Avoid Redlining

With the 2019 CrossFit Open kicking off this week, it’s a time to test your level of conditioning, but also your level of strategy.

As people obsess over their scores many will repeat these workouts. If you’re wondering whether or not you should allow your clients to do this check this article out here.

But as people repeat these workouts in hopes of a better score, the one MAJOR difference between attempts is their early pacing strategy – this typically results in a drastically different outcome even if nothing else is changed.

Above all else we want people to put their best foot forward on their FIRST attempt and there are few things we can advise our clients to do to make sure this happens and they feel good about their performance.

This is a strategy that I implemented with myself last year – not only were my results better, but I felt content with my results and did not feel the need to repeat a single workout.


“Redlining” is a term that gets thrown around in CrossFit quite a bit. Put simply, it’s when athletes go out too fast at the beginning of their conditioning piece and subsequently hit the proverbial wall because they weren’t smart with their initial output.

Sure, that makes sense and is pretty straight-forward, but what is actually happening from a cellular level that causes this redlining to occur?

The Science

At the beginning of all exercise, there is an “adaptation phase” that occurs. The primary sources of energy are high energy phosphates ATP & CP stored in the cell, some anaerobic carbohydrate glycolysis and as we become adapted to the workout – aerobic breakdown of CHO and fats takes place.

Adaptation occurs at the beginning of all exercises and anytime the workload is increased. The need for adaptation can be observed by comparing the work level of oxygen (O2) consumption at any time. As workload changes the consumption of O2 increases and culminates with the leveling off of O2.

What’s all of this mean? When you start off too fast in a conditioning piece adaptation occurs too quickly where the body does not have time to adjust (relying mainly on anaerobic glycolysis) and the end result is people typically “redlining” which invariably leaves people feeling unable to continue without long bouts of rest.

Longer bouts of unplanned rest that will seriously impede your overall performance. If you have ever retested an Open workout with a new strategy with regards to pacing it’s likely you were able to substantially improve your score just by being smarter with your initial output.

Back in 2013 during 13.1 (Burpee/Snatch couplet) in my first attempt I completed the initial set of 40 burpeees in 90 seconds which set the stage for me shitting the bed lateron in the workout. Upon completion I felt like absolute death.

My second attempt I completed the first set of 40 burpees in 2:20 – my overall score was 11 reps higher (which was very substantial in this particular workout) and I walked away feeling “good.”

Of course, there are a whole host of other factors in terms of an individual’s limitations which could cause them to redline early on, but the overall point here is starting slower affords most folks a better end-result.

Overall, give your body time to adjust and then adjust intensity progressively. Exceptions to this would be metcons that are less than 3 minutes e.g. “Grace,” “Isabel,” or a 100 meter sprint that are typically one big adaptation phase.


The nuances of effective energy systems development is a lengthy article own it’s one, but the point of this article is more for you to understand the process by which we adapt to the demands of a given workout and how to give better guidance to your clients.

It’s as simple as starting off slower than you think, especially with a workout like 19.1 where peoples heart-rates will already be naturally elevated due to the stress of the workout and the situation.

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