I asked five clients what “giving it 100 percent” in a conditioning workout looks like to them. And received these five answers:
- When I’m left feeling nauseous.
- When I post-workout vomit.
- When I hate my life by round 2.
- When I dread the pain I’m going to be in all day at work.
- When it takes me all day to feel useful again.
People often feel like when one of the above happens it means they gave it 100 percent effort. Usually they also assume their effort means they maxed out their performance abilities.
I would argue the opposite: If one of the above happens to you, you probably could have performed better AND suffered less in the process.
What do you mean?
Doesn’t pushing 100 percent to the edge of death mean you went as fast as you could? Performed as well as you could?
No, it doesn’t.
Truly maxing our your performance—for our purposes, meaning getting the best time or completing the most amount of work in any given workout—usually looks and feels like a sub-maximal effort.
Why? Because it probably means you paced the workout perfectly, which means you never have to reach that horrible, horrible place until the very end of the workout—when you’re attacking your sprint finish. Think of it this way: Getting to that horrible redline place means you’re immediately going to have to slow down. But staying below the redline threshold means keeping up a more consistent, and overall faster, pace.
An analogy that I like is: Get high but don’t overdose!
So remember, if any of the below situations have ever happened to you, it does NOT mean you’re a stud who has the mental tenacity and physical prowess to push through pain. It means you lacked intelligence on that day when deciding how fast to go:
5. Temporary deafness or blindness
I have heard many reports of people doing a sprint workout—think 3 to 5-minutes of thrusters and pull-ups—and feeling like they can’t hear out of one or both ears. Same deal, losing sight in one or both eyes = Bad news for the performance score.
4. You might fail a burpee
My 90-year-old Oma failed a burpee a little while ago. She fell and couldn’t get up. If you’re in the middle of a workout and you think there’s a chance you might fail a burpee, something has gone wrong with your pacing.
Throwing up has somehow become a badge of honour in our community. But usually it means you ate too close to working out, or you misjudged your abilities.
2. Lip quiver
If your lip starts to quiver, or your face goes numb, you just redlined yourself to the point where your performance will definitely be below your best today.
1. Scared to drive
If you’re scared to drive after your workout and need a solid 45 minutes to sit and stare, you certainly didn’t pace yourself properly.
Alas, all is not lost. We have all made the mistake of going out too hard a time or two in our lives. Pacing is something that can be learned.
Here’s what a conditioning workout should feel like when you’re truly going “100 percent” and maximizing your performance score:
Let’s say it’s a 5-round conditioning workout of rowing, KB swings and pull-ups:
- Each round should be approximately the same speed, with the first and last rounds being slightly faster than the middle three rounds.
- You should break the reps up in the same way in virtually all 5 rounds. Again, during the first and fifth round, you might go for slightly bigger sets. In other words, don’t do the first round unbroken if you’re going to break up the other 4 rounds.
- You should feel like you’re physically holding back in round 1 and maybe even round 2—like you have more in the tank.
- Round 3 and 4 should feel more difficult than round 1 and 2, as you’re starting to fatigue, but not so difficult that your pace slows down.
- Round five should be very hard because you’re pushing faster than the previous rounds. This is the time to try to go unbroken—to leave it all on the floor, if you can. Ideally, your fifth round is slightly faster than the rest, but not too much faster as that probably means you went too conservatively.
Practice, Practice, Practice
A good way to practice this is to pay attention to your split times. In a 5-round workout, check your split each round and see if your pace drops off the first to fifth round. Similarly, during an AMRAP (as many reps/rounds as possible), check to see how much work you complete in the first half compared to the second half.