Sitting here watching the CrossFit Games is inspiring and always fun to watch. I love watching amazing athletes push themselves far beyond what we in the community ever thought was possible five years ago. I remember watching “Amanda” happen for the first time and seeing how much they struggled with 135# squat snatches, now 135# is a joke for all those athletes. Though 135# may seem like a joke to Games-level athletes, for some in the community 135# is a struggle. They can do it but not without deliberate effort. Scaling for many, especially in the DCL community, is not something many want to do. Mostly because we are “Type A” personalities- but for some they scale too much. When is it appropriate to scale and when should you grind through?
When it comes to scaling a workout there are two crowds: one crowd pushes themselves too far and the other crowd fails to push enough. Let’s talk about my favorite crowd, those that push themselves too much. I often see athletes debating when to scale and I can always point out those that I’ll have to force to scale a workout. They are some of the most determined people out there. In the army, these were the people I wanted on my team. However, when it comes to fitness, scaling is something we all have to do at one point or another. As the programmer of the workout, I know how long a workout should take. It is never smart to work out 20 minutes at a time all the time. Your body is only capable of so many 20-minute workouts in a given time period. For those that follow the DCL program you will notice our workouts are typically between 10-15 minutes, some less than 5 and others 5-10. We may go 20 minutes but very rarely. Why? If you routinely go over the 20-minute marker your body gets beat down to an extent that you have a much harder time recovering. Often you take two to three days of rest and by that time you’ve lost the effect of the workout from three days ago. Achieving the time domain that we program for is critical for your metabolic capacity to grow. Even strength athletes do not go 100% all the time, they have heavy days and light days. A good programmer knows when to increase the volume or the intensity to achieve the time domain goals that they are looking for. A good athlete knows when it’s time to take a step back and lighten the weight or the movement to reach those goals. An example I always use is “Fran”. The workout “Fran” is 21-15-9 of Thrusters at a relatively light weight– 95# for males and 65# for females– and pull ups. This workout was designed to be done in sub five minutes but can take as long as eight. Anything over that time domain fails to reach the workout’s designed goal of high heart rate glycolytic pathway adaptation. For example, if I took those movements (45 reps of each in total) over an hour to do I will have achieved nothing. No strength gain and no metabolic pathway gain. The weights are not heavy enough (and if they are heavy there’s too many reps) to achieve a strength gain. Once you achieve the workout within its 5-minute time frame then I would challenge your metabolic pathway by increasing weight. Strength isn’t always measured in the amount of weight lifted. Strength is measured in bar velocities or in our world whatever object you are lifting (body weight/stone/ odd object). Taking time to step back and being honest with yourself and scaling where appropriate will make you a better athlete and also a fitter person.
Now let’s talk about the other side of the fence- those that scale too much. These people tend to doubt their abilities as an athlete. I see this on our strength and metcon work when people fail to use the proper percentages for themselves and finish workouts way too fast. One of the things I like to say is it’s hard to learn a skill when you’re tired but you get better at skills you have already learned training tired. One of my basketball coaches (yes I played basketball so go ahead and insert your short jokes now) would always make us shoot free throws after doing sprints to get better at skills under a metabolic demand. People routinely ask me to help them get better at double unders or pull ups. One way I do this is to make them do a number they know they can do for multiple rounds, then scale and on the last round go for as long as your body allows you to. One thing I typically see from people who don’t trust themselves is they are capable of doing pull ups but fear losing so much that they scale the pull ups right away in order to go faster. Then in a workout that I programmed to be 15-20 minutes they are done in less than 10. These are the times to push yourself harder. Trust your coach to help you scale if you need to but also trust your coach if he or she pushes your harder. We don’t want to see you injure yourself but we definitely want to see you achieve your goals. I always say I can make you physically strong, that part is easy, but I cannot make you mentally strong. That piece is all on you!
Again, scaling is something many of us do not want to do. Trusting your coach is something that you should do when he or she tells you to scale or is that person pushes you a little harder. Knowing when and where to scale your workouts will only make you a better and stronger athlete in the long-term journey that we call “fitness”.