I wrote previously in the Journal about intensity. I said intensity was your force of will, that intensity was a mindset. Working out intensely is something you determine you will do or that you passively decide you will not do.
Pacing, on the other hand, is a skill. You can have all the desire and determination in the world to want to pace right in a workout, but you have to learn how to do this. You have to learn in body and mind what it feels like when you are running at 90% versus +100%. Pacing and intensity would seem to be at odds; if I tell you to work out intensely you would think you should go balls out, you hold nothing back; and then pacing would seem to say that you are not going all out.
Well, you can have both at the same time.
Pacing is the skill that allows you to work out as hard as you can, but also consistently, for the designated amount of time or for the amount of work that is required.
Pacing is the skillful expression of intensity; pacing is intensity applied as efficiently as possible.
The Indianapolis 500 is a race where cars are going as fast as they can for hundreds of miles. They are almost at their absolute limit for a long period of time, and they routinely go past that limit. They overheat, they get in wrecks, they run out of gas because they are pushing as hard as they can while still being able to maintain their pace. Compare this to a quarter mile drag race that lasts a few seconds. Both cars are going as intensely as they can for the required amount of work that needs to be done.
Unfortunately, there is no rule or trick to teach you how to pace. Pacing is something you get better at by doing it wrong many times; it is learned. You will have one pace for a workout of 21-15-9, heavy deadlifts and box jumps. You will have another pace for “Murph” which is a 1 mile run, 100 pull-ups, 200 push-ups, 300 air squats, and another 1 mile run. Both can be done intensely. Both should be done intensely. The first one is closer to the quarter mile drag race. The latter, “Murph” is more like the Indy 500. Sprinters even “pace” a little during a 100m sprint. They also “pace” during an 800m run. Both paces are intense and done as fast as possible but they are not the same and you have to learn the difference by doing it over and over.
Why am I bringing this up? Pacing is how you grow as an athlete and how you become a more fit individual. I pace in almost every workout I do whether it is 10 sets of 5 heavy squats or a bunch of rope climbs or a 2000m row. The point of pacing is to become better at working out. It shows your fitness experience level. You learn how to train your body in a more intelligent fashion.
Is there a certain minimum time frame on pacing? Yes. You would not be pacing on a 1RM of anything. That is 100% max effort until you are done. Likewise, if a workout can be completed in less than 2 minutes I would say you pretty much go all-out the whole time. The 2-3 minute time frame is the dead zone because you still need to pace in that range but you are very close to pedal to the metal.
I said at the beginning that intensity and pacing would seem to be at odds, but you need both. I stated that intensity is a mindset and pacing is a skill. So, is one more important than the other? I would say Intensity is 1 and Pacing is 1A. If you are going to get the hormonal and post-workout metabolic benefits of high-intensity training then intensity is an absolute necessity, those benefits don’t come if you don’t work out at a high enough level. If you don’t know your limits well and you red-line, so be it; no real harm done. You may not be working out as efficiently as possible, but so what?
Pacing is NOT an excuse to take a water break.
It does not mean you get to rest in the middle of a workout until you feel better. You don’t get to take your foot off the gas pedal. Pacing often means starting a workout a little bit slower than you naturally would but then going a lot faster in the second half of a workout than your body is telling you to. You should be able to pick up the pace a bit on the last few minutes of a workout.
Pacing is to “Know Thyself”. It is to know at any given time in any particular workout how high a level your body can maintain without blowing out. It is your ability to express at maximal capacity how fit your body is on that given day. Pacing is the fun part.