Pacing & Finding Your Sweet Spot, Part II
September 20, 2017
In Part I, we talked about pacing too much versus not pacing at all. Not pacing a workout correctly could contribute to maximizing your performance and also not reaping the health benefits of certain types of workouts. Not having the ability to properly pace a workout is common for a novice athlete and even some elite athletes. A lot of times this is due to a lack of experience. Sometimes we see a workout and it is easy on the eyes, but the end result is a complete mis-paced crap show. In Part II, we are going to go over ways to find the beautiful sweet spot in your workouts, so you can increase performance and even your health!
The first step in finding the sweet spot is to record everything! If you do not have a journal or a log, how on Earth can you truly know how to pace? I would suggest to write notes and comments on how your body felt during the workout in your journal as well. The best athletes in the world for virtually any sport, know their bodies extremely well. They know when to hold back and when to redline. Very few people truly know their body’s limitations without workout tracking or journaling first. I personally like using a stopwatch to keep track of how fast I finish rounds, reps and sets. From this I can get a really good idea on how to pace future workouts that may have similar attributes.
The next step is to adjust intensity based on the length of the workout or projected length of the workout. The longer the workout, the lower the intensity. The shorter the workout, the higher the intensity. It is a pretty simple rule, however this is not a clear cut answer for pacing. It is just preliminary information to begin figuring out your game plan. The big mistake we see here is projecting the length of the workout to be too short or too long. To figure out projections, and excuse me while I nerd this one out a bit, you have to know the amount of time it takes to perform a repetition of the given exercise(s). You should not really guess this, you should actually KNOW this information. If you can average 1 sec/rep on a pullup then we know that 10 pullups will take you about 10 sec. Use this method to begin figuring out how long a set will take. Then a round. Now you have to figure out your fatigue factor. Your pace on round 1 is NOT the same as it is on round 5,so you cannot accurately predict a finish time based on your 1st round’s performance. Fatigue factor becomes super individualized based on the athlete’s fitness level and tolerance for certain movements. The best way to get a realistic idea for your fatigue factor is through performance on past workouts. This is why journaling is super important as your performance during certain tasks becomes more black and white, instead of a guessing game. Journaling is really crucial since it takes years of experience to truly be in tune with your body and to “feel out” a workout pace accurately.
Perhaps one of the best ways to know how to pace and find your sweet spot during a mixed modal workout piece (AKA CrossFit) is to do more interval style training with the same or similar work to rest ratios. Interval pieces follow the same logic. The shorter the interval, the higher the intensity and vice versa. However, work to rest ratios come into play with interval training, which can make it very difficult to understand. Anything that looks to be about even in work to rest should be treated with the intention of repeatability. Each interval should resemble a similar performance, not a massive drop off. Doing this effectively will lead to greater gains in your aerobic capacity and overall better performance. And will also train you to know how your body does over time, and through fatigue for those specific movement.
Even CrossFit Games athletes can have trouble figuring out an optimal pace for a workout. We actually saw how difficult it can be at the 2017 CrossFit Games Event, 223 Intervals. This was the first year that the CrossFit Games had an interval piece for an event. I was of course, extremely excited for this. As soon as I heard the announcement for the event I knew right away that some athletes were going to get completely crushed in the workout due to a lack of interval pacing experience. A big name, Noah Ohlsen, went out the gates way too hot in the event. Before the event started he even commented that his strategy was to go out hard. He learned the hard way that this was a huge mistake. He began the workout in the top of his heat and ended in almost last place in the workout. With the work and rest ratios being so similar, he would have scored better by pacing out a little slower and aiming to repeat the same scores for each interval. The workouts was 2 minutes of work followed by 1 minute of rest and started with 10/7 Ski Erg calories and with the remainder of the time max rep overhead squats until 75 reps are achieved.
Ohlsen’s score was not a reflection of his true physical capabilities or his overall fitness level. This was just an example of poor strategy. The interesting thing about pacing is that sometimes the smarter athlete can outscore a truly fitter athlete. The athlete who knows how to pace a workout relative to his/her strengths can beat someone who is fitter but hits a workout entirely too hard or too soft #rewardthepacer.
Overall, finding the sweet spot is something that will come with time as long as the athlete is paying attention. The easiest ways to figure out pacing comes through workout tracking and journaling. Dictating your pace based on how your body feels during a workout may not be the most accurate indicator and will probably lead to mis-pacing. Very experienced athletes dictate pace through feel very well, but this takes time and knowledge to be good at. To improve on pacing, do your intervals and record all of them! If you get really good at repeatability begin to increase your intensity because congratulations you just became fitter!