Strength & Fitness

It Pays to Be The Turtle

Pace (Pacing) : Verb
"Do something at a slow and steady rate or speed in order to avoid overexerting oneself."


One of the misunderstandings we see a lot with athletes is that pacing is a bad thing and that you should bring your energy output up to 100% for as long as possible...but really, how long is that possible? You will find and reach a breaking point and you will end up needing to scale your energy output down drastically.  

Everybody should know the story of the tortoise and the hare, correct?  Well if you think about it, it is really a story about pacing.  You can become more successful by doing things slow and steady rather than quickly and carelessly.

So what kind of workouts should you be game planning and pacing?  

A good rule of thumb would be anything over the 5 minute range.  Anything less than 5 minutes is a workout where you should typically forget your pace and push the limits of what you and your body are capable of doing in an all-out spring, or “red-line” effort.  Now that doesn’t mean go into the workout without a game plan and go all white on rice during the workout, you should still set a game plan and stick to it

Here we will use a 20 minute workout as our example of a good pacing throughout a workout.  

Typically when we break down pacing in the gym we have used heart rate for explanation purposes; for the example we’re going to be using energy output.

Initially starting (minutes 1-6) you should start out slower than you actually think; you should almost be holding back a little.  

The middle of the workout (minutes 7-14) are typically where we will see athletes fall off, meanwhile an athlete who has paced their workout correctly so far should be hitting full stride appearing stronger than at the start of the workout.  Your energy output should be hovering around the 80% range throughout this aspect of the workout.  Here you should be starting to get a little uncomfortable with your pace and your body should start to feel taxed but not to the point of needing to stop.  

The tail end of the workout (minutes 15-20) you should start upping your energy output above the 80% range. The last few minutes you go into a full out sprint topping out your energy output in the 95% - 100% range for the remainder of the workout (number of minutes depending on what you can handle).  This last part of the workout is really another pacing aspect within your original pace.  You need to start to elevate your energy output from 80% to 100%, but not too early that you end up with nothing in the tank with a minute left and not too late that you have too much energy post workout.  

Knowing your body will help tremendously with this, as will experience.  


Here are some additional tips that you may find helpful when thinking about pacing your workout.

1. 80% Rule.  The 80% rule is about keeping your energy output around the 80% range for 80% of your workout, raising your energy output to the 100% range in the last 20% of your workout.  By doing so you will make sure that you are not finding that energy output 100% range too early and having the stand around looking at the task at hand.  This rule should be used for workouts longer than the 5 minute time domain.

2. Define your rest.  All too often we see athletes stretch that rest.  They drop the barbell 10 to 20 seconds go by, they grab a swig of water, now they are at 30 seconds, they will chalk up, now they are at 40 seconds, get set to pick up the bar, now they have lost 45 seconds (7.5%) of a 10 minute workout.  Now I am not saying rest is bad or not to grab chalk or a swig of water but keeping controlled rests are key.  Think about it in deep breaths, something like two deep breaths chalk grab the bar.  

3. Break it up early.  We have all seen the workout “X Rounds for Time”.  I’m sure a few times athletes have also thought “yeah, I could probably do the first round unbroken while breaking up the next three rounds”.  What is wrong with this method?  What if fatigue sets in and you are now piece mailing the last three rounds having to do way smaller sets and taking large amounts of rest.  Breaking things up early will ensure that you can maintain your pace.

4. Keep your own pace.  There is a fine line of keeping your pace and pacing off of others.  Most athletes should typically keep their own pace without worrying about the pace of other athletes in non-competition settings.  We all love CrossFit because it’s a friendly environment where athletes push one another, so there are those friendly competitions within the gym where you might go a little harder to get those bragging rights for the next few days.  Just keep in mind that everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses and that everybody is in different chapters of their fitness journeys.

Jordan Walling

Coach - duluth