Many of us get lost in the spirit of competition when it comes to CrossFit. For me, I fell in love with the competitive aspects of our community. Like many of my members who played collegiate athletics or had solid strength and conditioning programs in high school, the structure of CrossFit is the closest thing to the environment created when we were in our athletic prime. I cannot tell you how many times I have heard a member say to me, “Man, if CrossFit was around when I played (insert sport here), things would be so much different.”
There is enough content online about the levels at which one performs CrossFit, but I really want to take the time to talk about BEAUTY OF SCALING. Regardless of whether you’re the soccer mom who wants to tone up, the competitive athlete looking to augment their current strength and conditioning program, or a competitive CrossFitter on a mission to increase work capacity across all domains to the likes of Games athletes, scaling is what allows all of us, regardless of goals or fitness levels to WOD in the same room at the same time.
Unfortunately, this also the EPIC failure in many CrossFit boxes across the board as I travel around. As a CSCS, one of the requirements to maintain my credentials to obtain continuing education units over time. Without fail, I sit in on these fitness seminars and listen to other industry professionals who subscribe to ACSM protocol, or other certifying bodies’ methods of achieving fitness and bash CrossFit for high volume Olympic movements, and lack of emphasis on technique amidst fatigue, a high propensity for injury, etc. Although, according to the last research article I read, for every 1,000 documented hours of CrossFit, there are only 3 incidents of injury. This is on par with conventional strength or resistance training at large, and less than injury occurrence on athletic playing fields across sports. So, the reality of the situation is this: CrossFit is no more harmful to people than going to Globo Gym and trying to figure out what NOT to do on your own.
These claims, whether or not they are truly substantiated, can be mitigated with proper scaling. WE CAN DO BETTER. We as programmers, trainers, or coaches need to TAKE AN INTEREST IN OUR ATHLETES, and conduct our classes with this frame of mind: “Within an intended time domain, are my athletes able to complete a given workout within a handful of minutes or rounds/reps of each other regardless of fitness level or experience?” If the answer is no, your scaling is off.
I like to look at the results of a given workout as a bell curve. There will always be outliers: those who absolutely destroy the workout because the modality or the order of movements played to their strengths, or those who are ill-conditioned or unfamiliar with a certain movement pattern that go outside the intended time domain or rounds/reps to be completed. However, the vast majority of your athletes should fit inside that bell.
If it’s too heavy and your member is suffering through the workout trying to go “Rx”, it is YOUR RESPONSIBILITY as the trainer running your class, TO CHECK THEIR EGO FOR THEM and strip the load so the desired effect of the workout is achieved. “Fran” was not programmed to take 30 minutes because you’re hitting thrusters as singles and taking 20 seconds between reps. Scale it down. Likewise, when it comes to gymnastics and bodyweight movements, give those less capable the MODIFICATIONS needed to eventually progress and strengthen a range of motion (banded STRICT pull ups, elevated platform handstand push ups, to name a few). As time goes on and they scale away from these modifications, they will get a real-time sense of their progress and you will have an accurate assessment of where to go next with their progression.
On the flip side, I see scaling is also under utilized for your above-average athletes. Day in, day out, these tend to be your outliers that outperform the masses on a consistent basis by leaps and bounds. For them, something I see missing, is the CONSTANT CHALLENGE from workout to workout. It is easy to present a challenge for these folks, because they more than likely are up for anything. Scaling up goes much further than simply adding to the prescribed load or increasing the volume for a given WOD. For example, if you have ring dips in a WOD, you can increase difficulty by challenging them to muscle up into their ring dips (assuming they’ve demonstrated proficiency). Now you’ve also introduced further skill development where there would have been none otherwise.
Keep in mind that upscaling should be used under the premise that the desired intent of a workout is still able to be achieved. It doesn’t do you any good to do work out like “Fran”, which should take no longer than 8-10 minutes on the long end for the average Joe, with 225 pounds on the bar if it takes you 20 minutes to complete it. But if you’re athlete smokes “Fran” prescribed in 3-4 minutes, you can increase the difficulty by simply introducing chest to bar pull-ups, as opposed to simply getting their chin over with a butterfly technique. That LITTLE BIT OF EXTRA, will be a game changer for most.
At the end of the day, use your discretion and assess the bell curve of WOD performance in its entirety. For those lacking in TECHNIQUE, SKILL, or EXPERIENCE, scale them appropriately so that they achieve the desired effects of a particular workout, but also enabling them to progress without risking a ton of setbacks along the way. For the “elite”, and that term is subjective from box to box, challenge them with upscaling. THIS WILL KEEP THEIR EGOS IN CHECK, WHILE MAXIMIZING GAINS.
Scaling is AWESOME! When done correctly, and appropriately, your athletes will CONTINUALLY SEE PROGRESS, and EVERYONE will have the same SENSE OF ACCOMPLISHMENT when they leave your box at the end of the day. Most importantly, you have now proved the naysayers wrong, because you are taking a PROACTIVE APPROACH WITH YOUR ATHLETES’ SAFETY and BEST INTEREST AT HEART.
Raise Your Standard!
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