For a while now we’ve been talking a lot about pacing. And while often times this is in context of the CrossFit Open and/or those looking to be competitive in the sport of CrossFit, pacing is also important to those just looking to get in shape or simply get the most out of their workout. Go out fast in a 20 minute workout and you’ll find yourself really struggling to catch your breath just a few minutes in. This will make for a VERY uncomfortable 20+ minutes, likely culminating in a pace that slows and gets exponentially more uncomfortable as you go. Pace early on, keeping your heart rate in check, and you should not only be able to pick up the pace towards the end, but the final portion of the workout should be the only part that is really uncomfortable, not the entire workout! An easy way to measure if you are pacing properly is to track how long each round of a workout takes you. While there will always be some drop off from the first round, the pace should level off (not continue to drop) and then possibly be slightly faster for the last round.
And while that pertains to your approach when it comes predominantly cardio-respiratory workouts (think 5 Rounds of 400m Run, Box Jumps, and Burpees), in this post I want to address pacing when it comes to muscle stamina (think pull-ups, pushups, ring dips, handstand pushups, especially when required to do large sets). Pacing on these movements are just as important, but often overlooked. Let’s use this Tuesday’s workout as an example. An 18 minute AMRAP with box jumps, power cleans and 12 Ring Dips per round. Your ego can get you into trouble here if you open up with big sets on the ring dips. Now, everyone is different, and what could be a big set for one person, may be completely sustainable for another, so here is where having a log book, and going through this like a training session, rather than simply a workout can help you learn and dramatically improve. As you go through the workout, jot down how you broke up your sets (especially for muscle stamina limiting movements, listed above). Below is an example, the first method shows a pretty typical rep scheme of how a lot of people may approach the ring dips in this workout.
While the first 2 rounds in Method #1 will be completed very quickly, the problem comes in the later rounds when many more breaks are required. This is caused when we push too close to our limits early on. The final few reps of the 12 on Round 1, the final few reps of the set of 9 on Round 2, having to drop from 6 reps to 3 and from 5 reps to 2 on Rounds 4 and 5. This is a clear sign of being forced to take breaks. By the end we are looking at lots of singles, even if they are quick breaks, they are a stark contrast from opening up with a set of 12 unbroken.
Given the ability to do 12 unbroken followed by 9 unbroken, this person could likely benefit from a rep scheme similar to seen in Method #2. Breaking after every 4 reps, with short rest, from the very start may seem like a waste of time, but when it allows you to continue at the same pace, it can yield much faster pace. The key here is that in Method #2 you are in control of when you break and for how long, whereas Method #1 quickly becomes you simply doing whatever you’re capable of, then being forced to rest an unforeseen amount of time in order to reproduce the same or a lower output of performance.
While these numbers are just used for reference, the only way to find what’s right for you is to start by tracking how you break up certain exercises. From there you’ll be able to better identify what you can maintain, throughout the duration of any given workout. Let’s face it, you’ve worked hard to be able to finally link 10 pull-ups, 5 muscle ups, or maybe 10 handstand pushups, don’t let your ego get your into trouble by telling you the first round of the workout is where you are going to “show your stuff” and go for that big set! Break it up early, stay moving quick, and reap the rewards at the end of the workout.