Welcome to Part 3 of our attempted purge of misleading CrossFit beliefs or as I like to think of it busting popular CrossFit myths. In the previous two articles we covered why you should NOT always go RX (read the full article here) and why you should NOT put max effort into every workout (available here). Today we will talk about why pacing, breaking your sets strategically and focusing on good quality movement will get you further in your fitness than trying to do all the work unbroken and with little to no breaks.
CrossFit as a training methodology is very much based on the desire for building a maximum work capacity. What that means is that CrossFit aims to get you to do the maximum amount of work for the least amount of time. This naturally leads most WODs to have focus on the time domain or by their more common name - “for time” workouts. This implies that completing the work as fast as possible is the most important thing, and the methodology would only be effective if we follow this rule.
While “constantly varied functional movements performed at high intensity” is the actual definition of the method, where there is a huge emphasis on intensity, high intensity does not mean maximum intensity. This misunderstanding coupled with the expectations that most workouts should be completed as fast as possible creates a dangerous misinterpretation of how the methodology should be applied.
As we previously discussed, you should definitely not put 100% of effort into every workout as this could lead to injuries, overtraining or simply getting you to give up on the method. There is also, a rather pronounced problem with popular CrossFit culture that elevates on a piedestal ideas such as avoid the warm up, you should “die” in the WOD, running is terrible, or how “funny” it is to not listen to your coach and hit big lifts with bad form. I am literally rolling my eyes so hard, they are now facing the back of my skull. If you want to know why you shouldn’t put max effort into every workout and how you can objectively measure your WOD effort with Atlon, you can read the full article available here.
By strategically breaking your sets you can achieve a more sustainable pace during your workout. We have built a comprehensive guide to help you conduct a capacity test for any exercise and make an educated decision on how to break the sets for your next workout. You can read the full article here. In short, the idea is to do 5 sets of the exercise you want to test. You aim for the absolute maximum of reps you can get for each set. Then you take the max and average set size as your benchmark. As a rule of thumb, you would like to break your sets roughly around your average set from the test. Of course, in reality it is a bit more complicated than that, so if you would like to know exactly how to do it, you can use the formula in the article to calculate the optimal set size for the specific workout you are planning.
How you break your sets is just one part of optimizing your performance. In order to move at an optimal pace you not only need to take strategically planned short breaks, but you should also aim to keep a consistent rep speed throughout. For example, you might plan breaking your set of 15 thrusters as 5-5-5 but if you do the first set of 5 too fast, you might struggle to keep up with your strategy of going 5 at a time, or you might end up taking more rest than planned, which will effectively result in slower than optimal completion time. With Atlon you can analyze your min., max. and average rep speed for each exercise, not only for the individual workout, but also track how they change over time. If you are not an Apple user, make sure you focus at keeping your reps with consistent pace, so that you can flawlessly execute your chosen strategy and achieve the best results.
In order to optimize your performance you have to understand which exercises spike your heart rate the most and find a way to keep it under control. For example, if the air bike leaves you breathless every time, you will get off it far too fatigued spending precious time trying to recover and stabilize your heart rate. With Atlon’s Beyond Heart Rate graph you can easily see which exercise spiked your heart rate, how fast you went during each set, and come up with a better pace that would not leave you gasping for air. If you are not an Atlon user, you can take any HR data from any device you are using and try to reflect on the HR peaks and valleys. Think of how you felt during the workout and try to piece the puzzle together. This type of reflection on your performance can be very insightful.
I know hardcore CrossFitters would go after me for saying how intensity is not the most important thing in a workout, as to many of them it is precisely what makes the method work so well. And yes, I mostly agree with that. Mostly. As I explained above, intensity is just one of the ways we create work capacity. However, building consistency in your movement pattern is arguably the one thing you can do to ensure sustained improvement in performance, less plateaus, and massively reduce the risk of injury. In addition to that, if you learn to move consistently you will have to focus less on technique and more on getting the work done. Just listen to Tia talking about how she manages to stay on top. She always talks about how she works on improving the way she moves. In my humble opinion, training for movement consistency under high strain (aka during the WOD) is the best kept high performance secret in the bizz. Just watch the top guys and gals in the sport. Every rep looks the same. This is why here at Atlon we help you quantify the consistency of your performance for every workout. You should always aim at an absolute minimum Consistency Score of 4.5 out of 10. Move well with intent and better results will soon follow.
So next time when you aim to hit the best time possible for your wod, don’t just try to do it as fast as possible and go unbroken. Be a smart and educated athlete with a plan and trust the data. Break your sets strategically, move consistently and with a sustained and deliberate pace that will allow you the most efficient, hence fastest possible completion of the work prescribed.
If you liked this article or even our entire series, leave a comment below. See you in the next post.
Busting Crossfit Myths - Part 2
Track Your Fitness Goals: The Top 5 Workout Tracking Apps