The importance of pacing in Crossfit

We often focus on Crossfits  Constantly varied, functional fitness, at high intensity, that is universally scalable definition, which is acheived though developing  work capacity over broad time and modal domains and we know that one of the big secrets to the effectiveness of Crossfit is that component of high intensity, that develops Cardiovascular/respiratory endurance, one of the10 General Physical Skills (GPS), this in turn helps develop stamina.

The Challenge however, is that once you get past the rapid gains made by the vast majority of beginners, results and performance begin to plateau. it’s all well and good saying we should simply do more crossfit, but the reality is that to really progress in crossfit, you need to have consistent and progressive structure that allows you to train with intensity, regardless of your level or ability, this is why theres so much focus in crossfit coaching on ‘intended stimulus‘ and how that impacts on scaling. Good scaling should (in theory) maintain the level of intensity required to ensure progress whilst lowering the challenge of the workout to something within the athletes abilities.

But that all goes out the window when the buzzer goes and you kick off the workout, go too fast at the beginning as you’ll be gasping for air later, go too slow and you’ll loose that intended stimulus, so in turn, as a crossfit athlete, being able to assess a strategy for dealing with a workout is a key skill to be developed.

take murph for example, a hero WOD consisting of 1mile run, 100 pullups, 200 push ups, 300 squats and another 1 mile run. Do you sprint the 1mile, or pace it? do you do all the pullups in one go, or do you break them up? if you break them up, how do you split them? all the questions are important in helping you to achieve your goal, completing the WOD quickly, safely and without compromising on movement quality.

This is where pacing really comes into focus. good pacing is all about ensuring that you’re going at a consistent pace thats’ manageable under the load of the workout and sustainable for the duration of the workout, it also involves knowing how to split up reps, when to take rest and when to breath.

Take our example of murph, one of the easiest ways to split murph’s body weight movement is to split them into rounds of cindy 5 pullups, 10 push ups, 15 squats, and resting after each round of cindy.

another example of good pacing is to ensure that when you take breaks you keep moving and walk to a target adnw alk back asa way of ensuring that you limit the time you take resting, you’ll find that standing still hands on knees is the biggest time sucker.

in the WOD DT, we see deadlifts, transition into hang power cleans, into push jerks- so part of pacing here is where to transition. for most you’d do all the deadlifts, rest, deadlift into the hang clean position before doing a hang power clean, an athlete with pacing would rest one deadlift before, so that the last deadlift automatically transitions into the first hang power clean, this is not only more energy efficient, but also saves time of the duration of a longer workout.


Rest and Crossfit

Rest is a crucial part of fitness and training, it allows our body to recover and repair the stressed faced. However Crossfits gung-ho go-getter lifestyle doesn’t necessarily encourage the best Rest habits. i’ve seen athletes do multiple WODs on their rest day.

However to understand what the appropriate amount of rest is, we also need to appreciate that adequate rest is in context of an athletes overall work capacity or rather how developed their fitness, and where on the fitness continuum they sit.

For some athletes Rx’d Fran is a full workout, for others its a warm up, so having a high level athlete perform WODs on their rest day would be reasonable, given their work capacity is not only capable of handling the workload, but also, proportional the the volume of training they do this would be significantly lower in volume, time and load.

For the rest of us however, rest generally means no training at all, at the most a long work or a casual day of sports, but more often, just a day of not doing anything overly physically stressing.

Generally Crossfit’s prescription is to have a 3 day training cycle with 1 day off, so in a given week you’d have 1 day rest. whilst this doesn’t sound like a lot, its important remember that in Crossfits  Constantly varied, functional fitness, at high intensity, that is universally scalable definition, we train for work capacity over broad time and modal domains – meaning that there are heavy days, fast days, slow days, light days. the science and art of good Crossfit programming is to accommodates for the athletes need to recover between training.

intended Stimulus and CrossFit Workouts (WODs)

I previously wrote about how CrossFit Workouts (WODs) generally have a key intended stimulus, in relation to scaling CrossFit Workouts (WODs).

The stimuli variables to consider –

  • Load (light – heavy)
  • Distance (short – long)
  • Speed (slow – fast)
  • Volume (low – high)
  • Movement complexity (easy – complex)

in the context of a CrossFit Workout (WOD) most will have elements of one or more of the stimuli variables, with one being picked as the intended stimulus, but a CrossFit Workout (WOD) and its intended stimulus don’t need to be mutually exclusive, and so as a coach you an alter the CrossFit Workout (WOD) to meet whatever your chosen intended stimulus, or scale to meet the needs/ limitations of your athletes.

taking Fran as an example (21-15-9, 95lb thrusters, pull ups)

say you want the stimulus to be prioritised to Load – you could simply increase the weight and add weight to the pull up. given that Crossfit focuses on intensity however, you could also choose to lower the rep range to maintain this intensity.

so heavy Fran would be 9-6-3 135lb thrusters, 45lb pull ups (for example)

say you want to prioritise for volume – you lower the weight (or in this case scale the movement) and increase the reps so ‘fat’ fran would be 42-30-18, 45lb thrusters, ring rows)

if you wanted to prioritise movement complexity you’ll adjust the movements so ‘complex fran’ would be 21-15-9 95lb clusters, muscle ups.

if you wanted to prioritise duration it would be  ‘pyramid fran’ 21-15-9-15-21 95lb thrusters, pull ups

by knowing how to alter the stimuli variables to meet your intended stimulus the same CrossFit Workout (WOD) can result in several variations, and continue to offer a challenge to any level of athlete at any point in their training programming. the important aspect to continue to remember is that the scaling and modifications need to be done with safety of the athlete as a priority.

And don’t compromise on intensity, after all “be impressed by intensity, not volume” – Greg Glassman


When and how to Scale Crossfit Workout WODs

“Ahead of efficacy is safety.” —Greg Glassman, CrossFit Inc. Founder and CEO

scaling crossfit WODS

Often times, people who are afraid of trying Crossfit are intimidated by the movements, weights and intensity of the workouts. but what they don’t realise is how accessible Crossfit actually is, in fact, as part of the definition of Crossfit ‘universally scalable‘.

The problem with scaling a crossfit Workout (WOD) isn’t that it’s possible to do, but rather how do you scale it whilst preserving the intended stimulus and simultaneously balance the limitations of the athlete you’re scaling for. To figure this out, we first need to know what the intended stimuli for the crossfit Workout (WOD) we’re trying to scale.

Generally the crossfit Workout (WOD) we’re trying to scale will have one of the following stimuli variables to consider –

  • Load (light – heavy)
  • Distance (short – long)
  • Speed (slow – fast)
  • Volume (low – high)
  • Movement complexity (easy – complex)

So if you look at any crossfit Workout (WOD) work out they’ll general contain one or more of these stimuli variables – dissecting a crossfit Workout (WOD) –


  • Load – light (body weight)
  • Distance – not applicable
  • Speed – fast (AMRAP)
  • Volume – High (time limit of 20minutes)
  • Movement complexity (easy, pull ups, push ups, squats)

Typically the intended stimulus should be quite clear – go fast, go heavy etc. and they don’t necessarily need to be the fixed either.

next we need to consider WHO we are scaling for – broadly there are 4 categories of athlete that we are scaling for –

  • Beginners
  • Intermediate
  • Advanced
  • former athletes
  • Injured Athletes

There’s an entire Crossfit online Course focused on Scaling so i’m not going to go into too much detail but i’ll briefly touch on beginners and injured so you get an idea, i’d recommend you do the scaling course if you’re a coach, its affordable and pretty quick and easy.

If we look at a beginner they’ll have a variety of limitations that might prevent them from completing a crossfit Workout (WOD) – these limiting factors include –

  • Range of motion (ROM)
  • Skill
  • Strength
  • Cardiovascular endurance

these naturally directly affect the stimuli variables –

  • Load -strength
  • Distance – Cardiovascular endurance
  • Speed – Strength
  • Volume – Strength, Cardiovascular endurance
  • Movement complexity – Skill, Range of motion (ROM)

an injured athlete would primarily be limited in Range of motion (ROM) and strength.

so as a coach you can take this understanding and modify the crossfit Workout (WOD) to either change the intended stimulus or allow the athlete attain the intended stimulus (or both!) by adjusting affected the stimuli variables.

as an example looking at Cindy 5pull ups, 10 push ups, 15 squats, amrap for 20min

if the athlete is limited in strength you could sub pull ups for ring rows or jumping pull ups for example.

if the athlete has limited range of motion you could sub the pull ups for back rows or switch the movement out for something else completely such as situps

if the athlete is issues with Cardiovascular endurance – do less rounds, i.e. go slower, or shorten the duration of the work out.

A properly scaled workout safely maximizes relative intensity (load, speed, range of motion) to continue developing increased work capacity despite limitations. So so long as the athlete reaches their relative level of intensity, safely, then the scaling can be considered successful.

The secret to Crossfit – Intensity

be impressed by intensity not volume
Intensity is the secret to progress in Crossfit

Crossfit has revolutionized our view of fitness, and transformed the industry, from body building gyms focused on isolation exercises with countless rows of treadmills and machines, to open spaced functional spaces with rigs and Olympic lifting platforms. From aerobics classes to high intensity training with weights.

Part of the reason for Crossfit’s success is no doubt the community aspect and the unconventional methods, introducing gymnastics, competition and oly lifting to the masses, and simultaneously making the whole package welcoming to beginners and women.

But Really, the Secret Sauce is in the methodology of the training. When you look at the definition of Crossfit its summarized as – ‘constantly varied, function fitness, performed at high intensity, designed for universal scalability’ – within this phrase is the magic words ‘high intensity’

The reality is that even if you ignored the rest of the phrase and just focused on ‘high intensity’ you would see immediate gains in strength, muscle mass, calorie burn and fat loss. but why?

In  simple terms, intensity is the result of effort versus time, the more effort in less time, the higher the intensity. The higher the intensity, the more the body needs to adjust to cope, that adjustment comes in the form of muscle growth, heart rate and hormone changes in the body as it responds to the change in environment.

The problem with intensity is adaptation, the body needs time to adjust to the intensity, lift too much as you’re going to compromise your form/technique. run too fast and your form/technique also suffers. This is where Crossfit gets a lot of its negative association with injury, high intensity with out regard for form/technique integrity invariably leads to injury, but this is already changing within the Crossfit community, the introduction of scaling down weight and movements makes Crossfit far safer without overly compromising intensity. Indeed the mark of a competent Crossfit coach is how they keep the intensity managably high without compromising on technique and movement quality, whilst progressively increasing the external resistance (be that weight, time constraint or movement complexity).