10 Aug 2015 - 5 Top Tips for Pacing Workouts


This month, we asked you to focus on pacing your workouts. We define workout pacing as employing the best strategy to maximise power output in any workout and over any given time domain.

Remember our blog post on Measuring Progress on Beyond the Whiteboard, and how power output relates to intensity?

The best CrossFitters and athletes are those that not only win workouts, but also do so making it look effortless. Rich Froning is a prime example of the perfect strategist and pacer. He knows exactly what is required to win a workout, and he makes sure he achieves this. He does no more or no less. In other words, he paces his workouts extremely well.

Here are our 5 Top Tips for Pacing Workouts

1) The 80% rule & longer workouts

I have heard this rule numerous times and it works extremely well. You should pace a long workout (6mins +) so that you are performing at 80% max effort for 80% of the workout. Then in that final 20% of the workout, you really turn it on and give it everything you have.

For example, if we have a 10 minute AMRAP then for the first 8 minutes you will be working at 80% max effort (uncomfortable, but sustainable effort). In the final 2 minutes you should be able to kick things up a gear or two and increase the pace. If you can't increase, then chances are you were working at over 80%.

This strategy will ensure that you do not hit that red line too early and stand around forever just staring at the bar. Just be sure your 80% is not sandbaggin'!

2) Climbing to a crescendo in short WODs

In short (sub 6 minute workouts) you need to get moving quickly and hang on until the end. Short workouts mean short term pain.

My advice for these short, sharp workouts is to start at a moderate/fast pace and be able to keep increasing that pace until the end. When your fellow athletes begin to fatigue and slow down you will be speeding up! By the end of these workouts you want to be pushing to hang on to your top pace to get the job done. This is a tough strategy and one that requires practice.

3) Define your rest periods

All too often we see people start to rest in a workout. 5, 10, 15 seconds breezes by, the athlete gets a little chalk, 20...25 seconds, then they spend an age with their hands on the bar waiting to move, 30...35...40 seconds. This kind of undefined rest period is what kills power output and adds minutes to your workout times, minutes of doing nothing at all.

When you do have to stop and take a break during a workout, have a plan in place to prevent yourself from turning a short rest into a long nap. 

Give yourself a defined rest period; this could be a number of breaths, for example 5 deep breaths then you have to go again. You could also watch the clock and give yourself a specific amount of time before you get back to work.

Many of us will only need 10 seconds before we can start work again. And although you may not feel like it, I guarantee you will be able to do more than you thought possible. If you start drifting towards 30 seconds you are falling into the 'sandbaggin' category.

4) Don't hit muscle failure

How many of you look at a multiple round workout and think "Yeah, I could do one round unbroken." This is not taking into account the complete picture: you are doing multiple rounds, not one. You will fall behind in later rounds by starting all gung-ho in round one and then you proceed to crawl your way through the remainder of the workout as you struggle to recover.

As soon as you hit muscle failure you are in serious trouble. Recovering from complete muscle failure takes far longer than recovering from a sub-maximal set (we tend to see this happen more with gymnastics movements, such as toes to bar, pull-ups etc).

A good tip is to find out what your max reps in a single set is for a specific movement, and then during workouts aim to do 40-50% of that per set. Say you can do 10 toes to bar as a max effort set, if you see toes to bar in a workout you should aim for sets of 4-5 reps with a short rest period in between. 

Re-test your max set every 6-8 weeks and adjust your strategy as appropriate.

5) Don't pace off others

....too much.

One of the reasons we love CrossFit is its friendly competitive nature and the drive we get from each other that can help push us that little extra. BUT trying to hold your own against the gym's most experienced athletes when you're in your second week of training is probably a bad idea. You'll hit that red-line faster than Graeme takes his t-shirt off in a WOD.

Everyone has their strengths and weaknesses, and everyone will be able to pace workouts differently based on this, so pick your battles wisely.

Knowing if your strategy was a success or failure?

If you blew up before you reached the halfway point of the workout, it would be safe to assume you went out too hard and were probably a little ambitious. In the next workout shoot for smaller work sets, have slightly longer rest, or just slow down a little.

You were so close to the end, then it all went wrong. You got a rush of blood to the head and emptied the tank before the final hurdle and got overtaken by the resident workout sandbagger. Next workout your aim should be to hit the same strategy, but maintain the pace until the end of the workout.

Your strategy worked perfectly. Your pacing was spot on, you turned the gears in the final minutes and finished with a flourish of chalk, sweat and smashed 'that guy from the 6pm class' time'. At the end of the workout you want to feel like you genuinely could not have given more if you wanted to. In the next workout your aim is to do slightly bigger sets, decrease rest time, or increase the pace throughout the workout.


A) Weightlifting Skill Development: Snatch
A1) Muscle snatch + Overhead squat: 6 x 2 + 1
A2) High hang power snatch + High hang squat snatch: 6 x 1 + 1

B) For time:
21 Power Snatch (40/30 kg)
21 Box jumps (24/20 in)
21 Pull-Ups
15 Overhead squats (45/32.5 kg)
15 Box jumps (24/20 in)
15 Pull-Ups
9 Squat Snatch (50/35 kg)
9 Box jumps (24/20 in)
9 Pull-Ups

(Time cap: 12 minutes)