Pacing Intensity in a Workout

Practice starting slow and building to the last set — especially in longer workouts.

Logan Gelbrich, CCFT April 03, 2017

By and large, the most common mistake athletes — whether they’re beginners or experienced competitors — make are in a mismanagement of intensity. They come out too hot.

Rich Froning? He’s the master at managing intensity. Not only does he move as well as anyone or have as much capacity as anyone, but he also paces better than virtually anyone. From the outside looking in, many of his CrossFit Games efforts are done without him ever redlining. Froning almost never comes out too hot.

Think back on your own experiences. When is the last time you finished a workout stronger than you started, in control, with your hand on the steering wheel? I’d venture to bet that these memories are few and far between. Usually, at some point, you go to that dark place, your plan goes out the window (sometimes along with your finer motor patterns) and the rest of the workout is done in some hellacious salvage mode.

Of course, the more advanced the athlete, the more finely tuned their understanding of their abilities will be. Athletes who know their bodies better can walk the line of intensity more accurately. Nonetheless, even advanced athletes can’t see into the future. It’s hard to predict exactly how you’ll feel six minutes into 17.1 or how you’ll feel three rounds into a five-round triplet.

Strategically speaking, taking on the simple intention of, say, a tempo run will yield positive results for most CrossFitters on most workouts. To clarify: If you ran out at a pace for 10 minutes to your turnaround point, the goal would be to return and complete your run in less than 20 total minutes. It’s the basic negative split.

While this strategy is vague and extremely imprecise, there are more elements of control than might appear at first glance. Based on your pace in the workout, you can evaluate how much intensity you finish with. Accidently pace too aggressively still? You’re finishing effort might be a grind to just barely outpace your effort. Conversely, if you get to your halfway point and feel great, you can kick into a gear with remarkable contrast to your starting pace.

The next time you take on a workout, especially longer ones, challenge yourself to start out “too slow.” Good luck!


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About the Author

Logan Gelbrich, CCFT

Logan Gelbrich, CCFT

Logan Gelbrich, CCFT, is the owner of DEUCE Gym in Venice Beach, California and ORIGINAL Nutritionals, a CleanAthlete sports nutrition company. He's a four-year alum of the nationally acclaimed University of San Diego baseball program, as well as an ex-pro with the San Diego Padres as a catcher. In addition, he currently travels the world coaching the CrossFit Strongman Seminar.