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What Does a Workout “For Time” Really Mean?


“For time.” Two words that are potentially some of the most controversial in the CrossFit community. But why? What does “for time” in a workout really mean? If you answered “get the reps done as fast as possible”, think again. If you’re a Coach and you answered “get the reps done as fast as possible”. Get a new job. Let’s take a look at “For Time” and what it really means.

The For Time Controversy

Take CrossFit and the image of a giant red beeping clock out of the equation for a moment and pretend that I just asked you to do 50 Deadlifts. Chances are you’d play it one of a few different ways: Possibly 5 sets of 10, 10 sets of 5, some may even try and do all 50 at once depending on weight, or something similar.

The commonality in methods is that you’d stop when you were tired or when you close to missing a rep, catch your breath, reset and approach the bar and maybe you’d even rest 2-3 minutes per set.

Now, if I told you that the workout was “50 Deadlifts for Time”, what would change? Well a few things. Now that you know that you have an actual “score” and not just a pass/fail rating, your competitive side is going to start to kick in. You’ll try and go harder, longer. You’ll shorten your rest, because longer rest means a slower time. And you’re going to fatigue and stay more fatigued, because of your shorter rest, what happens to your body when it fatigues? Your form breaks. What happens when your form breaks? The potential for injury goes up exponentially.

This is the long winded way of describing “CrossFit haters”, who tend to flock on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, etc… Their main argument is that doing Olympic lifts for time leads to injury. And you know what? I don’t disagree with them on their principal thought, but I do feel they paint with a broad brush. I feel it’s a much more educated statement to say: “Performing Olympic Lifts for a high amount of reps for time can lead to poor form and poor form can lead to injury”

What Does For Time Really Mean?

So we’ve established the controversy around lifting for time, but just because there’s a fair amount of controversy doesn’t mean that “for time” workouts are going to disappear from your CrossFit box anytime soon.

So how should you lift for time? Properly. “For Time” should be read as “For Time With Proper Form”. So yea, Fran is 21-15-9 of Thrusters, and Josh Bridges just did it in something ridiculous like 2:04. But he’s considered an advanced athlete. For the average athlete, you need to focus on form. Form creates efficiency, efficiency creates speed.

What is it that Army Rangers say? “Slow is Smooth and Smooth is Fast”. Proper technique and awareness will always trump just trying to force something to happen.

The next time your in the gym and your coach calls the workout “For Time” ask what he/she means by that and post it in the comments below. I’d be curious to see what others takes on it are. What are your thoughts on “For Time?” Post those as well!