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When to Go “Unbroken” and When to Split Your Reps

Last night after our metcon, which I’m just going to name “Shoulder Wrecker” from now on (wall balls and burpees and thrusters…oh my), Zach and I were discussing breaking up reps on a workout, and the benefits of the gained rest versus the benefits of going unbroken throughout the entire workout.

In theory, you will always be faster if you go unbroken throughout an entire workout. However, that theory doesn’t always play out. Let’s take a workout like DT, for example. For those who are not familiar, DT is five rounds of:

  • 12 Deadlifts (155/105)
  • 9 Hang Power Cleans
  • 6 Push Jerks

This workout is punishing. The first time I ever tried it, I did it with 135 pounds on the bar, and I still capped. The first round was a breeze, and I got cocky and just went after an unbroken round for rounds two and three. Bad choice. As you can probably see, the theory is that you would move directly from the deadlifts into the HPC’s, into the push jerks. The beginning of each successive movement is the end of the prior movement, so it is meant to flow. The problem is, as you hold onto that bar your grip gets more tired, your shoulders start to give out, and every rep becomes more and more challenging. So what happened to me? I got through the six push jerks, and then couldn’t pick the bar back up for round three for a solid 30 seconds. That is an ETERNITY in a CrossFit workout.

The problem was that I went and “redlined”. That is the term thrown around for when you go so hard that you have to take a long rest period to even complete one more movement. When you do this, you end up resting significantly longer than you would have had you broken the reps up just a little bit, taken a quick (say 5 seconds) break and hopped back on the bar.

But we all know intensity is the key to fitness improvement, so wouldn’t following this line of thought disregard that idea. In theory, once again, yes. However, there is a time to go completely 100% and end up on the floor. It is usually the last round. In continuing our DT example, if you’re like me and know that doing an unbroken round is going to leave you pretty well spent, wait to do it until the end. For example, lets say you do 11 deadlifts, break, 1 deadlift (to make 12), 8 HPC, break, 1 HPC (to make 9) and 6 push jerks. You’ve done one round, given yourself a couple quick breaks, and should be able to hit the next round quickly. If you keep breaking it up in a similar fashion, and then just rip through one unbroken round to finish up, your overall time will be faster, and you’ll still end up in that familiar position of laying on the ground, staring at the ceiling wondering, “Wait why do I come here every day, again?!?”

Breaking up the workout is not taking something away from the overall effect. Remember, the workout should suck. I talked about that a little in our last blog post, Embrace The Suck, and its worth reminding here. If you’re not going unbroken only because you don’t like the muscle burn the workout is inevitably giving you, then you’re missing the entire point. It should, and will hurt. It is meant to hurt. It is meant to push you wayyyy outside of your comfort zone. That’s why it works. Going unbroken can actually be used as a way to target that pain and make it even more effective in terms of workout quality, and result. When you’re ready to feel that burn and the incredible feeling after

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