What if I told you that you can move faster in your metcons and make them hurt less? What magic pill do you have to take to make this happen? What fitness God do you have to pray to?! The answer is more simple than you may think and is probably a word you’ve heard countless times from your coaches. I’m talking about good old-fashioned CrossFit pacing. Pacing is one of the most valuable, yet underutilized and undeveloped skills in the sport of fitness.
Proper pacing allows you to hold the fastest sustainable pace across the entire duration of the workout resulting in the fastest time or best score that you’re physically capable of achieving. Pacing in CrossFit is a tool that athletes an coaches use to improve workout outcomes. By appropriately pacing a workout, an athlete can truly tap into their ultimate potential, improving endurance capacity, strength and peak power output recruitment, and overall times, reaching a higher placement on the leaderboard. Pacing workouts also leads to a better workout experience, as mentioned in the beginning of this article, so that you kick the workout in the face, not the other way around.
Different types of training require different energy systems to properly fuel the body to perform. CrossFit is unique in that it combines both types of training, aerobic and anerobic training. Aerobic exercises are going to be your cardio movements where your body relies heavily on macronutrients for fuel while oxygen remains in the muscle tissue. During aerobic training and pacing your CrossFit cardio workouts (i.e. running, rowing, ski, bike), you also have the ability to improve your V02 max (maximum oxygen utilization) to strengthen your cardiovascular capacity.
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Anaerobic training requires a higher level of intensity for a shorter period of time so that you can improve markers of strength, power, and muscle building capacities, as compared to aerobic training. Anerobic training occurs when the intensity of the workout is high enough that your body can no longer provide the necessary oxygen from your muscle tissue to keep up with the energy demand of the workout. In this case, the body requires adenosine triphosphate (ATP) and glycogen. Once those energy sources tap out, the phosphagen (immediate) energy system is recruited to produce energy in limited quantities.
Once these systems are tapped out entirely, so is your body which in turn leads to fatigue and a decrease in overall energy and performance capacity.
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There are two ways that you can fail at achieving your best possible score, coming out too hot and blowing up OR over-pacing (being too slow) and leaving precious seconds or reps on the table. Most of us are guilty of the latter. Learning how to pace requires a lot of patience, a lot of attention to detail, and A LOT of trial and error. There is only one way to find out what your optimal pace is, and that is by putting it to the test in training on a regular basis and figuring out exactly what is too fast and what is too slow given your current fitness level.
The first rule of pacing is to start a little bit slower than you think. Movements should be smooth and deliberate and breathing should be under control. It takes a disciplined athlete to not go berserk after 3,2,1 go. When the timer starts it’s too easy to look around at everyone else and think you need to be on pace with them. An important thing to consider is that the athletes around you most likely are not well-trained in pacing. In addition to that, if you have practiced your pacing to an extent where you know exactly what pace you can hold, you can confidently let the people around you go and there is a solid chance they end up slowing down and you keep plugging away and pass them.
Let’s look at a visual example of how solid pacing can play out in a workout.
CrossFit Pacing Workout:
20 wall balls
Athlete A Results:
Splits: 1:40, 1:50, 2:15, 2:30, 2:20
Athlete B Results:
Total time: 10:10
Splits: 2:05, 2:05, 2:00, 2:05, 1:55
These athletes could very well be at the exact same fitness level. Looking at the split times you can see that athlete B started significantly slower than Athlete A. The difference is that athlete B was able to maintain the pace they started at (because it was slower/sustainable) while Athlete A started way too fast, burned up, and slowed down. Over the span of the first two rounds athlete A had a 40 second lead and ended up losing by 5 seconds. This visual shows you the importance of pacing and how the ability to pace alone is a huge advantage over the competition field.
When training pacing you will likely have to start by “over-pacing” to get a good feel for it and then incrementally increase that pace until you find that threshold of what is no longer sustainable. This is where checking the ego at the door comes into play. Being ok with going a little slower with the intention of getting better at pacing is a hard thing to do mentally but will pay huge dividends when you master it and can apply it to competition.
1. Time Your Intervals
One good way to begin to practice pacing is to use your lap timer on your phone to track your round split times in a metcon. This is best to do with metcons that are several rounds (4+) and have very simple movements that allow YOU to dictate the output (i.e. burpees, box-jumps, air bike, and light loads) rather than the difficulty of the movement causing you to burn out. This could mean scaling some workouts for the sake of practicing pacing (sorry strong guys and girls).
2. Aim For Equal Split Times
For beginners, it may be easier to begin with interval style training pieces so you can rest and reset between rounds with the goal of making all rounds equal. Give yourself 30 seconds to 1 minute of rest between rounds. As you’re able to make your rounds close to equal, cut that rest down or out completely and try to keep hitting equal rounds. Once you get familiar with hitting equal round times, now its time to push it and see where that top end is. This is where things get a little dark and evil and fortitude becomes a factor.
3. Maximize Your Effort
Now, there is a fine line between pacing and sandbagging to avoid the “suck”. When you master pacing and are trying to shave time off your splits and increase fitness you absolutely must go into a dark place and there is a high level of discomfort that must be endured. Pacing doesn’t mean comfortability. Will it be less painful than blowing your wad 3 minutes into a 20-minute workout and then suffering for 17 minutes? Yeah, definitely. But when you pace well it should NOT be comfortable. Just sustainable.
4. Practice CrossFit Pacing Regularly
You should always be aiming to improve these split times and increase your sustainable output. This is what training is for! Utilize your training sessions as just that. Begin to think about pacing as a skill just like you would with double-unders or muscle-ups. It will take time to develop but requires the same amount of focus and practice and will pay off in a big way when you’re picking off the competition one by one.
5. Supplements For CrossFit Pacing
Supplements are designed to give athletes a competiive edge while optimizing performance and overall outcomes from effort both in and out of the gym. While working on your CrossFit pacing, there are supplements designed to help you delay fatigue and optimize peak power output over sustained periods of time.
Creatine can significantly increase phosphorylcreatine intramuscular stores. It has been shown to improve the energy supply from the phosphagen systems, thereby increasing the maximum capacity to resynthesizes adenosine triphosphate (ATP) by non-oxidative pathways, leading to improved performance, strength, and power [R].
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In addition to pacing, supplementing with Beta-Alanine is a great tool to capitalize on your training and CrossFit pacing efforts. Studies have shown that supplementing with CarnoSyn Beta-Alanine improves muscle carnosine concentrations to help delay muscle fatigue and counteract the build-up of lactic acid.
A study published in the Journal of Medical & Science In Sports & Exercise examined the effects of muscle carnosine content and endurance cycling capacity after 24 weeks of supplementation in cyclists. The study showed that supplementing with CarnoSyn Beta-Alanine increased muscle carnosine content and improved high-intensity cycling capacity at every time-interval [R, R].
The name of the game in CrossFit is who can go longer, harder, and faster, so the less burnout and fatigue you have, the better competitive edge you’re going to have over your fellow competitor in lane 8. By understanding how to approach a workout and where your pace needs to be, you can effectively delay the buildup of lactate and hydrogen ions, improve V02 max (oxygen uptake), and fuel your muscles longer. If you’re looking to become a better athlete time your intervals, make them equal, push the needle, and practice your pacing regularly. You never know how hot is ‘too fast’ or ‘too slow’ until you begin to float the red line of disaster on a frequent basis. You can thank us later for it.
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