Metabolic Competence & Awareness

In my early years of CrossFit, I abandoned so much of what I had learned about pacing, lactic threshold, and steady power output across any task or time oriented challenge. CrossFit had changed so much about my perception and personal "definitions" of fitness that I somewhat recklessly threw everything I knew out the window for the benefits of starting with a clean slate of knowledge. 

Experience along with the privilege of attending Ben Bergeron's Competitor's Training camp, had me bring back something I had thrown out:

Intelligent pacing

Much of what is provided and explained below is stolen and adapted from the concepts he presented to a group of exceptional athletes at CFNE.

Let me start by saying this: 

I would estimate that +80% of CrossFitters start +80% of their workouts too fast.

First round be like...

First round be like...

Last round be like...

Last round be like...

Toughness matters. Often, being intimately familiar with the extremes of metabolic discomfort is the difference between winning and losing.

That said, I have a hard time understanding why, generally speaking, the competitive CrossFit community has failed to adopt the most basic concepts of pacing. For some reason, in the sport of competitive CrossFit, at even the highest levels, we generally have about 80% of the competitors starting at a pace they won't sustain. The disciplined pacer is a rare breed.

I think much of our failure to adopt more sophisticated and effective techniques can be attributed to unknown and unknowable events. The idea that, "If you've never done it before, how do you know how fast to go?"

"Too fast coach? Slow down? Speed up? Go? Stop? Wait ... What?"

"Too fast coach? Slow down? Speed up? Go? Stop? Wait ... What?"

The answer is pretty simple: It takes conscious practice. As athletes, we have to get intimately familiar with what it feels like to do this successfully and unsuccessfully.  You have to work to develop the habits of not only timing yourself, but timing rounds, logging data with discipline, evaluating the results, and making effective adjustments.

Is it a benchmark like "Cindy" where your PR is 19 rounds? You need to maintain an average of 60 second rounds to get 20 rounds. The undisciplined athlete will come out hot and do their first 5 rounds at a pace of 45 seconds, their next 5 rounds at 55 seconds, then pray to the push-up gods that there's enough in the tank to hang on for a PR as they get slower, and slower, and slower...

To be fair, their training may have increased their capacity enough to still hit a PR but the problem with this approach is that their body has accumulated a metabolic debt during those early rounds. They have inefficiently used energy faster than they have the capacity to generate it and as a result, their potential output for this 20 minute AMRAP is now below its ultimate potential. 

Let's use one of the oldest examples in the book to give us some perspective: A 1600 meter run in track. Almost everyone in the stands knows that the person in the lead after the first lap (the rabbit) isn't likely to end up winning. 

The experienced runner/competitor will have a much more steady pace with lap times that are very consistent.

The world record 1600 set by Hicham El Guerrouj from Morocco in 1999 had the following split times:

Lap 1: 55.6
Lap 2: 56.0 [1:51.6]
Lap 3: 56.3 [2:47.9]
Lap 4: 55.2

World Record: 3:43.13

If you planned and paced any given metcon well, it will hurt and your round times will look similar to Hicham's lap times. That said, if your times are consistent but it didn't hurt, you should obviously adopt a faster pace next time.

All sports that include a high degree of conditioning hold the same universal truth: 

You maximize the performance of an athlete by finding the highest output that is sustainable for the duration of a given event.

If your first round is your fastest and your times slip off, you're leaving performance on the table. Not only that, you could likely improve your scores, and it would hurt significantly less. Elite fitness isn't built by coming out hot, sky-rocketing above lactic threshold, and just hanging on for dear life the remainder of the workout. That's the habit of the undisciplined athlete. Worst of all, it hurts so much worse and it accomplishes so much less. 

Understand this: 

Maximizing your metabolic conditioning is accomplished by doing two things:

1.) Spending quality training time just below your lactic threshold
2.) Raising your lactic threshold

Next week, I will break down a paradigm shift of how to think about pacing your workouts in order to find the highest sustainable output for any given metcon. 


Coach David Barnett