To Pace, Or Not To Pace?

Posted By on Sep 17, 2013 | 0 comments

To pace or not to pace in your workouts? That is the question for the day.

Pacing is an extremely valuable principle and skill which focused, high-intensity training helps to develop. I favor pacing for most metabolic conditioning efforts, and of course, pacing is at the heart of both long-distance endurance events and high-load strength training with defined rest intervals. In fact, all-out efforts are a very unique stimulus, and not to be used without a purpose. They are extremely taxing, and increase the burden of recovery.

The role of pacing is to maintain muscular freshness (capacity for tension in posture, strength and power) throughout the workout, while increasing work density for metabolic effect (cardio). It’s a balancing act, no doubt about that. “Maximum pace” is another way of saying “maximum intensity”; but it’s useful to distinguish the kinds of maximum intensity. Note that these definitions can apply both to strength/power training and to metcon/endurance efforts.

Type 1 Max: All-Out Effort

Maximum subjective intensity from beginning to end of the effort. This will be a lower average power output, due to the fatigue and exhaustion generated early in the effort, but a higher peak power output at the start.

Type 2 Max: Paced Max Effort

Maximum objective intensity that can be achieved through intelligent pacing. This will be a higher average power than Type 1, but with a lower peak power output.

An example of an all-out effort.

An example of an all-out effort.

To understand this fully, it will be helpful to clarify a few more terms:

Average Power vs. Peak Power:

  • Average power output relates to a defined workload/timeframe and is generally measured in minutes or hours.
  • Peak power output refers to the momentary maximum power expressed.

Subjective/Relative vs. Objective/Absolute Intensity:

  • Relative or subjective intensity has to do with the percentage of your personal best, in that moment, on that day, in those circumstances.
  • Absolute or objective intensity refers to measurable work output over time, in other words, average power.

Where does that leave us for general strength & conditioning efforts?

Here are my recommendations:

Rules of stamina and recovery:

  1. You cannot achieve maximum work density by going all-out to failure early in an endurance effort
  2. If your goal is to combine results in both metabolic effect and power-endurance, your best strategy is to pace yourself. Avoid going to failure so you stay relatively fresh on your efforts. You’ll get more cardio and strength/power this way.
  3. If you goal is to maximize muscular growth and systemic hormonal effects, all-out efforts to failure may be a better method or important complement to pacing yourself.

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