Don’t Hit the WALL!

Have you ever looked at a workout and thought “chilled, I’ve got this one!” Then, five minutes into it you hit a wall. You’re dripping with sweat, you’re out of breath and your muscles seem to have lost all their ability to perform. Yup, I’ve been there. It’s not fun. But WHY does this happen?? How is it possible to feel insanely good in one workout and then completely and utterly useless in another?

Well, besides the fact that there are obviously certain elements to a workout that may favour or disadvantage you. Say, you are GREAT at heavy weight lifting, but when it comes to those sub 7 minute metcons you feel like you’re dying and your body is working against you. That’s just telling you to WORK ON YOUR WEAKNESSES! However, if it is a workout that you think you could crush, but for some unknown reason, it crushes you.. well that is likely to be a failure on pacing accordingly.

For me, one workout always comes to mind when I got my pacing strategy completely wrong. It was at a Crossfit team competition and I was honestly so excited for this workout because it had all my favourite exercises in it. We had to do 14 reps of deficit handstand push ups into 7 reps of overhead squats and the second part was maximum reps of muscle ups. I started the handstand push ups at full speed, made it to 8 and suddenly I could not push myself up anymore. I struggled through the last 6 reps, literally doing them one at a time. When I got to the overhead squats, I struggled to even get the bar above my head, let alone squat! Anyway, I eventually finished those two exercises and then it was my turn to do muscle ups. Well, this part was just embarrassing. After several attempts I managed to get a total of ONE muscle up, much to my dismay. I will admit, I shed a couple of disappointment tears after that one. But, this is a typical example of not pacing correctly. I went out way too hard on the handstand push ups which completely destroyed my muscle endurance for the rest of the workout.

So what is a pacing strategy and why do athletes use it? Athletes use pacing strategies during competitions and workouts in order to maximise performance and prevent failure of any physiological systems such as the heart and muscles. Therefore the athlete is self-regulated by an appropriate distribution of workload and energy in order to prevent early fatigue or significant deceleration late in the event (or early, like me!). A pacing strategy is a conscious and  unconscious system that uses knowledge of the end point of an event as well as memory of prior events to determine the best pace for a specific workout. The subconscious brain uses the predicted duration of an activity in order to determine the appropriate pace that can be maintained without hitting that horrendous wall we talk about. When the workout begins, physiological feedback is used to monitor the pacing strategy which tells us if we need to slow down (to preserve our physiology) or if we can speed up.

So, lets take Crossfit as an example. The workouts are constantly varied right? So how do we know how to set a good pace? If you have been doing Crossfit for a while, then you will know what it feels like to do a longer workout such as Cindy (20 min AMRAP of 5 pull ups, 10 push ups and 15 squats) compared to a shorter workout like Fran (21-15-9 thrusters and pull ups). You will also know what a more strength based workout will feel like in comparison to a metabolic conditioning workout. So using these past experiences as well as your current fitness and skill levels, you should be able to determine how fast you want to move throughout your workout. There are four types of pacing strategies most commonly used:

  1. All out pacing strategy: this strategy is generally used for very short workouts that last between 10-30 seconds and utilise the Phosphagen energy system such as a 100m sprint or Tabata intervals (20 seconds on, 10 seconds off). Sometimes, due to excitement and adrenaline, this strategy is used at the beginning of a workout that lasts longer than 30 seconds which ultimately leads to that very hard brick wall we all hate. So try save this pace for those sprint events!
  2. Slow start pacing strategy: this strategy is used by more conservative people or those who aren’t quite sure what kind of pace is required by the workout. Basically, the person starts the workout at a slow pace and usually maintains the pace, or sometimes increases it. This pacing strategy is often seen in individuals who are new to a specific sports. This is fine for the first and MAYBE second workout… BUT the individual soon needs to be able to adjust their pace in order to complete the workout at the desired intensity.
  3. Even pacing strategy: this strategy is used for shorter and middle time/distance workouts. The individual maintains the same pace throughout the workout but is still working at the desired intensity. This pace is ideal for workouts that are about 20 minutes or longer as they use the glycolytic energy system and therefore the athlete will be able to reach the end of the workout.
  4. Variable pacing strategy: this strategy is used for long distance/time workouts. The individual will receive feedback from their physiological responses (heart rate, breathing frequency, body temperature, etc) which given them an indication of if they should speed up or slow down throughout the workout. Generally, athletes using this strategy will start at a faster pace, then slow down, and speed up towards the end of the workout.

So, next time you you walk into the gym and look at that white board, or decide to do a triathlon (whatever floats your boat), think about what you are about to do and the best way to go about doing it in order to really get the best out of your workout. Because damn, hitting that wall is painful and occasionally embarrassing and tear jerking…

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Cut the CRAP!

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As a Crossfit Coach, fitness fanatic and overall health observer, I cannot tell you how often I hear people talking about what diet they’re on, which ones they have tried and how they have failed over and over again. Let’s face it, weight loss seems to be one of the most reoccurring ‘New Years Resolutions’ known to man! And why? Well, the unfortunate truth is that majority of the human population is heading towards obesity due to a sedentary lifestyle and horrendous food choices (if you can even call most of the garbage on the supermarket shelves ‘food’). Of course people WANT to lose weight, but lack of knowledge and understanding of how the body works prevents them from achieving these goals. What also does not help is the constant exposure to the MANY different diets that claim to give you a banging beach ready body in 6 months or less.This is crap! Firstly, when people go on these diets they do tend to lose weight, BUT due to the restrictive nature of the plan, the weight returns 90% of the time. Secondly, these diets do not teach you to eat a balanced and healthy diet. Most of the time, at least one food group is cut from the plan, whether it be fat or carbohydrates. In my mind this is just bizarre. Our bodies were designed to utilise all three of the main macro-nutrients: protein, carbohydrates and fats… so how does it make sense to discard one of them???

I could spend all day writing about this topic, but I am going to try keep it brief. Please note that this post is purely based on my opinion which stems from studying a BSc and spending the last five or so years growing my career in fitness and health as well as test driving a bunch of different diets myself!

Right, here it goes! Dieting is BULLSHIT! The word ‘diet’ is scary right? It makes you think of unflavoured chicken, broccoli, brown rice, a couple of carrot sticks and maybe an egg or two. OR, possibly a diet that consists of ONLY vegetable juice??? Perhaps you’ve tried low carb high fat? OR, high fat low carb?? How about fasting? Did you try counting your calories and weighing your food? I could go on… but you see how all these different options can be overwhelming and confusing?

Ok, enough with the question marks. Here is what I think the key to successful weight loss and lifelong health: Eating a health and balanced variety of foods. Simple. Stick to natural, fresh, unprocessed foods and I promise you, you are on your way to a better life already. STOP buying the junk in the middle of the supermarket (packaged food, processed food, sugar laden food… anything with more than three ingredients, GET RID OF IT!). Oh, and you know that tasty fried chicken you get once or twice a week? BIN IT! Lets stop lying to ourselves and pretending like these foods are OK, they’re not.

Many people struggle with making changes to their lifestyle because they have become accustomed to the habits they have formed. But that’s just it, they are only habits and if you want to make a change towards becoming a healthier version of yourself, you must break the habit. If you’re like millions of the other people out there who actually struggle to decipher which foods are good and bad and what to actually eat, well you’re in luck. There are so many people out there willing to help you (such as myself), but you have to be willing to ask for the help and ready to take on the challenge.

I’m not going to lie to you, it’s going to be difficult. Breaking old habits and trying to readjust your taste buds is HARD! I know, I did it! I had a horrendous diet when I was younger, but I got a wake up call and had to teach myself how to eat clean. I am now at a turning point where I’m having to re-learn how to eat to fuel my body as an athlete which is a whole other ball game!

Although it is tough, I can promise you this… It is completely and utterly worth it. Your entire being will change as you start to adjust to a new lifestyle. You will have more energy and confidence. You will feel stronger, have a clearer mind and have an overall greater sense of happiness. In fact, weight loss is only a small side effect of converting to a healthy lifestyle.

So what are you waiting for? Get rid of the CRAP and start eating real food.

P.S. Keep a look out for the next post which will include a general day of eating for me (I eat a TONNE) and healthy meal options for general health and well being.