We’ve all done it, standing at the white board staring down the text, refusing to be intimidated by the reps, sets, and time domains. We launch into the workout with fervor before realizing we were so wrong. The weight was too heavy, the reps too many, or the movement too advanced; either way the fitness benefits of the workout were left unrealized and we walk away with feelings of self-reproach.
The concept of scaling workouts has been an integral part of our community since the inception of functional fitness. Scaling is something proudly performed by the most fit athletes around the world in all sports and for an infinite number of reasons. It’s important to view & teach the practice of scaling as a vital part of the athletic process and to steer clear of negative associations. This said, I recognize scaling as more of an art rather than an objective practice or science. While I do not propose to be an artist, over the last seven years I’ve picked up some tips & tricks around scaling that may be useful to you while you’re perfecting the masterpiece that is YOUR fitness!
The first place to start is by understanding the intention of the workout, the stimulus it is trying to drive. Is the workout intended to be short, long, or somewhere in the middle? Are the weights supposed to feel light or heavy? Should you be able to go unbroken? Should each rep feel easy or each rep feel hard? Should it feel hard neurologically or should you be wanting to throw up?
Tip: Find a common name on the whiteboard and use this time or score as a reference to answer some of these questions. If you’re a 5am’er and the therefore the first to attempt the WOD for the day, don’t hesitate to ask these questions to your coach.
Once you know how the workout is supposed to feel and how long it is supposed to take you can begin modifying it to enable you to hit the intended stimulus. There are a few concepts that apply to almost all movements used within our community. We can increase the challenge in a workout by increasing the loads, distances, reps, ranges of motion, and levels of technical skill required to execute a movement. We can decrease the difficulty by manipulating those same factors in the opposite direction. When scaling for yourself you can manipulate any combination of the above to keep the workout effective.
Example: If there are pull ups in the workout an athlete can adjust the load by either reducing their body weight through assistance bands or increase it by utilizing a weight vest. They can adjust the rep counts, the height requirements from chin over the bar to chest to bar, they can reduce the skill by doing strict pull ups or increase it by doing butterfly. This is the “art” piece, have fun with it, and remember you are scaling to improve your fitness.
Once you’ve chosen your scaling option, with very few exceptions, stay committed. Adjusting on the fly and choosing to scale down in the middle of a workout can often lead to becoming a tough habit to break. Over time, this practice may develop into a mental barrier making the option to quit a very easy one when things get hard. Like all bad habits, this one is best to avoid it entirely.
Listen: If your coach suggests that you scale down, consider scaling and welcome the suggestion with the best intentions. Likewise, if your coach recognizes you as an athlete that shouldn’t scale a workout, consider accepting this feedback as a badge of achievement. Either way, if it’s not obvious, ask “why?” so you’re in the loop with your development.
Done well, scaling accelerates our pursuit of fitness and hastens us toward our goals. It allows us to train a variety of time domains and stimuli rather than being bogged down into the same one constantly by too-hard-to-do-fast reps that result in sluggish times. Whether it’s the reps, weight, rounds, or the movement, remember scaling is part of the process for everyone and is embraced by even the most fit athletes on the planet, embrace it, and enjoy the progress!!!
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