Pacing Yourself For All-Out Workouts

Don’t focus on the clock, focus on finishing the workout

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While running warm-up drills in one of my group high intensity cross-training (HICT) sessions, I told one of the guys who was rushing to nail the required reps to pace himself. Someone else in the group overheard the comment and replied, "Pacing is for losers!" I wanted to turn around and smack this guy, but I knew he was one of these people who talks a big game yet then ends up doing half push-ups or three-quarter squats during the workout just to post a quick time. Who’s really the loser now?

Buying into other people’s egos will only take away from your workout. High intensity training is designed for each person to decide how much weight they can handle, and how hard to push themselves. If you’re among the top in your class and can push 100% throughout the entire workout, then God bless and continue doing it. For the others who aren’t quite superhuman enough for that, take it down a notch and don’t focus so much on the clock. Instead you should focus on finishing the workout without wasting time hunched over gasping for air halfway into it.

Training in group classes can be a double-edged sword for those participants who don’t have a specific goal in mind for each workout. Here’s an example: Take a 15 minute AMRAP workout – the goal here is to complete “as many rounds as possible” within the 15 minutes. Top athletes will go all out for the entire workout because they can, but the average athlete should have a plan of attack for this type of workout. Don’t get me wrong – there’s no substitute for all-out, head-to-head training and using other athletes as encouragement for you to push harder. The problem is when the scales are out of balance and you pick an unrealistic challenge.

This is where “pacing” comes into play. Figure out what number of reps you can repeat until failure and then subtract about 20-25 percent. Use that number as your working rep scheme for the entire workout. Don’t think of this as holding back, but more as a means to success. If I told you to sprint for one minute and repeat it 15 times, how do you think your last sprint would compare to the first? Try it and find out! You will more than likely find than you would have covered more distance by “pacing” rather than sprinting. For most people, these high intensity workouts should be approached as marathons, not sprints. You can still push yourself, just don’t end up on the floor before the workout is over.

I did a workout a few weeks back that included power cleans and thrusters with 115 lbs. for 3 rounds of 21 reps, 15 reps and 9 reps for time. The design of the workout was to start with the power cleans for 21 reps and then the thrusters for 21 reps to complete the first round, then 15/15 in the second and 9/9 in the third. For cleans and thrusters 115 lbs. isn’t huge weight, but when you have to repeat it 90 times as fast as you can, you may want to consider the best way to attack it before you pick up the bar.

I personally hate thrusters, but I love power cleans so my goal was to hit 5 to 7 cleans at a time “touch and go” to get through the first 21. When I moved to the thrusters I knew I’d burn out if I tried to string too many at once, so I cut it down to 3 reps at a time, then dropped the bar and reset. With this strategy I’m doing an amount of reps I know I can complete without fatiguing, dropping the bar and resetting with a few breaths – rather than pushing too hard and then taking too much time to get back to the bar between reps.

Sure, I could easily bang out 10 to 12 cleans and probably grind out 5 to 7 thrusters in record time, but for what. That’s only 15 or so reps, there’s still another 70 plus reps to go and now my heart rate is spiked through the ceiling and I’m looking for my water bottle. I’ve learned this the hard way, it doesn’t work and will ultimately rob you of a solid training session – sending you home wondering why you rushed to gym only to leave disappointed in your performance.

Too often I see athletes burying themselves 3 minutes into a workout because they came out of the gates like a race horse for the first 25 percent of the workout and then crashed so hard that they couldn’t recover from it. There’s no sense in burning yourself out early in a workout. Find your pace that you can repeat over and over and then as you near the end of the workout, you’ll find that if you want to push it a bit harder for the clock, you’ll have something in the tank to push with. Only you know what you're capable of, so make sure you keep that in mind when you choose your pace.

To get the most out of your training you should have a game plan. Don’t just show up and think that because you got yourself to the gym you’re guaranteed success. Great workouts are earned, not given.

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