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Pacing & Finding Your Sweet Spot, Part I

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How many times have you done a workout where you crush round 1, hold on for round 2 then rounds 3,4,and 5 become a complete shitshow? How many times have you gone through a workout and told yourself, “that wasn’t too bad”?  I know I have and it is something we coaches tend to see in our athletes quite often. Contrary to popular CrossFit belief, full intensity in a workout should be a very selective thing rather than a “go to” as soon as you hear that clock go 3-2-1! Although high intensity is often associated with getting real fit real fast, it isn’t always the best route for achieving broad and elite fitness. Whether you are a CrossFit Games athlete or a grandpa just trying to stay alive longer, finding your pace is crucial in achieving your fitness goals. Just like the old CrossFit quote goes, “we differ by degree, not kind.”  What we see at the CrossFit Games and what we see in a lot of popular sports is “relative intensity.” Relative Intensity is simply adjusting your effort to the demands of the task. Relative intensity can be a very tricky dance. Sometimes we can go too slowly and over-pace a workout leaving a lot left in our gas tank. On the other end we can go out way too hard and not pace at all, leaving us gasping for air less than half way through a workout.

I think most of us are pretty good at knowing not to go 100% out the gate of a 20 min workout. You don’t have to be a veteran athlete to know that. However, we commonly see a lack of pacing in interval style pieces, where the rest and work pieces are the same or similar. When athletes do not pace well, they hit the intensity button too hard for the workout duration. They hit a 95-100% intensity gear for a workout that lasts longer than their anaerobic system can handle. Your anaerobic system is an energy system responsible for high intensity power output and can only truly sustain in workouts that last no longer than several minutes. A golden rule for an athlete to understand is: the longer the workout, the lower the intensity and vice versa. It is probably impossible to sustain anything above 90% intensity for several minutes before a drop off in power output occurs. Even for an interval piece that is 2 mins of work followed by 2 mins of rest, hitting the gear at 100% effort will leave you absolutely dead after multiple intervals. This style will NOT lead to improvements in your fitness as you will reach muscular failure pretty quickly.


On the opposite end, we have the “over-pacers.” Oftentimes, over-pacers will over analyze a workout and pace it to a point far below their threshold. Without a challenge (overloading stimulus) there will be virtually no adaption or benefit. Your fitness will be halted and progress will be stagnant. This can also be thought of as staying in your “comfort zone.” A common characteristic of an over-pacer is avoiding the uncomfortable feeling of being really out of breath. The over-pacer’s brain turns on the “pain governor” or even sends them into a panic forcing a slower and “safer” pace.


Whether you over-pace or don’t pace at all, the trouble is not being able to find your “sweet spot.” The sweet spot is where we can maintain a similar power output for the specific duration of time in a given workout. Finding the sweet spot can take some time. There are some ways to get there without being in the game for years and years. We will go over finding the sweet spot in Part II next week!