, says that play is something done for its own sake.  “It’s voluntary, it’s pleasurable, it offers a sense of engagement, it takes you out of time. And the act itself is more important than the outcome.”

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So, what other benefits can a playful warm-up provide?

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Stress Relief

Playtime, in case you forgot, is supposed to be fun. With that enjoyment, your body naturally releases feel-good endorphins, which help to relax you, make you feel good about yourself, relieve stress and even temporarily relieve pain. Isn’t this the way you want to feel heading into a tough workout—with eagerness and confidence (not to mention blunting the soreness from yesterday’s WOD)? Of course it is. With this frame of mind, you’re far more likely to challenge yourself and take chances in the workout, instead of letting the training session get the better of you as you stroll through to the end of class.

Improves cognitive function

Play is proven to stimulate cognitive function in children, but continuing to play as you age—specifically with fun activities that challenge the brain—helps to prevent memory loss and improve our brain power.

If you’ve done CrossFit long enough, you know how easy it is to lose count during a workout; heck, you may have even found yourself running back to the whiteboard for a reminder of what the workout is. But prepping our brain through a playful warm-up isn’t just about remembering numbers. Stimulating our cognitive function helps us carry out tasks to the best of our abilities; this includes skills like double-unders and butterfly pull-ups that on some days our brains can’t seem to get a grasp of.

Improves relationships

Hopefully you’re already good pals with your fellow athletes at the box, but engaging in a playful game before the real work begins in class can help build empathy, compassion, and trust with others—especially new athletes to the community. That can be particularly handy if you’re about to engage in a partner workout with an athlete you don’t know very well.  If nothing else, it’ll help break the ice and help get a conversation going! Remember, “we don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”

Warm-Up Games for CrossFit

Toilet tag:

This is basically the same game as tag, the only difference being that when tagged, the person must hold a full squat position for 15 seconds in order to get back into the game.

Garbage ball:

Collect an assortment of easy to move equipment such as cones, balls, light kettlebells, etc. and spread them all over your gym. Then divide your class into two teams and give each team half of the gym. On your signal the game will begin. The object of the game is to get all of the “trash” to the other team’s side. Coach yells pause at random times and whoever has more trash pays a penalty of sorts. Examples: 15 burpees, jumping jacks etc.


Exactly as it sounds. Athletes hop on the rower and attempt to row a perfect strike, which entails using full pulls on the rower without breaks between pulls, with the goal of landing exactly on 100m. You can be cruel and add in penalties for every meter under or over 100m between rounds, such as 2 air squats per meter. 


You’ll need some duct tape and a way to color code your medicine balls for this one, but it’ll be worth it. Split your class into two teams, and have them stand behind a starting line at one end of the gym. On the coach’s signal, one athlete from both teams sprints to the tic-tac-toe grid you’ve placed on the floor. They position their balls in one quadrant, run back to the starting line, and athlete two runs forth. The process is repeated for the third athlete. If one team wins after the first three athletes have gone, the other team must do a burpee penalty. If the game is not complete, all subsequent athletes have to reposition one of the three balls of their team that’s already on the grid, until there is a winner.

Photo by Mark Houdlettte/CC BY NC 2.0

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