To Game or not to Game

By John Mc Evoy

In Workouts

July 04, 2010

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The only way to win is to do more work faster—so how do we do that most efficiently? John Mc Evoy outlines one strategy.

In our world, the stopwatch is king. It doesn’t lie and it doesn’t have favorites. It simply states.

On our journey to ultimate fitness, we work on strength, speed, agility, etc. to help us achieve more rounds or faster times in any given workout. A lot of variables will come into play and dictate how the workout goes: time of day, food intake, hydration, personal proficiency with the movements involved, injuries … . The list goes on, and an article could be dedicated to how each variable can affect a workout. This particular article is about strategy for WODs, which some refer to as “gaming a WOD.”

You can approach a CrossFit workout in a host of different ways, and you have no guarantee that any approach will result in success given the amount of variables at play. Still, some athletes rip into workouts with reckless abandon and come out the other side with PRs. Other athletes maintain a steady pace throughout and achieve equally impressive results.

Gaming is not a new issue, but it’s interesting to note that many athletes, even those competing at regional and sectional levels, do not have a plan for the WOD they are facing. And if you’re attacking a workout, it might help to ask a few questions: How does your first round compare to the last? Do you go out too hard? Too slow? What work output are you able to sustain for the longest period?



9 Comments on “To Game or not to Game”


wrote …

Johnny boy. Great article. I like to use this strategy in wods, especially when there are 20 plus pull ups in there. Personally I prefer this approach. Which I find very easy to do when I'm training on my own. However,in competition I tend to go the other way due to the fact you have people yelling and cheering you on & someone next to you who is just ahead or just behind you in the wod. Haven't tried your approach on cindy yet. Must try that soon. mj


wrote …

To make a possibly obvious point, this has sport implications as well. Anybody who saw Lesnar/Carwin at the weekend can probably appreciate that it's not a good idea to go balls-out for five minutes when you might need to maintain a certain level of effort for nearly half an hour. Pacing yourself on workouts isn't just for better 'scores' - it can train your body to respond correctly in your sport.


wrote …

There is little doubt that even splits make for faster times. I know in running races, world records are almost always broken with even or negative splits. So in competition “gaming” is the way to go. However, on a daily basis our goal should not be a faster time or better score but rather quality stimulus to improve work capacity over time. So, I think the question is “what provides the better training stimulus?” Do you make more progress by performing WODs all out so there is higher intensity at the beginning with decreasing intensity at the end or even splits so overall the workout is more intense but the peak intensity is less?”


Louis Hayes wrote …

Really enjoyed this article. I was actually writing a very similar piece about strategizing, gaming, and pacing, specifically with actual data for mono-modal WODs. Maybe John McEvoy and the CFJ staff will give me a crack at a Part II of this so all my work doesn't go to waste....haha

I seriously appreciate the challenge and mindset put forth in this article John. Thanks for sharing and going against some of the mantra of the blind who shouldn't be killing it at the start line. I'm one of those who doesn't have the elite fitness level to keep up with the all-out approach. Yet, a structured strategy has allowed me to reach some decent personal milestones.


wrote …

I used think the examples given is this article would qualify as gaming the system but not anymore. There's a huge difference between 100m, 400m, 1500m and 5k runs. That you don't sprint the 5k at your 100m pace does not mean you're gaming it. You're just working a different energy pathway. Likewise doing a tabata protocol on the Filthy Fifty or resting a certain amount every round on Cindy is pacing yourself on the equivalent of a 5k run. The key is to adapt over time. If you are ending with a lot of gas in the tank then improve your pace next time.

I think gaming would be something like having friends re-rack the bar on a Fran to save you some time in addition to goose necking the pull-up bar. Anyway, well defined guidelines helps remove the stigma that someone gamed the system.


wrote …

Nice article.

First time I've ever looked forward to Cindy popping up again. I will definitely try one of the strategies in order to get more work done.


Joseph Powell wrote …

Gaming is nothing more than exploring. You are searching for feedback. Anyone who just bangs out physical effort without a plan is asking for burnout and injury. Many times people are searching for elements of cheating in actually using your BRAIN along with imparting effort with your body. Seriously, would anyone train/practice at anything above the most novice level in any other endeavor?

I often find it odd that so many of my fellow CrossFitters are so quick to criticize mental control over physical effort. It is in this vain that the injury board is littered, not with inavoidable injuries, but with almost entirely with injuries accompanying efforts with caution to the wind and no plan. Amazingly, you can almost hear the shock in the tone of their posts, "It wasn't supposed to happen this way!?!?!?" Really? At what point did it become acutely aware to you that you were in over your head? Was it the 40th kipping pull-up with a 20lb weight vest when your shoulder gave way or was it when you were slapping mad happy into the ground on burpees when you jacked up your lower back?

Just look at how TABATA protocol is described with the term "all-out" efforts on lots of posts and websites... WHAT? that was never the case with TABATA. Tabata was a planned effort at meeting a minimal prescribed effort if possible. Upon meeting that prescribed effort then, and only then, was the athlete supposed to move up. Look at how it is scored in CrossFit workouts so that you have to be SMART to do well.

Tabata This- Each exercise is scored by the weakest number of reps (calories on the rower.)

"Tabata Something Else" - Post total reps from all 32 intervals.

Where in those descriptions does going "all out" and fall of the pace make any sense? It doesn't and nor were you asked to in the instructions.


wrote …

Mark wrote: However, on a daily basis our goal should not be a faster time or better score but rather quality stimulus to improve work capacity over time. So, I think the question is “what provides the better training stimulus?”

I think that in many cases, the breathing is the limiting factor, especially in Bodyweight workouts. So, as an example, say you only achieve 20 rounds of Cindy, going "all-out" the whole time, but have to stand there looking at the bar because you can't breathe... wouldn't it provide your system with "more work" and continue to build your "work capacity" if you gamed it so that breathing was less inhibiting, and you could achieve 23 or 24 rounds in this manner? Not only do you maintain a stable breathing pattern, but you also effectively work your muscles with an extra 20 pullups, 40 pushups, and 60 BW squats in the same time period...

I do understand what you're saying, though. i think it's an interesting discussion point (just playing devils advocate)Z
. I can site a specific example... back before I could get 25 rounds, and I was stuck at 20 or 21 going "all-out", I attempted Chelsea, and got through all 30 rounds "on the minute" with NO PROBLEM. This was MUCH easier than doing a Cindy, and I found myself surprised by the result... Prob coulda continued that for an hour, since rounds were under 40 sec each (even at the end), so I was resting for 20-25 sec after each one... thoughts?


As I eluded to above, I am highly opinionated on this topic, in the author's corner of course. The first attempt of gaming a WO was my journey to get 100 pullups in under 10 minutes. After MANY failed attempts by sprinting out of the gate, I tried to do 2 pullups every :12. And got it. Tried the same for "Randy" by alternating 4 and 5 reps each :15 (pace of 18 per :60, or 9 per :30). I gassed-out for one :15 interval midway through, but killed my previous times. I actually feared talking about this strategy with my WO partners, as I was becoming more competitive in the gym ;-)
My collected data on this topic is quite exclusive for mono-modals (Randy, Karen, Isabel, Grace, etc) as they are the absolute easiest to mathematically calculate.
Big picture for me: Maximize "area under the curve." By finding my optimal pace, I can do that quite well.

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