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  • Writer's pictureAlyssa Royse

Scaling Your Workout Goes Both Ways

If anything will cause Brady and I to make that classic “whachoo talkin’ about Willis?” face to each other, it’s someone telling us that a workout was too easy. The beauty of CrossFit is that anyone can scale any workout to meet their needs, as long as they’re willing to be honest about what those needs are, and proactive about getting them met.

Like many gyms, we talk a lot about scaling workouts. More often than not, that ends up being a discussion about making workouts easier, for whatever reason. It also sometimes means subbing out a different move altogether because of an injury. What we’re trying really hard, now, to address is that scaling can also be done to make things harder. 

Outside of competition, there is no reason why everyone has to do the exact same thing. I mean sure, some super athlete can do the exact same thing as a deconditioned person coming back from injury, and totally crush them, but why? Until beating the crap out of someone far weaker than you becomes a realistic measurement of fitness, that’s going to be totally wasted time. And also, that person is just an asshole.

If one is trying to improve their overall fitness – strength, endurance, explosive power etc… – there isn’t much benefit to doing the easy version of something during the metabolic conditioning portion of a workout. So while I may look at 10 unbroken push-ups and weep, my husband would be all like “that’s too easy.” However, as people who are in charge of our own fitness, we would fix that by modifying. I would do push-ups on a box, he would do them on rings, or do ring dips. I made them easier, he made them harder. We still managed to work out together.

As coaches, we need to be better about making sure that athletes know they can make things harder. But we also need to raise athletes who can think through a workout and advocate for themselves.

Because there is no such thing as a workout that’s too easy. You can ALWAYS go heavier or faster, or choose a harder form of something. So no, that workout was not too easy, you were just too lazy to try and make it harder.

(Slight digression, but this is one of the reasons we rarely write an RX weight for workouts. Everyone needs to find the level at which they get the desired metabolic response. So we will say “this is cardio, go light” or “choose a weight that you can barely get 6 unbroken reps without crying, and then get 8.” That weight will be too widely variable, and if we’re looking for a certain metabolic response, it would make no sense to prescribe weight when what we’re going for is intensity. Also, putting the athlete in charge of assessing their own strength and endurance, and noting in their journals how it felt, is how you raise empowered athletes who can think and advocate for themselves. But if the weight they chose was too light, we’ll tell them to write it down, remember, and go heavier next time.)

So, how do you think about scaling UP as well as down. Simple, what would make it harder? Although we do hundreds of moves in the gym, here is a quick glance at some scales for basic moves, off the top of my head:

Of course, pretty much anything can be made harder by going faster, or adding weight. And you can always add weight to gymnastic movements (not to mention running and rowing) by wearing a weight vest.

As a coach (and a programmer) I feel like a WOD was a success when everyone finishes in close to the same time or with close to the same number of reps, and all looking roughly the same amount of exhausted. When I see Suzie finish in 5 minutes something that takes everyone else closer to 10, I don’t think Suzie is a badass, I think that she scaled inappropriately. As a coach, programmer and gym-owner, that is on me, because it means that I haven’t made clear why we do what we do.

We don’t do it to finish first, we do it to get stronger. And that, generally speaking, means not taking the easy way out.

So no, that workout wasn’t too easy. You took it too easy. You didn’t push yourself, you didn’t choose heavy enough weight or a hard enough move.

It’s on me to teach you how to do that. It’s on me to help you find your limits.

But ultimately, it’s always on you to push them.


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