Have you ever started a workout and not quite felt ready? Like your body should be able to perform the exercise but it feels extra heavy or a step behind? Maybe you’re watching others moving around you at lightning speed and you wonder “what am I doing wrong?!”
Knowing how to prepare your body for exercise is a skill in itself. A great coach will instruct you on how to warm up in a way that physically and mentally prepares you for the day. Having a deeper understanding of how your body works will be hugely beneficial for taking initiative yourself and getting the most out of your hard efforts. You will be able to ask the right questions and know if you are really working up to your potential.
Today we will explore how to prepare for strength based workouts as well as high intensity intervals or cardio sessions. Understanding these principles will help you prepare your body and take your fitness to the next level!
“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” -Abraham Lincoln
Preparing For Strength And Power Workouts
To prepare for a strength workout you can utilize a rep scheme called a “wave load” to prepare for big lifts. Wave loading lets your body tap into its ability to activate high threshold motor units, the signaling mechanism telling your muscles to contract. The more motor units you activate the more muscles fibers you utilize to produce movement. Understanding how to recruit as many motor units as possible is essential for moving heavy weights or to move moderate loads at high velocity such as in an olympic lift.
Say you are trying to find a five rep max back squat. If your current max is 300 pounds, you might start out performing sets of five starting at 135 pounds, adding 20-30 pounds each set and resting a minute or two in between. By the time you get to 225 though, the weight is already feeling heavy and a feeling of dread creeps in. Most people use a linear progression like this to build up to their heavy weight. The load feels heavier and heavier.
The problem with this approach is that your body is an efficiency machine. It doesn’t want to work any harder than it has to to lift the load. It will only recruit the minimum number of motor units required to lift the weight in front of you. Every weight feels heavy because it actually is heavy relative to the muscles you’re using to lift it! Meanwhile, you are using precious energy trying to slowly build up to your goal weight for the day.
One effective strategy to build up to the goal weight effectively and bust out new personal records is using a wave load technique. Rather than use straight sets of five reps all the way up to your working weight you can use single reps at a higher load than you would want to use for a set of five. This helps your body recruit more muscle fibers because of the demands of a heavy single rep.
Every training session is kind of like blowing up a balloon. Blowing up a heavy duty party balloon fresh out of the package can require some serious lung strength. It’s a challenge, right? This is similar to building up to a new weight in your workout. It’s hard to do and physically demanding. What happens once you’ve blown the balloon up all the way? It’s stretched to a new dimension that if you let all the air out, would make it easier to blow up the next time. This is what performing a heavy single is like before performing your set of five.
Instead of progressing in a linear fashion such as:
- 5x New Max Effort Attempt
Total reps = 35 Total load = 7,825 lb.
Instead try an undulating periodization:
- 5x New Max Effort Attempt
Total reps = 22 Total load = 4,855
If your goal is to conserve energy for a new max it is clear to see how a wave load can still prime your body for a heavy lift without wasting unnecessary energy!
Preparing For High Intensity Interval (HIIT) or Cardio Workouts
HIIT workouts can be brutal. Sometimes you find yourself gasping for air and wide eyed in the first two minutes. Wondering how you’ll last until the time cap or complete the prescribed number of rounds or reps.
If this is an experience you have had it means that you were either not properly warmed up for the workout or you didn’t properly scale the weights and movements. Warming up for a HIIT workout requires several key components. Increasing respiration so your heart is prepared for greater cardiac output, movement progressions that warm up your muscles and reinforce the movement patterns, and mobility work to improve performance and reduce injury risk.
As a general rule of thumb, the shorter and more intense the workout is, the more warmup and preparation it requires. You need to be prepared to give an intense effort and that will look different every day depending on the workout.
A great coach will be able to help you execute a proper warm complete with movement progressions and the appropriate scales for the movements in your HIIT training.
If you’re interested in trying CrossFit, contact us today for a free, no-sweat intro session.
Over the course of a career that has spanned decades and covered multiple disciplines, Nancie Janitz has come to one conclusion that overrides anything else she has learned: repetition is a powerful factor when it comes to getting better.
Whether that thing you want to get better at is writing, graphic design, squat cleans, or just becoming somebody who wants to be more “in the moment”, practicing on a regular basis is proven to set you on the path toward improvement.
If you think this sounds like something the coaches at Grand Trunk CrossFit would tell you as you push yourself through a WOD, you wouldn’t be wrong. It’s definitely something that crosses Janitz’s mind when she prepares for a workout.
“For me, CrossFit is not so much an exercise in gaining strength and flexibility as it is a practice,” she says. “I strive to fit CrossFit into my life on a regular basis in order to continue to get better.”
As one of the older members at Grand Trunk, both in age and tenure, Nancie’s quest to stay in shape has run the gamut, from one of the big box gyms you hear so much about, to her current home for fitness at Grand Trunk.
Before settling on Grand Trunk as her final fitness decision, Nancie met Grand Trunk owner, Brooklyn Netherton, when she was a member at a big box gym and Brooklyn worked there as a coach. It was during regular classes when he began to introduce CrossFit movements that agreed with Nancie at that particular point on her fitness journey.
“I was in my early 40s and weighed around 220 pounds when I met Brooklyn, and was also dealing with pretty severe psoriasis,” she said. “He told me to clean up my diet, but I didn’t think it was worth the effort. I had resigned myself to being overweight for the rest of my life.”
But lo and behold, once Nancie took Brooklyn’s advice and started to really watch what she was putting in her body, she lost 50 pounds and noticed a considerable difference in the severity of her skin condition. Combined with the CrossFit-ish movements Brooklyn introduced to his classes at the gym, Nancie was starting to get the hang of how repetition could change her life.
Once Brooklyn and his wife, Diana, left to open their own CrossFit box, it wasn’t a hard decision for Nancie to follow them to Grand Trunk and become a member, even if it meant stepping outside of her comfort zone just a bit.
“Growing up, I was always active,” says Nancie. “I played tennis and did synchronized swimming. I ran. When I lived in San Francisco, it was runner’s heaven with all of the hills to run. It was never a problem to do anything physical, and I made sure to make time for it.”
For Nancie, one key aspect to staying fit and active is that it helps her mentally. Her job in a creative field requires her to keep her brain operating at full capacity, so she knows how important it is to fit CrossFit into her daily routine.
She has struggled with bouts of depression for her entire life, as well, and knows herself well enough to understand that if she doesn’t fit in regular workouts, the depression will do its best to try and interrupt her well-being.
“Whether it’s CrossFit or hot yoga, I try to do something physical every single day,” she says. “I’m not as spry as I once was, but I’m getting to the age where I’m grateful that I’m able to wake up in the morning and have a body that can do the CrossFit movements. That’s a blessing.”
The days of Nancie comparing herself to others in a gym are long gone. She is secure enough in her own abilities to understand that having a competitive mindset at the box is not for her, nor will she take anything positive away from trying to out-CrossFit the younger athletes. She is in it for herself, and that suits her just fine.
“That’s what I love about CrossFit: you’re competing with yourself,” she says. “It’s more a discipline than anything else.”
After five years of staying active at Grand Trunk, as well as the work she put in before she joined, Nancie gets to reap the benefits of being a fit fifty-something woman, and she’s not afraid to embrace them.
“My daughter tells me I’m the healthiest mom she knows, which is nice to hear,” she says. “But having the endurance to do things like shovel snow and carry groceries without taxing myself is worth its weight in gold, and I owe it to Brooklyn & Diana and the community they have founded here.”
Nancie’s relationship with Brooklyn goes back years. But if she has her way, it won’t end anytime soon. She is fully committed to CrossFit for as long as her body will let her do the movements, and she makes sure Brooklyn knows how long she plans to keep at it.
“I tell Brooklyn: you’re going to have to pry the barbell out of my dead hands,” she adds. “I’m going to CrossFit until I die.”
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